Schooling antebellum style

From John Hennessy:

One of the most common questions I get is about school and education and Fredericksburg before the Civil War–indeed, Hannah offered up that very question earlier today over at Mysteries and Conundrums. My work on the topic is limited, but here’s what I know–with the request that if anyone knows more, we’d be happy to have you pitch in.

Smithsonia was the Female Orphan Asylum, and it still stands on Amelia Street. It housed and educated as many as 15 girls at a time.

For decades before the Civil War, Virginia’s elites railed against the concept of universal education (and the likely taxes attached thereto) so loudly trumpeted by Jefferson and Madison. That meant Virginians were largely on their own, which in turn meant that education was the domain of the very rich or, ironically, very poor. (Susan Dunn has some excellent passages on the retarded state of Virginia’s education in her book Dominion of Memories, which you should read if you have not.)  The value of education for the masses was hardly recognized by those masses in the years before the Civil War.  The Virginia Herald of November 28, 1830, includes this lament that most students would likely have agreed with (many surely still do).

“What are the beatitudes of a scholastic paradise? To be fagged, flogged, thumped, and coerced to mental labor and constrained in personal liberty. This may be all very proper and salutary (so is physic) but it is not happiness, and there is very, very rarely an instance of a boy, while he is in one of these prisons of the body, and treadmills of the mind, who is – not always wishing to get out of school and to get home.

Fredericksburg had schools for both rich and poor children, boys and girls, plus of course the common run of private tutors working with individual families. There were probably more than a dozen purely private, tuition-based schools in Fredericksburg. Continue reading