Arithmetic | History | Music | Penmanship | Primers | Readers | Science | Spellers


Easy Math Problems

An elementary addition and subtraction lesson. p. 13
Brooks, Edward. The new normal primary arithmetic:designed as an
introduction to a thorough and complete course in
mental and written arithmetic.
Philadelphia: Sower, Potts & Co., c1878.

Children in the 19th century did not have the ubiquitous flash cards we have today to learn addition and subtraction. Most easy arithmetic was illustrated with the use of objects. Multiplication was taught as an extension of addition, and division was taught as an extension of subtraction.

Teachers would verbally question students, and mental arithmetic would be employed to define the correct answer. Fingers would still be used as an assistant to solve easy problems.


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Washington Crossing the Delaware River

Washington Crossing the Delaware. Section 1776, p. 21
Ellis, Edward Sylvester. The youths' history of the United States:
from the discovery of America by the Northmen, to the present time.

New York, Cassell & Company, limited, 1886-87.

Washington's Autograph

Your Most Obedient Servant. G. Washington. Section 1753, p. 286.
Ellis, Edward Sylvester. The youths' history of the United States:
from the discovery of America by the Northmen, to the present time.

New York, Cassell & Company, limited, 1886-87.

By the 1850’s, there were few remnants of history textbooks clearly imported from Britain. History, oftentimes, was imparted and assessed through rote memorization. Textbooks would have maps of colonies, charts of battles, and selected images of prominent, industrious men of our country.

In some special cases, reprints of signatures and other memorabilia would be presented, as is the case with this autograph of George Washington.

Students would be asked specific questions, or would be asked to give a full account of an incident in US history, like the story of the Boston Tea Party, or Paul Revere’s Ride.

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Hickory Dickory Dock with an alternate melody

"Hickory Dickory Dock, p. 32.
Tufts, John W. The normal music course; a series of
exercises, studies, and songs, defining and illustrating
the art of sight reading
. Boston, W. Ware, 1886, c1883.

A song for moral education, 'I Must Not Speak a Naughty Word', by J.M. North

"Things That I Must Not Do", p. 59
Mason, Lowell. The song-garden: a series of
school music books, progressively arranged: each book
complete in itself
. New York: Mason Brothers, 1864-66.






Music was a popular hobby. Most students picked up music with “the ear”; rarely were the principles of time, meter, measure, and notes expounded upon. A quick overview to ensure students knew how to read music was the only introduction to the art of music. There would be sing-a-longs periodically during the school session, and always at the end of a session. Songs were often employed as a way to impart moral wisdom and manners. "Things That I Must Not Do" would be a prime example of a moral lesson combined with song.

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Slope to write - a 53 degree angle

Slope of the Writing Utensil, p. 7
Jenkins, John. The art of writing [microform] :
reduced to a plain and easy system, on a plan entirely new :
in seven books, revised, enlarged, and improved
3rd ed. Elizabethtown, N.J. : Printed by J. & E. Sanderson, 1816.

Teaching penmanship was a very constructivist activity. Most often, pupils were taught how to write a few letters, such as l or o, and used those letters as a basis for scripting the other 24 letters of the alphabet.

Pupils would practice their penmanship writing out selections from texts, either speeches, or moral stories to incorporate moral education with other subjects. Copybooks were often advocated, to give pupils an additional marker by which to make their letters.

The Jenkins method was most popular during the mid-19th century, advocating 6 principal strokes, from which all letters may be made. Other penmanship books authors were Geo. Becker; Payson, Dutton, and Scribner; and S. A. Potter.

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Parochial T-Z

Ford, Paul Leicester. The New England Primer: a reprint of
the earliest known edition, with many facsimilies
and reproductions, and an historical
. New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1899.

Pictorial T-Z

Goodrich, Samuel G. Goodrich's first reader.
Louisville, Ky.: John P. Morton, 1857.








The mid-19th century was a time of change for primers. Previously overtly religious, primers with child-friendly illustrations and topics began to overthrow the religious works, most notably the New England Primer, the best-known pious primer on the market since the late 17th century. These primers taught children their ABC’s, some animals, and numbers. The religious texts imparted wisdom such as the Lord’s Prayer, the religious ABC, and the Westminster catechism, among others. The primer texts were the step between the hornbooks (if available) and the first readers and spellers. Later primers, such as Goodrich's First Reader, were far less secular, using more common animals and household objects to introduce letters and numbers.

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Principles of Elocution 1 Principles of Elocution 2 Principles of Elocution 3

Elocution poses, p. 51-54.
Sanders, Charles W. Sanders' school speaker:
a comprehensive course of instruction in the principles of oratory:
with numerous exercises for practice in declamation
New York: Ivison, Phinney, 1857.

Readers were the most numerous of all textbook types printed after primers. Often these books contained short stories or excerpts from current and classical literature. The early part of the 19th century held a canon for reader selections, which was based around religion, morality, and nationalism. The latter part of the century led to materials being included because they were good literature, and selections would change often to appeal to readers with different tastes.

Part of the reading curriculum was elocution, or the process of speaking, our modern-day speech class. However, it is not just the words that one expresses, it is how the words are portrayed. A model demonstrates movements practiced to illustrate such expressions as a positive assertion, an indignant appeal, rapturous delight, joyful surprise, and aversion to an object.

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Face and trunk composition

Why Are We Shorter in the Morning?, p. 46-47.
Woman's Christian Temperance Union. Hygiene for young people:
adapted to intermediate classes and common schools

New York: A.S. Barnes & Company, 1885.

Science books for young children often explained common phenomena: e.g. lightning strikes, the bones and muscles of the body, and the refraction and reflection of light and colors. In keeping with the moral tones desired by communities, science books often illuminated the concept of temperance and the reduction of tobacco use. Advanced science text in physiology and anatomy would be more descriptive and detailed in their explanations, but since Americans prized "common knowledge", the general overview of any scientific phenomenon was given as instruction in common schools.


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Scripted letters and short phrases

Sounds and Script, p. 16-17.
Webster, Noah. The elementary spelling-book,
being an improvement on "The
American spelling-book.
New York, D. Appleton & Co. 1857.

Spellers, issued in a single volume, would include all the words that most students would need to know. As most students completed 3 years of schooling, words such as “antitrinitarian” (one who did not believe the Christian idea of one god in three persons) and “xanthophyll” (also called lutein – a yellow-red pigment found in marigolds and other flowers with chlorophyll) were included, but rarely taught. Spellers included some phrases in foreign languages, a pronouncing guide, words distributed by syllables, and examples of Old English words and lettering.

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