What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“She will endeavour to Teach young MISSES the various Arts and Branches of NEEDLE WORK.”
When Ruth Jones prepared to open a school in Portsmouth in 1770, she placed an advertisement in the New-Hampshire Gazette to inform the community of her intent as well as attract students. Given the curriculum, Jones restricted her pupils to girls or, as she put it, “young MISSES” who desired to learn “all the various Arts and Branches of NEEDLE WORK.” She planned to teach “Needle Lace Work, Needle Work on Lawn, Flowering with Cruel, working Pocket Book with Irish Stitch, drawing and working of Twilights, marking of Letters, and plain Sewing.” She added “&c.” (the eighteenth-century abbreviation for et cetera) to the end of the list to indicate that she possessed skills in other “Arts and Branches” of needlework that she could also transmit to pupils in her charge. She depicted herself as much as an artisan as a schoolmistress, replicating the language of “Arts and Branches” of a trade that frequently appeared in newspaper advertisements placed by artisans of all sorts.
Jones supplemented her “NEEDLE WORK” curriculum with teaching “young Children to Read,” though she did not mention writing and arithmetic nor any advanced subjects that schoolmasters and many schoolmistresses included in their advertisements. While she covered a vast array of techniques for using the needle, her curriculum was otherwise narrow and specialized. She delivered instruction primarily in a homosocial environment. Presumably any boys among her pupils learning to read were quite young rather than adolescents. Parents of “young MISSES” did not need to worry about distractions caused by young men at Jones’s school. The advertisement suggested that they would be able to focus on their stitches, interacting with each other but not the opposite sex.
Jones advanced two primary appeals in her advertisement. She underscored her own expertise in needlework, listing the many “Arts and Branches” of the trade that she had mastered and could pass on to pupils. She also sketched a homosocial learning environment in which young women could master the various stitches free from interruptions by young men. She did not explicitly make the same appeals about tending to the manners and comportment of her female charges as other schoolmistresses made in their advertisements, but parents of prospective pupils may have considered that implied in Jones’s notice.