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America's History in the Making

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Excerpted from The Gleaner

Judith Sargent Murray, The Gleaner, Number 35

The trust reposed in parents and preceptors, is indeed important; the character of the rising generation is in their gift, and the peace or anarchy of society must result from them. When we consider how few parents are endowed by nature, or qualified by improvement, for the judicious discharge of duties so essential, we are almost ready to give our voice in favour of that plan, which, in a certain celebrated community, placed their youth under the tutelage of the State, committing their education to persons deliberately chosen, and properly qualified for their high office. Yet, against this arrangement, the authority derived from the Father of the universe, forcibly pleads! The feelings of the parent indignantly revolt; and my right to direct my own child, is, in my own estimation, unquestionable. Well then, there remains but one remedy. Let the cultivation of the minds of the man and woman, in miniature, be of that description which will, in future, enable them to assume with advantage, the guardianship of their descendants.

Much, in this momentous department, depends on female administration; and the mother, or the woman to whom she may delegate her office, will imprint on the opening mind, characters, ideas and conclusions, which time, in all its variety of vicissitudes, will never be able to erase.

Surely then, it is politic to bestow upon the education of girls the most exact attention: Let them be able to converse correctly and elegantly, (in their native strains) with the children they may usher into being; and, since the pronunciation is best fixed in the early part of life, let them be qualified to give the little proficients a pleasing impression of the French language; nor, it is conceived, ought it to be considered as unsexual, if they were capacitated to render the rudiments of the Latin tongue familiar. An acquaintance with history would capacitate mothers to select their nursery tales from those transactions which have actually taken place upon our globe, and thus useful knowledge would supersede fairy legendary witches and hob-goblins. Geography also might be introduced, and the little prattlers, by information that the great globe whereon they move, has received the form of that orange which so pleasingly regales their palate, would, ere they were aware, be ushered to the avenues of instruction. Astronomy too may lend its aid; the blazing fire may represent the sun, and the little bird revolving to its flame, on which they so impatiently wait to feast, under the direction of the well informed and judicious tutoress, may gradually account for light and heat, the grateful vicissitudes of night and day, with the alternate succession of the seasons; and thus would the talk of the future preceptor be rendered easy, a thirst for knowledge created, and the threshold of wisdom strewed with flowers.

Judith Sargent Murray, The Gleaner, Number XXXV: Sentiments on Education (1792-94) (Schenectady, N.Y.: Union College Press, 1992) 287-88.

Creator Judith Sargent Murray
Context Women in the young Republic were becoming more educated, but many traditionalists opposed this.
Audience Educated citizens, particularly leaders
Purpose To persuade people that women's education ought to be taken seriously

Historical Significance

Judith Sargent Murray was very well educated and believed that the young nation needed practical men and women. She had no use for women who devoted themselves to music and embroidery, and urged people to raise independent, capable daughters.

Her essays appeared between 1792 and 1794 in the Massachusetts Magazine before being collected a few years later in a book entitled The Gleaner.

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