September 18

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

Sep 18
Pennsylvania Chronicle (September 18, 1769).

“DANCING MASTER.”

Advertisements in the September 18, 1769, edition of the Pennsylvania Chronicle reminded readers that more than one dancing master taught lessons in the city that fall. Martin Foy and Mr. Tioli placed notices that conveniently appeared on the same page. Indeed, the compositor may have had a little fun when choosing the layout for the page, positioning both advertisements at the top of their respective columns but on opposite sides as though they were facing each other before commencing a dance … or perhaps a duel, considering that Foy taught “Gentlemen the use of the small sword” in addition to the latest steps. Whatever the compositor’s intent, the placement of the advertisements clearly put Foy and Tioli in competition with each other.

Even though they were rivals for students, both dancing masters emphasized the environment in which they provided their lessons. Foy ran his school “at the assembly room,” noting that the “room will be illuminated” in the evenings when he provided lessons for men who could not attend during the day due to their other commitments. Tioli taught at his home, where he set aside a room “excellently adapted for the purpose.” Yet it was not only the place of instruction that concerned the dancing masters. Tioli also assured prospective pupils that he would “make it his particular study to preserve the greatest order and decorum” during lessons. When several students gathered, the dancing school became a cacophony of movement and physical interactions, which helps to explain why both dancing masters instructed men and women separately. Even during lessons segregated by sex, Foy and Tioli recognized the prospect for misbehavior and mischievousness, whether horseplay or gossip, and insisted on their students acting with propriety. They imposed order when necessary. Foy promised his “fidelity” in conducting lessons “in a regular and polite manner.”

Personal comportment was an important aspect of both dancing well and appearing in genteel company to dance and socialize with others. Many colonists devoted considerable time to learning to dance in order to make the best possible impression on friends and neighbors when they attended public events. Learning the steps – and, equally important, how to do them gracefully – for a dance that lasted a few moments could require hours of instruction and practice, significantly more time for lapses in conduct and demeanor resulting from distractions during lessons composed entirely of male or female students who might feel unfettered when gathered in groups and not observed by members of the opposite sex. Instructing men and women separately avoided certain kinds of opportunities for discomfort among pupils, but doing so meant dancing masters potentially faced other sorts of allegations of impropriety at their schools. To that end, dancing masters advertised that they made great effort “to preserve the greatest order and decorum” at their schools.

September 26

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

Sep 26 - 9:26:1768 Newport Mercury
Newport Mercury (September 26, 1768).

“A Dancing-School is not for Diversion or Exercise only, but is designed to reform their Manners and Behaviour.”

When fall arrived in 1768, Mary Cowley placed an advertisement in the Newport Mercury to announce that she planned to “open School for the Season” on the last Wednesday in September. Advertisements for itinerant dancing masters and their schools frequently appeared in colonial newspapers, but Cowley’s notice differed in at least three significant ways. First, she was a female dancing instructor who promoted her lessons in the public prints in an era when her male counterparts dominated that occupation. Second, her advertisements spanned nearly a quarter century, unlike dancing masters who frequently moved from one town to another in search of new clients after only a couple of years. She advertised her dancing school in the Newport Mercury as early as December 1763 and as late as November 1786, though her notices that appeared during the war indicated that she operated a coffeehouse and might have taken a hiatus from giving lessons. Third, most of her advertisements were significantly longer than those placed by dancing masters. Perhaps as a woman in an occupation usually associated with men she considered it necessary to make it clear that nothing sordid occurred during her lessons.

To that end, Cowley maintained her “usual good Orders” during lessons that occurred at dancing assemblies. Her advertisements set forth a series of rules that those in attendance were expected to follow. For instance, students had to purchase tickets in advance. No one could enter without a ticket, allowing Cowley to monitor and control who attended. She informed those who arrived late “not to interrupt the Company, but wait until the next Dance is call’d.” Cowley also expressed her “hope that Gentlemen & Ladies of a Superior Rank & Age, will cheerfully condescend to conform to the Rules and Orders, that those of the younger Sot may profit by their Example.” She made it clear that her purpose and methods focused on more than just learning the right steps. Cowley offered an education in genteel comportment.

She said so quite bluntly, perhaps at the risk of losing some prospective pupils. “As I know many think the Intent of a Dancing-School is only Diversion, and are highly offended if they are reprimanded for any Rudeness of Indecency,” Cowley declared, “I would inform them such, that in my Business I have no Respect to such Persons, and shall never be afraid to remind them, That a Dancing School is not for Diversion or Exercise only, but is designed to reform their Manner and Behaviour.” This may have alienated some potential students, but Cowley did not seem particularly worried about that. She had addressed her advertisement to “the Gentlemen and Ladies who belong to my School, and all others of Distinction and Character.” This was a recurring theme in her notices. In an advertisement from December 19, 1763, Cowley stated that she was “absolutely determined, that no Lady who is not accompanied with a good Character, shall have any Admittance. Likewise, no Gentleman or Lady, who exceeds the Bounds of Decency or good Manners in one Point, or who will not be submissive to the Orders and Rules of the School, shall be countenanced here, on any Consideration.” In the October 28, 1765, edition of the Newport Mercury she had indignantly asserted, “This is not the first Time I have been obliged publicly to forbid several Ladies (who, for once more, shall be nameless) of coming to my School, who can have no Pretence, either by Acquaintance, Behaviour, Family, Fortune, or Character, to any Share of this genteel Amusement.” Such “unwelcome Guests” could “depend upon being affronted in the most public Manner” if they “presume to take those Liberties again.” After all, Cowley’s dancing school was “a chosen Place of Resort only for Gentlemen and Ladies of Family and Character.” There were some clients Cowley was not disappointed to lose.

Dancing masters often made references to their reputation and good character in their advertisements. Just a few weeks before Cowley placed her advertisement in the Newport Mercury, Peter Vianey placed a notice in the New-York Journal to address rumors that he was the same dancing master “whose Behaviour to his Scholars gave just Offence in this City some Years ago.” Even though she had the advantage of residing in Newport for several years, Cowley still defended her own reputation in her newspaper advertisements. She listed the rules to preemptively address inappropriate behavior and tamp down gossip. As a woman who ran a dancing school she exerted great effort in eliminating suspicions that her establishment was more akin to a brothel than a dancing assembly. She offered “Diversion,” but only the sort that conformed to genteel “Manners and Behaviour.”