Images of Blacks, Native Americans, and women in textbooks authored by Yankee educators of Southern New England during the Age of Freedom, 1830--1860

Date of Completion

January 1996


American Studies|Black Studies|History, United States|Women's Studies|Education, History of




The southern New England colonies mandated programs for the education of their young. Literacy was required for the practice of religion and for proper conduct even from these colonies' beginnings. Subsequently, textbooks were needed.^ During the Age of Reform (1830-1860), educational pioneers such as Horace Mann and Henry Barnard continued the tradition of literacy, now also for the melioration of society. Textbooks became more plentiful and sophisticated. Writers often mentioned groups such as blacks, Native Americans, and women in these works. The messages concerning these groups were constantly communicated to students during this era of great social transformation which culminated in the Civil War.^ Much has been written about the history of blacks, Native Americans, and women. Few comprehensive studies, however, exist regarding textbook content as it reflects writers' attitudes concerning the three groups. Revisionist historians often cite highly selective textual passages or phrases in which these groups are negatively portrayed. By systematically reprinting many complete paragraphs, this study presents the argumentative tone and logic of forty-two authors from southern New England including Nathaniel Hawthorne. Such an approach preserves the literary intent of each piece (negative or positive).^ How blacks, Native Americans, and women were treated in dozens of southern New England antebellum textbooks is examined in this inquiry. Such writings offer a diversity of opinion regarding these educational subjects. Some abolitionist authors viewed blacks and Native Americans as human beings with civil rights, while other writers regarded these two groups as being barbaric and racially inferior to whites. Many textbooks depict women as educable, self-reliant individuals; gender-biased works, however, present women as subservient. Several women authored textbooks, but members of other minorities did not. Massachusetts and Connecticut white males wrote most antebellum textbooks; Rhode Islanders produced few if any.^ Educators enhance their professional lives by learning the backgrounds of their students. Studying educational history likewise prepares better teachers. By examining the histories of how multicultural groups such as blacks, Native Americans, and women have been portrayed in past textbooks, educators become more proficient in guiding their students towards greater intercultural sensitivity and appreciation. ^