Domesticity: Girls Trained for the Home
Before 1800, education for girls focused on mastering domestic skills and “ornamental” pastimes—such as embroidery, music, dancing, etiquette, drawing, and French—that would help them attract husbands and entertain at social functions. Some girls from well-off families may have also been taught reading, writing, and basic arithmetic at “Dame Schools,” early private primary schools.
Notions about women’s education started evolving in the years following the American Revolution, particularly during the religious revival of the Second Great Awakening. Advocates of “Republican Motherhood,” as it came to be called by contemporary scholars, still wanted to keep women in the domestic sphere but also acknowledged that educated women were better equipped to cultivate civic and moral values in the home.
After the 1820s, private female seminaries started offering women a secondary education, the highest level they could attain. However, this education was still a privilege, open only to women of affluence whose families could afford to pay private tuition.