What were the educational opportunities for women during the colonial period?

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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During the colonial period, schooling opportunities for women were limited.

Young girls might be allowed to attend classes in a one-room school house, with children of other ages. The boys would generally be allowed to attend when young as long as they were not needed, for example, to help on the homestead with things such as farming.

The girls would also be subject to helping at home during the growing season, especially with gardening and the fall harvest. In general, other household tasks would be assigned to the young girls, the home being a major source of education to the daughters so that they could not only help at home, but be good wives and mothers in their own homes at some point.

The first school in the American Colonies was, surprisingly, established during the 1600s; public school became available in some areas more quickly than others because the wealthy ended up subsidizing the cost of the schools which allowed poorer children to attend, and some of the wealthy did not support this idea.

Girls would be taught to read, not write, since reading of religious materials (especially the Bible) was expected of a woman. Men were the lawmakers, so they needed to be taught to read and write at a young age.

Women of the upper classes in Philadelphia were finally allowed to be educated in more serious areas of study (beyond painting, piano playing, sewing, etc.) such as the arts and sciences.

Many of the schools began as either schools for girls, academies (which during the late 18th and early 19th centuries was the equivalent of secondary schools), or as a teaching seminary (which during the early 19th century were forms of secular higher education), rather than as a chartered college.

The first school for women in the Colonies was established in 1742; it was called the Bethlehem Female Seminary, (now known as Moravian College). Whereas it was first established as a seminary for girls, ultimately it would become a seminary and college for women.

Ironically, though the South was slower to conform to certain things (abolition of slaves, for example), it was extremely proactive in educating its children, male and female.  Still focusing on the upper classes (the planters/plantation owners), the children of the wealthy would be educated tutors, while some boys were sent to England to be educated. Grammar schools were established, open to boys and girls, and often run by members of the clergy (pastors or ministers).

The early education in the South did not maintain its promise of ongoing educational standards, having lost its impetus by the beginning of the the twentieth century.

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