Tutors in the old south

betgo

Ad Honorem
Jul 2011
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An ancestor of mine was a tutor in Virginia in the 1840s. He himself was educated by tutors and did not go to high school or college. Apparently he did not need formal education to be a tutor. He then went to Texas for two years. He returned and apparently married one of his students. He was 27 and she was 17. Both of their parents were militia officers.

Washington was educated by tutors whereas his older brothers went to school in England. It seems like many children of planters and slave owners were educated only by tutors. There was no public education in most southern states before the Civil War.

Was this different than in the northeast and Europe? Was there more emphasis on education in New England because of Puritan theology and the need to have a profession or business rather than a farm? Did upper middle class children in the south not go to school because they were in rural areas and would have to go away to school?
 

Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
4,580
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Southern society has always been more stratified than in the North. Education is a way for people to rise in the world. The planter aristocracy had no interest in letting the lower classes rise. Keeping education in the hands of tutors was a way of preserving the planter aristocracy's monopoly on power and status.

There were wealthy people in the North, but Northern society was more fluid. At least Northern wealthy didn't seriously try to monopolize education. I am familiar with examples of Northern upper classes trying to control fashion, passing laws that only wealthy people could wear certain types of clothes, but these efforts generally failed.

Expecting teachers to have college degrees is a 20th century invention. I have researched rural schools in the western US circa 1900 where the teachers might not even have a high school diploma. College degrees only became common after 1920.

When Washington first encountered New England soldiers during the Revolutionary War he called them 'levelers.' Washington meant it as an insult. I'm not sure the New Englanders took it that way. 'Levelers' referred to the relative equality and lack of stratification of the Northeast compared to the South that Washington was more familiar with.

I'm curious to know what education levels were like in Europe at the time. My sense is that by the 1770s Americans were probably more educated than most Europeans, at least Americans in the New England states. Can anyone confirm this?
 

betgo

Ad Honorem
Jul 2011
6,425
John Adams said "Virginia, where all the geese are swans" implying the Virginians looked down on the New England officers. The Virginia and other southern officers were generally more descended from the British aristocracy than New England officers. Levelers were a faction on the Parliamentary side of the English Civil War that favored universal manhood suffrage.

The lack of public education could be to keep the common people down, but that doesn't explain why most of upper middle class were educated by tutors rather than went to public schools.
 
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Chlodio

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Aug 2016
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The lack of public education could be to keep the common people down, but that doesn't explain why most of upper middle class were educated by tutors rather than went to public schools.
They had tutors because there were no public schools. Had they established public schools, they would have had to open them to all children. The private nature of tutors, ie, paying for them with ones own money, not public funds, was an excuse or an opportunity to say to the masses, 'You can't get an education because you can't afford to pay for one.'

A tutor is just a teacher who works directly for the parents instead of for a school or school board. I suppose the planter aristocracy could have sent their children to private schools. I know in some cases they did. The real question should therefore be Why tutors and not private schools? My sense is that private schools were more for older children. Girls often went to finishing schools for a few years shortly before they married. Finishing school was intended to turn girls into ladies. Private schools were rare and usually too far from home to allow daily commuting. Private schools were usually boarding schools. Most parents would be reluctant to part from their young children so tutors were the only other option.
 
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Jan 2008
50
Pretty much in agreement with the post above. Large southern plantations were located rather distant from each other, too far to set up public schools, and so the plantation owners hired tutors to educate their children. In the northeastern states, public schools were probably more common. Wealthy northern aristocrats probably sent their children to private boarding-schools when the children reached their mid-teens.
 

betgo

Ad Honorem
Jul 2011
6,425
Plantation owners and aristocracy are maybe an overstatement. My ancestor's father had 20 slaves and hired a tutor.
 
Sep 2013
907
Chattanooga, TN
Expecting teachers to have college degrees is a 20th century invention. I have researched rural schools in the western US circa 1900 where the teachers might not even have a high school diploma. College degrees only became common after 1920.
Why do you think that teachers' having college degrees only became common in 1920? What happened in 1920 that made 1920 the dividing mark between when it was common for teachers not to have college degrees and common for teachers to have college degrees?
 
Sep 2013
907
Chattanooga, TN
Girls often went to finishing schools for a few years shortly before they married. Finishing school was intended to turn girls into ladies. Private schools were rare and usually too far from home to allow daily commuting. Private schools were usually boarding schools. Most parents would be reluctant to part from their young children so tutors were the only other option.
How did finishing schools attempt to turn girls into ladies? What exactly was the curriculum at finishing schools?
 

Chlodio

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Aug 2016
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I can only guess as to why, but I know from personal research into local school records that teacher education/qualifications increased about 1920.

School boards may have wanted employees who were free of family obligations so they only hired unmarried women. Many teachers only taught for one or two years then married and stopped working outside of the home, or at least as teachers. Teaching is different than most jobs - the teacher can't take a day off from work unless the students also get a day off. "I can't teach today because my child is sick" doesn't work in a small school district that can't afford to keep extra teachers on the payroll just in case.

It was possible to refuse to hire married teachers when teachers only had high school diplomas. When school boards wanted college-educated teachers, they had to let teachers work after marriage. No one invests in a college education then doesn't work to recover their investment. If school boards wanted college-educated teachers, they had to let teachers have full careers. So they were probably working both sides of the equation - women who wanted careers as teachers finally broke through and were allowed to work after marriage. People who wanted more highly qualified teachers finally convinced school boards to give college graduates full careers.

Encyclopedia of the Great Plains | WOMEN IN HIGHER EDUCATION
This source says that education was only feminized in the late 19th century. Before that, teachers were all men. Also, teacher qualification training started at the county level as informal summer teacher schools. States only got involved in creating state teacher's colleges circa 1910, so it took a few years before enough teachers could graduate and staff every school with college-educated teachers.


Curriculum at finishing schools included things like posture - walking around with a book balanced on the head that wasn't allowed to fall off. Maybe ballroom dancing. Reading fine literature. Singing and other forms of music. Manners - referring to a lady's arms and legs as limbs because somehow that was more appropriate. Basically turning a girl into the kind of woman who could make a wealthy husband happy.
 
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