March 20

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Providence Gazette (March 20, 1773).


Dr. Jonathan Arnold needed an instructor “to take Charge of the School at Whipple Hall, Providence, North End” in March 1773.  Even though he wished to hire a schoolmaster immediately because he had “a large Number of Scholars being now ready to enter” the school, Arnold refused to settle for just anyone who could teach reading, writing, and other subjects.  Instead, any prospective schoolmaster had to be “temperate and exemplary, in Life and Manners,” in addition to possessing “Ability in his Profession.”  In the era of the American Revolution, advertisements seeking schoolmasters as well as those placed by schoolmasters and -mistresses emphasized manners and morals as much as they did classroom instruction.

Arnold underscored that he was serious about screening applicants.  In a nota bene, he declared, “It is expected, that whoever applies will produce sufficient Testimonials of his Qualifications as above, from Persons of undoubted Credit and Character.”  To make the point even more clear, he added, “None but such need apply.”  Arnold demanded references.  The “Testimonials” that they provided had to cover all of a prospective schoolmaster’s qualifications, including his skill and experience in the classroom and his morals and demeanor.  Furthermore, those giving recommendations had to be beyond reproach themselves.

Although Arnold aimed to hire a suitable instructor as quickly as possible, his advertisement had audiences other than prospective candidates for the position.  He indirectly addressed parents and guardians of current and prospective pupils as well as the entire community.  Arnold made clear that he did not entrust any of the children and youth under his charge to just any schoolmaster.  Parents and the general public could depend on him recruiting instructors who were both effective teachers and good role models.  The notice served an immediate purpose, filling an opening at the school, while also fulfilling a secondary purpose of informing the public, especially parents and guardians of the “Scholars,” about the standards maintained at the school.

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