Because the New England colonies were largely populated by the religious dissenters that came to be known as Puritans, education was Bible-based. Philosophically, it was said that people who were illiterate were prevented from reading Scripture, and that that obstacle was the work of Satan. Even so, formal education was primarily the domain of men. Puritan boys learned to pray, read, spell, write and do mathematics in small community groups called dame schools, in which classes were private and held in the home of the teacher.
By 1646, Massachusetts Bay Colony passed a law that required communities with at least 50 families to hire a teacher for the area's children.
After boys had progressed through dame school, some went on to Latin grammar schools, and some prepared for further study for a trade, politics, or the divinity. Harvard had been founded in 1636 to train men for the ministry.
Girls trained at home, mostly in the domestic arts because of the strict gender roles enforced by the theocracy. It is estimated that in the New England colonies, two thirds of men were fully literate, while one third of women were.