A dame school was an early form of a private elementary school in
English-speaking countries. They were usually taught by women and were
often located in the home of the teacher.
1.1 Surviving former Dame School buildings
2 North America
4 See also
6 External links
A dame school; photograph by P. H. Emerson
Before the 1870 Education Act, there was little formal educational
provision for working class children in England and Wales.
Dames schools were small, private schools run by working class women
and occasionally men in their own homes. References to dame schools
can be found from the 16th century onward.
Dame schools often had a poor reputation and were often seen as a
cheap form of daycare. The London inspector of the British and
Foreign School Society in 1838 wrote that "in the dame schools they
cannot teach reading."
Surviving former Dame School buildings
Orton, Eden, Cumbria
Thursley, Surrey (survives as free-standing building in the
Upper Stratton near Stratton St Margaret, Swindon (survives as
Roche, Cornwall (survives as residential property) Chapel Road
In North America, "dame school" is a broad term for a private school
with a female teacher during the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. The
education provided by these schools ranged from basic to
exceptional. The basic type of dame school was more common in New
England, where basic literacy was expected of all classes, than in the
southern colonies, where there were fewer educated women willing to be
Motivated by the religious needs of
Puritan society and their own
economic needs, some colonial women in 17th century rural New England
opened small, private schools in their homes to teach reading and
catechism to young children. An education in reading and religion was
required for children by the Massachusetts School Law of 1642. This
law was later strengthened by the famous Old Deluder Satan Act.
Puritan beliefs, Satan would assuredly try to keep people
from understanding the Scriptures, therefore it was deemed that all
children be taught how to read. Dame schools fulfilled this
requirement if parents were unable to educate their young children in
their own home. For a small fee, women, often housewives or widows,
offered to take in children to whom she would teach a little writing,
reading, basic prayers and religious beliefs. These women received
"tuition" in coin, home industries, alcohol, baked goods and other
valuables. Teaching materials generally included, and often did not
exceed, a hornbook, primer,
Psalter and Bible. Both girls and boys
were provided education through the dame school system. Dame schools
generally focused on the four R's of education-Riting, Reading,
Rithmetic, and Religion. In addition to primary education, girls in
dame schools might also learn sewing, embroidery, and other
"graces". Most girls received their only formal education from
dame schools because of sex-segregated education in common or public
schools during the colonial period. If their parents could afford
it, after attending a dame school for a rudimentary education in
reading, colonial boys moved on to grammar schools where a male
teacher taught advanced arithmetic, writing, Latin and Greek.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, some dame schools offered boys and
girls from wealthy families a "polite education". The women running
these elite dame schools taught "reading, writing, English, French,
arithmetic, music and dancing". Schools for upper-class girls
were usually called "female seminaries", "finishing schools" etc.
rather than "dame schools".
The first known school in
Australia was founded in Sydney in 1789 by
Isabella Rossen. The second known school in
Australia was founded
by Mary Johnson in Paramatta in 1791. Both women were convicts
supervised by clergyman Rev. Richard Johnson.
History of education in the United States
Education in the Thirteen Colonies
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A Dame's School, photo Peter Henry Emerson (1856-1936)
The Dame School by Frederick George Cotman
A Dame's School by Thomas Webster
The Dame's School by Thomas Faed
Dame School - Staffordshire Figures 1780-1840