Learning by the Rules

October 8, 2014

Before the establishment of free public schools in 1770, girls learned to read at home or at weekly secular Sunday schools (or first day schools), which met to provide instruction in reading for children as well as illiterate adults beginning in the 1790s. First day schools operated on Sundays because children were expected to work during the rest of the week, and girls were more likely to attend Sunday-schools than boys because it was their only option for public education at the time. Virtue, humility, and purity remained characteristics that were prized in women. While upper-class women gathered discretely in parlors to read aloud dialogues to educate themselves on science or to enjoy Dr. Watts’ Divine Songs, they networked. “Republican womanhood,” a concept of American womanhood coined by historian Linda Kerber, to define how the Republican mother integrated political values into her domestic life.

As families from different classes migrated to urban centers, individuals belonging to the growing middle class sought opportunities for “self elevation” or self-improvement in order to move up socially, but a woman’s destiny was tied to her choice of husband. During the nineteenth century, women’s social networking centered on the issues of women’s rights, the abolition of slavery, temperance, women’s suffrage, and missionary work. These social networks often held up throughout “bust” economic cycles. The impulse for reform in the United States during the first half of the nineteenth century was generally manifested in five distinct phases: moral reform (1810s-1820), the creation of utopian societies (1820s), institutional reform (1830s), the abolition movement (1830s), and the movement for women’s rights (1840s). Once these reforms were addressed institutionally, male organizational structures took over, and professionals once again pushed women back into dependent roles.


Stitching Swatch Detail

Stitching Swatch Detail

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