August 9

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

Aug 9 - 8:9:1769 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (August 9, 1769).

“A BOARDING SCHOOL in Savannah, for the education of young ladies.”

In the summer of 1769 Elizabeth Bedon proposed opening a boarding school “for the education of young ladies” in Savannah, but only if she “meets with the proper encouragement” from other colonists. She inserted an advertisement in the Georgia Gazette that provided an overview of the curriculum (“Reading, Writing, Arithmetick, and all kinds of Needle Work”) and the tuition for day scholars, day boarders, night boarders, and students who wished to attend only the lessons on needlework.

Bedon used her advertisement to undertake rudimentary market research, much like printers used subscription notices to determine whether publishing a particular book would be a sound investment of their time and resources. She identified the enterprise she wished to pursue, but made opening the school contingent on receiving encouragement from the parents and guardians of prospective pupils. Bedon stated that “it does not suit her to open school until she can engage such a number of scholars as will render it worth her while.” To that end, she invited “those who intend to intrust their children under her care” to send a message. Once she had a sufficient number of students she would open her school, just as printers took books to press once they achieved a sufficient roster of subscribers. On the other hand, if she could not enroll enough students to make her school a viable venture she was not obligated to instruct any who had indicated interest, just as printers did not publish books for an inadequate number of subscribers.

Printers most often used advertising – both newspaper notices and separate subscription papers – to conduct market research and estimate demand for particular products in eighteenth-century America, but members of other occupational groups sometimes adopted similar methods to better determine their prospects for success before launching a new endeavor. Elizabeth Bedon, for instance, used the public prints to present a proposal for a boarding school for young ladies to colonists in Georgia. She anticipated using the results derived from this minor investment to determine her next step.

June 25

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

Jun 25 - 6:25:1767 Pennsylvania Gazette
Supplement to the Pennsylvania Gazette (June 25, 1767).

“I informed you of my Design of establishing a Boarding School in this City.”

As spring gave way to summer in 1767, Mary McCallister published proposals for opening a boarding school for young women in Philadelphia. She addressed her announcement to “the LADIES of PENNSYLVANIA, and the adjacent Provinces.” Although she may have been addressing prospective students, it was equally likely that she also intended for their mothers to peruse her advertisement and contemplate sending their daughters to her boarding school. Notably, she confined her audience exclusively to women, suggesting she believed that if she could convince daughters and wives to choose her school that would be sufficient to sway fathers and husbands concerinf “the many Advantages arising from a Boarding School Education.”

The curriculum she outlined in her advertisement likely played a role in excluding men from McCallister’s efforts to market her academy. It differed significantly from the course of study described in notices about boarding schools for male scholars. McCallister supplemented instruction in “the English and French Languages” with “Needle Work in Silks, Worsted and Linens.” Her pupils could expect to become proficient in embroidery on several fabrics. Once a week, McCallister also assisted her students to cultivate their baking skills, focusing on “Pastry” in particular. In addition, she planned to rotate through lessons “in the Arts of Painting on Glass, Japanning with Prints, [and] Wax and Shell Work, in the newest and most elegant Taste.” McCallister taught all of these subjects herself, but she indicated that the curriculum could be supplemented with “Writing, Arithmetic, Music, or Dancing,” taught by “proper Masters” who would visit the boarding school at appointed times.

McCallister envisioned a school for the local gentry and middling sorts who aspired to join their ranks. Accordingly, this was not a school devoted to general education in the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic with some sewing thrown in for good measure. Instead, it was an academy for young ladies of a certain status to learn skills in the decorative arts and other genteel pursuits that would allow them to demonstrate their affluence, leisure, and, especially, refinement to other colonists.

April 15

GUEST CURATOR: Shannon Dewar

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

Apr 15 - 4:15:1767 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (April 15, 1767).

“THAT he intends OPENING A SCHOOL.”

Southern Education. James Whitefield’s advertisement announced that he planned to open a school. Regarding the content of the education provided, Whitefield “designs TEACHING LATIN, READING, WRITING, and ARITHMETICK.” I would like to discuss schools in this period, especially in the Lower South.

Note that this advertisement mentions it was a boarding school. Plantations in Georgia and other southern colonies were spaced out so daily travel for school was virtually impossible for some. Boarding schools provided an option for those who lived outside Savannah, Charleston, and other large towns.

It is also important to add that these services of education had to be purchased, as, according to Robert A. Peterson, “government had, for all practical purchases, no hand at all in education,” especially in the southern colonies. Education was something individuals had to acquire for themselves and their children. It came at a price. Free public education was not yet available for all. Children were taught at home, but those with money had other chances for education, including attending – or even being “lodged and boarded” – at a school like the one James Whitefield opened.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

James Whitefield placed one of two advertisements about “OPENING A SCHOOL” in Savannah the April 15, 1767, issue of the Georgia Gazette. John Francklin inserted the other. Both planned for their lessons to commence the following Monday.

At a glance, the advertisements from these competing schoolmasters might give the impression of extensive educational opportunities in Savannah, yet the services they offered and their methods for promoting them to prospective students and their parents paled in comparison to advertisements for day and boarding schools in larger port cities, especially Philadelphia, New York, and Charleston.

Whitefield and Francklin each taught the basics: reading, writing, and arithmetic. Whitefield angled for a more elite clientele, listing Latin first among the subjects he taught, but he did not supplement that subject with other languages or additional subjects that many of his counterparts in larger cities promoted. Studying Latin was usually reserved for the better sorts, so some students (or their parents) may have chosen Whitefield’s school over Francklin’s for the perceived prestige of the slightly more extensive curriculum, even if they did not take Latin lessons after enrolling. Whitefield indicated that he had the capacity to take on boarders, “A few Masters or Misses,” but it was unlikely that female students would have been exposed to studying Latin.

Neither schoolmaster described their curriculum beyond listing the subjects they taught. Neither explained the care they took in the moral development of their charges. Neither described the amenities associated with the homes where they taught. Both limited their advertisements to seven lines, making them brief announcements compared to the marketing undertaken by schoolmasters in the major urban ports in the 1760s and 1770s.

Whitefield and Francklin offered valuable services to the residents of Savannah, but their efforts to provide educational opportunities appear embryonic compared to those available in larger cities. Part of this was most certainly a function of Georgia being such a young colony, founded only thirty-five years earlier. Even when colonists had more choices, they had to purchase them, as Shannon points out, which did not necessarily make education more accessible to most colonists even if they lived in close proximity to multiple schoolmasters and schoolmistresses who offered the most extensive lessons, moral guidance, and amenities. In the late colonial era, just as today, Americans had uneven access to educational opportunities, determined in part by both geography and status.

January 2

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

jan-2-121767-south-carolina-and-american-general-gazette-page-2
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (January 2, 1767).

“He now teaches LATIN in his Grammar School.”

At the turn of the new year, Walter Coningham sought students for his “Grammar School” in Charleston. He deployed several strategies to convince the parents to enroll their children in his academy.

Coningham opened his advertisements with a message of appreciation for fathers of his current and former students, stating that he “gratefully acknowledges the many favours he has received from those gentlemen who entrusted him with their childrens education.” While probably sincere, this public thank you also allowed the schoolmaster to underscore that other colonists previously sent their children to his school and had been satisfied with the results.

He then announced a new element of his curriculum – Latin – and described his teaching methods. He used “a plan entirely new” that immersed students in the language by consulting “books without English translations.” He assured parents that this method was “both easy and beneficial for the scholar,” but he understood that some readers might harbor some doubts on that account. Accordingly, he offered “ocular demonstration” of the “improvements his scholars make” in studying Latin through “the performance of those now under is care.” In other words, Coningham offered demonstrations. He invited those with reservations about his methods to observe his current students and decide for themselves how well they learned Latin. That he made this offer at all suggested his own confidence in the effectiveness of his pedagogy.

Coningham then elaborated on his curriculum – Greek, Latin, English, writing, and arithmetic – before noting that he cared for the mind, body, and spirit of his students, especially any boarders who were under his supervision at all times of the day and night. He promised that his students would be “improved in their morals” as well as undertake “necessary exercises, during their leisure hours.” (Coningham did not indicate the nature of these “necessary exercises.” Elsewhere on the same page Mr. Pike – a dancing and fencing master who never volunteered a first name in his advertisements in Charleston in the 1760s or in Philadelphia in the 1770s – stated that several days throughout the week he “employs in teaching at the principal boarding schools.” Was it possible that Coningham hired Pike and included fencing and dancing in his curriculum?)

Marketing is a major part of modern education. Anyone who works for a college or university is well aware of the institutional obsession with “the brand” in recent years, yet efforts to promote and to sell education through a variety of hooks and promises are not new to the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Eighteenth-century educators also developed advertising to entice prospective students and their parents.