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.

June 19

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

Jun 19 - 6:19:1767 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (June 19, 1767).

“He proposes to open a DANCING SCHOOL.”

Peter Curtis wished to open a dancing school in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and inserted an advertisement to that effect in the local newspaper. In the decade before the Revolution, dancing masters frequently advertised their services in newspapers published in the largest port cities, especially Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia. Fewer of them, however, placed notices proposing to open schools or teach private lessons in smaller towns. Curtis’s advertisement in the New-Hampshire Gazette was rather out of the ordinary.

Still, Curtis must have suspected that he could cultivate a market for his skills in Portsmouth and the surrounding area. After all, the “Gentlemen” and “Ladies” he addressed in his advertisement participated in the same consumer culture as their counterparts in major port cities. Many colonists adopted various consumption practices – outfitting themselves in the latest styles and displaying fashionable furnishings and housewares – to demonstrate they belonged among the ranks of the genteel. Yet possessions alone did not guarantee that others would acknowledge the gentility of those who acquired them. Personal comportment became a measure for distinguishing the truly genteel from crass pretenders who merely made purchases. Manners, conversation, and dancing, among other pursuits, all played a role. Dancing well, completing the latest steps with grace while interacting easily with others in attendance at social gatherings, testified to an individual’s inner refinement that could not be counterfeited by wearing the right sorts of apparel and adornments. To that end, Curtis pledged to teach his pupils “in the most polite and genteel Manner.”

The colonial gentry in the major port cities availed themselves of lessons from dancing masters because they wished to assert that they were as cosmopolitan as their cousins in London. Other residents sought social mobility; they identified dancing as a means of demonstrating their own refinement matched their elite neighnors. For both, anxiety provided motivation. Curtis’s advertisement suggests that interest in dancing as a means of exhibiting refinement was not limited to urban ports in early America. Instead, with the help of advertisements to incite demand, it filtered out to smaller cities, like Portsmouth, and beyond. Curtis solicited customers “within Twenty Miles,” pledging to visit their homes for private lessons. He believed that some residents in the countryside, especially the “Gentlemen” and “Ladies” considered the local elite and who wanted to safeguard that position, could be convinced that they desired to become as cosmopolitan and refined as the better sorts in colonial cities.