elizabeth murray homepage masthead



Student directions, with links to background essay, primary and secondary sources

Note for teachers on primary and secondary sources

Background essays:
1. Student essay online 
(and as a downloadable PDF)

2. Teacher version
1. Title: The Education of Women in Colonial America
Teacher-author: This lesson was created by Dave Neumann, Long Beach Unified School District.

2. Overview:
This lesson deals with the educational opportunities available to females in the colonial period. It includes a background essay which discusses the nature of colonial education, a narrative about Elizabeth Murray's efforts to educate her nieces, and documents that relate to the theme of female education. The only material necessary is the website.

3. Historical background and Bibliography:
In the colonial period, economic opportunity was based heavily on one's education. Education often took the form of practical apprenticeships. But throughout the eighteenth century, increasing numbers of individuals began receiving formal schooling, especially in New England. Throughout the colonial period, education was generally based on gender. By the time of the revolution, few public schools were available to girls. Middling families could enroll girls in a "dame school," though this might offer little more than babysitting. Beyond that, adventure schools, stressed skills that were expected to make young women marriageable, not to teach them practical skills that might help them manage a household. The American Revolution began to change the public's ideas about women and education. By the mid1800s, large numbers of women were being educated and some were even attending college.

Linda Kerber, Women of the Republic: Intellect and Ideology in Revolutionary America (Chapel Hill, 1980), 36-39; Kenneth A. Lockridge, Literacy in Colonial New England: An Enquiry into the Social Context of Literacy in the Early Modern West (New York, 1974); Mary Beth Norton, Liberty's Daughters: The Revolutionary Experience of American Women, 1750-1800 (Ithaca, 1980).

4. Guiding question:

Some questions to consider as implications of the broad question:

5. Learning objectives:

6. Activities
Input and Guided Practice 
The overview essay is the starting point of this lesson. Teachers may assign students to read the essay before class, in class, or may choose to lecture from it. Please note that the teacher version has additional detail and commentary.

Independent practice 
Once students are familiar with the background of female education, they are ready to examine the documents. Several documents provide broad context regarding education, especially the contrasts between male and female education. The remaining documents reveal the particular experiences of Murray's nieces as Murray made special efforts to give them a "practical" education. This activity can be done in groups, pairs, or individually. It might be a good idea, however, to begin by modeling or discussing the first document together. Students can use the suggestions for interpreting documents as a guideline. After examining the documents, students should be able to discuss their responses to the questions regarding the education Murray sought to provide her nieces and the light her efforts shed on the nature of education for females more generally in the colonial period. Students may need some assistance in recognizing that Murray's support for her nieces was relatively unusual and reflects the importance wealth played in the educational options available to different colonists. Students should end this lesson with a clear sense of the possibilities, and limits, of women's education, how those limits were justified, and how the rhetoric of the American Revolution began to shift the terms of discussion and open more opportunities to women.

7. Assessment:
The lesson could conclude by sharing out verbally, with brief quickwrites, or with longer and more formally-structured essays