September 15

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

South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (September 15, 1772).

“Young Ladies and Gentlemen instructed in DANCING.”

An advertisement for “DANCING and FENCING” lessons in the September 15, 1772, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal alerted readers that “PIKE’s ACADEMY, for FENCING and DANCING” would soon offer a new “Season” of classes.  Pike was probably already familiar to many prospective pupils, having offered instruction in Charleston for several years.  He attempted to generate interest even among those who had already taken lessons with him by inviting students to his “NEW SUIT of ROOMS” on Church Street.

A significant portion of the advertisement consisted of the schedule.  Pike devoted early mornings, “Five o’Clock to Nine,” to fencing lessons.  He taught dancing to “Young Ladies and Gentlemen” in the afternoons on Thursdays and Saturdays in addition to his “EVENING SCHOOL, every Evening in the Week, from Six o’Clock to Nine.”  That left “four Afternoons at Liberty every Week” for Pike to venture beyond his academy to provide private lessons to students “at their own Houses.”  That may have been the preferred option for those who felt anxious about appearing anything other than graceful and genteel in front of observers.

Yet dancing was an activity meant to be undertaken in public, at least eventually.  Colonizers asserted their status and took great pride in being skillful dancers.  Smoothly completing complex steps testified to their refinement, while awkwardness or stumbling undermined impressions of politeness and sophistication they demonstrated in other aspects of their comportment and dress.  Understanding the stakes, Pike scheduled an exhibition ball for early December and encouraged the “Parents and Guardians of his Scholars” to enroll them in lessons “as soon as possible.”  The teacher and his pupils needed sufficient time “to complete his Figures in a proper Manner” during their lessons so the young ladies and gentlemen could showcase their skills in front of observers at the ball.  Other dancing masters also raised the specter of public embarrassment in their advertisements, encouraging prospective students and their parents to enroll in lessons in order to withstand public scrutiny.  By stoking anxiety, they aimed to motivate colonizers to engage their services.

June 12

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (June 12, 1772).

“Those Accomplishments which are so necessary for entring the World with Advantage.”

Many colonizers sought to demonstrate that they belonged to genteel society through their fashions, possessions, and comportment.  They participated in the consumer revolution, purchasing textiles, garments, accessories, and housewares according to the latest tastes in English cities, especially London.  They also concentrated on their comportment, putting into practice good manners and learning a variety of genteel skills, including dancing, fencing, speaking French, and playing musical instruments.  Merchants, shopkeepers, artisans, and tutors aided colonizers in acquiring both the things and the knowledge necessary for displaying their gentility.

This was not solely an urban phenomenon.  Far beyond the major port cities of Boston, Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia, purveyors of goods advertised their wares and consumers acquired them.  Similarly, colonizers in smaller towns had opportunities to take lessons in dancing, fencing, and other genteel pursuits.  As summer arrived in 1772, Monsieur Viart placed an advertisement in the New-Hampshire Gazette to inform the public, especially parents, that he taught “DANCING, FENCING, the FRENCH LANGUAGE, and the VIOLIN … in the most perfect and polite manner.”  He cautioned parents against overlooking the benefits of enrolling their children in his classes, arguing that his curriculum yielded “those Accomplishments which are so necessary for entring the World with Advantage.”  Even colonizers in Portsmouth, Viart declared, needed these skills.

Viart listed the tuition for each kind of lesson, both an initial entrance fee and additional payment for each quarter.  He also offered a discount if “a Scholar learns in two Branches,” encouraging pupils and their parents to sign up for more than one subject.  He anticipated the most interest in dancing and French, holding “School” for each at set times on Mondays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.  He may have also provided private tutoring, but he did not mention those lessons in his advertisement.  He gave fencing and violin lessons “at such times as may be convenient for his Scholars.”

Tutors like Viart attempted to entice colonizers to become even more immersed in the consumer revolution and the culture of gentility and cosmopolitanism often associated with it.  He expected that his pronouncement that learning to dance or speak French was “so necessary” in preparing children to successfully make their way in the world that it would resonate with parents and other readers in Portsmouth and nearby towns.  Such skills, he suggested, were not reserved for the gentry in New York and Philadelphia.

September 9

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

New-York Journal (September 6, 1770).

“PETER VIANY.  CONTINUES to teach Fencing and Dancing.”

Peter Vianey taught dancing and fencing in New York in the late 1760s and early 1770s.  To attract students, he periodically placed newspaper advertisements in the New-York Journal.  His advertisements often appeared in September in advance of a new season of lessons to commence at his “public Dancing School” in October, though he placed notices on other occasions as well.  For prospective pupils who desired more personalized attention (or who were anxious about others potentially seeing them in awkward positions as they worked to master the steps), he also taught “Ladies and Gentleman in private either at his School or at their own Houses.”

Vianey inserted a relatively short advertisement into the September 6, 1770, edition of the New-York Journal.  His statement that he “CONTINUES to teach Fencing and Dancing” suggests that he expected that many residents of New York were already familiar with his services.  It was a very different tone than he took two years earlier when his advertisement included a short introduction and three additional paragraphs.  The first announced the opening of his school in October, described the dances he taught, listed his fees, and offered private lessons.  The second emphasized the quality of instruction.  Vianey proclaimed that he taught “in the Style of the best Masters in Europe.”  His methods were so effective that the results were already “discoverable in his Scholars” even though “none of them have yet had Time to be perfected in their Minuets.”  It was the final paragraph, however, that was the most important.  In it, Vianey addressed gossip and a case of mistaken identity.  “Having been informed,” he stated, “that he has been mistaken for a Dancing-Master, whose Behaviour to his Scholars gave just Offence in this City some Years ago, he takes Liberty to inform those who are acquainted with him, that he never was in this Country, till the Year 1764.”  He further asserted that “all who know him” could “testify that his Conduct has ever been regular and unexceptionable.”  Vianey sought to manage his reputation in the wake of reports that confused him with another dancing master.  Given that teaching dancing often required being in close physical proximity with his students, even touching them as they danced together and he demonstrated the steps, Vianey needed to establish that he was beyond reproach in order to protect his livelihood.

Apparently, Vianey successfully rehabilitated his reputation after placing his advertisement in 1768.  In subsequent advertisements, including the one placed in advance of a new season of lessons starting in October 1770, he did not mention further difficulties, nor was it in his interest to remind readers of gossip he wished to put behind him.  That he continued to reside in New York, offer lessons, and place advertisements testified to his success in overcoming the gossip and suspicions directed at him.

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.”