New England Primer

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NEW ENGLAND PRIMER. The New England Primer, first published about 1690, combined lessons in spelling with a short catechism and versified injunctions to piety and faith in Calvinistic fundamentals. Crude couplets and woodcut pictures illustrated the alphabet, and the child's prayer that begins "Now I lay me down to sleep" first appeared in this book. The primer fulfilled the purposes of education in New England, where Puritan colonists stressed literacy as conducive to scriptural study. For about fifty years, this eighty-page booklet, four and

a half by three inches in size, was the only elementary textbook in America, and for a century more it held a central place in primary education.


Crain, Patricia. The Story of A: The Alphebetization of America from the New England Primer to The Scarlet Letter. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2000.

McClellan, B. Edward. Moral Educaiton in America: Schools and the Shaping of Character from Colonial Times to the Present. New York: Teachers College Press, 1999.

Harry R.Warfel/s. b.

See alsoLiterature: Children's Literature ; New England Colonies ; Printing Industry ; Puritans and Puritanism .

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New England Primer, famous American school book, first published before 1690. Its compiler was Benjamin Harris, an English printer who emigrated to Boston. This was the book from which most of the children of colonial America learned to read. The letters of the alphabet were illustrated by rhymed couplets (e.g., "The idle Fool/Is whipt at School" ) and woodcuts; the lessons frequently contained moral texts based on the Old Testament. The book was reprinted many times, with various changes in text and even in title. Although it has been estimated that as many as 2 million were sold in the 18th cent., copies of the book are now rare.

See P. L. Ford, ed., The New England Primer (1897, repr. 1962).