Education in America of the 18th Century

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Education did not form part of the life of women before the Revolutionary War and therefore, considered irrelevant. Women’s education did not extend beyond that of what they learned from their mothers growing up. This was especially true for underprivileged women who had only acquired skills pertaining to domesticity unlike elite white women during that time that in addition to having acquired domestic skills they learned to read a result becoming literate. However, once the Revolutionary War ended women as well as men recognized the great need for women to obtain a greater education. Nonetheless, their views in regards to this subject differed greatly in that while some women including men believed the sole purpose of educating women was in order to better fulfil their roles and duties as wives and mothers others believed the purpose of education for women was for them “to move beyond the household field.” The essays of Benjamin Rush and Judith Sargent Murray provide two different points of view with respects to the necessity for women to be well educated in post-revolutionary America.

Comparable to other American men as well as a few American women before, during, and after the Revolutionary War of the 18th century, Benjamin Rush believed that women’s skills were limited to that of domestic work. His thoughts toward the abilities of women were that they began, and ended with the home: from caring for their children to caring for their husbands in addition to caring for the home. According to Rush: “They must be stewards and guardians of their husband’s property.” Judith Sargent Murray on the other hand believed women’s abilities extended past and beyond that of domesticity alone. She believed that women were capable of much...

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...nother means of promoting their roles and duties in the realm of the home several women saw this as an opportunity to further their abilities as women. Although women learned skills that would allow them to live happier domestic lives as opposed to men who learned skills that would improve their skills as contributors this did not prevent women from seizing this new opportunity. These beliefs went hand in hand with the ideals of Republican motherhood in that both believed if children were to know and play their part in regards to society women had to educate them but only if women themselves were educated. Benjamin Rush and Judith Sargent Murray both express these ideas in their essays but in different methods.

Works Cited

Dubois, Ellen Carol and Lynn Dumentil, Through Women’s Eyes: An American History with Documents (Boston:

Bedford/St. Martins, 2012)
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