Charity Schools

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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.

See alsoImmigration ; School, District ; Schools, Private ; Sunday Schools .

charity schools

views updated May 29 2018

charity schools. Although the practice of establishing charity schools for the poor by private donors had begun in Elizabethan times, a great increase in numbers occurred towards the end of the 17th cent. The Blue Coat School (Westminster), founded in 1688, educated, clothed, and apprenticed 50 boys. The main object was religious and moral, as well as enabling the poor to earn a livelihood. The Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (SPCK), at its first meeting in 1699, considered how best to establish ‘Catechetical Schools’ in every parish in London. Children between the ages of 7 and 12 were admitted and wore distinctive uniforms. Teaching was from 7.00 to 11.00 in the morning and 1.00 to 5.00 in the afternoon. Queen Anne took a personal interest and during her reign the schools made rapid advances. However, by 1760 the charity school movement was faltering. This was due to a number of factors, particularly the narrow curriculum offered, incompetent teachers, and the loss of royal patronage, because of suspicions that the schools were breeding-grounds for Jacobite sympathizers.

Peter Gordon

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