Guest Post: Rachel Remmel on the Graded School in 19th Century Boston

In this blog post, Rachel Remmel places her forthcoming article, “The Spaces of the Schoolhouse and the City: Gender and Class in Boston Education, 1830-1832,” in its historical and historiographical contexts. Remmel is Assistant Professor of American Studies at the Eastman School of Music, University of Rochester. Her research focuses on school architecture and museum history, both institutions intended to transmit and shape values. Her book project is The Origins of the American School Building: Boston Public School Architecture, 1789–1860.

This article represents part of my larger book project, which explores why, in 1847, Bostonians developed the graded school, which divides students by age and ability into small, individually taught classrooms. This model is so ubiquitous and familiar within the United States that it is difficult for many to envision that there were ever alternatives. Yet the graded school was not inevitable, and the first half of the nineteenth century was a time of widespread experimentation with school organization. In order to understand the success of the graded school, it is important to understand what problems Bostonians thought it solved and what drawbacks the alternatives presented. The failed reforms of 1830-1832 represent a clear snapshot of both the problems Bostonians perceived and the drawbacks of one alternative reorganization.

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New Book: The Charleston Orphan House

From SHCY member John E. Murray: The Charleston Orphan House: Children’s Lives in the First Public Orphanage in America. University of Chicago Press, 2013.

From the publisher:
The first public orphanage in America, the Charleston Orphan House saw to the welfare and education of thousands of children from poor white families in the urban South. From wealthy benefactors to the families who sought its assistance to the artisans and merchants who relied on its charges as apprentices, the Orphan House was a critical component of the city’s social fabric. By bringing together white citizens from all levels of society, it also played a powerful political role in maintaining the prevailing social order.

John E. Murray tells the story of the Charleston Orphan House for the first time through the words of those who lived there or had family members who did. Through their letters and petitions, the book follows the families from the events and decisions that led them to the Charleston Orphan House through the children’s time spent there to, in a few cases, their later adult lives. What these accounts reveal are families struggling to maintain ties after catastrophic loss and to preserve bonds with children who no longer lived under their roofs.

An intimate glimpse into the lives of the white poor in early American history, The Charleston Orphan House is moreover an illuminating look at social welfare provision in the antebellum South.

For more information, see the University of Chicago Press website.