CHARITY SCHOOLS. During the colonial period, free education generally meant instruction for children of poor families. Numerous schools were established in the American colonies and were organized and supported by benevolent persons and societies, a practice that served to fasten onto the idea of free education an association with poverty that was difficult to remove. The pauper-school conception came directly from England and persisted far into the nineteenth century. Infant-school societies and Sunday-school societies engaged in such work. Schools were sometimes supported in part by rate bills, charges levied upon parents according to the number of their children in school (with impoverished parents exempted). Charity schools provided food, clothes, and lodging, if little more than an elementary education, to destitute or orphaned children.
Charity schools demonstrated the importance of religious philanthropy in the early history of education in the United States. They also exemplified the related urge to preserve social order through benevolent campaigns to raise the moral, religious, and economic conditions of the masses. The inadequacy of charity schools to cope with the educational needs of European immigrants in the mid-nineteenth century contributed to the impetus for the development of public schools and compulsory attendance laws.
Cremin, Lawrence A. American Education, The National Experience, 1783–1876. New York: Harper and Row, 1980.
Edgar W.Knight/a. r.