There were early proposals about the proper way to educate Pennsylvania’s youth. Naturally, Ben Franklin jumped in with his own Proposals Relating to the Education of Youth in Pensilvania. Philadelphia: [B. Franklin], 1749. It is a 32 page pamphlet that outlines a course of studies, and makes suggestions such as “that the boarding Scholars diet together, plainly, temperately, and frugally; that to keep them in Health, and to strengthen and render active their Bodies, they be frequently exercis’d in Running, Leaping, Wrestling, and Swimming &c.; that they have peculiar Habits to distinguish them from other Youth, if the Academy be in or near the Town….”
Nearly 40 years later there was a similar pamphlet written by Benjamin Rush and titled Thoughts upon Female Education, Accommodated to the Present State of Society, Manners, and Government in the United States of America, Addresses to the Visitors of the Young Ladies Academy in Philadelphia, 28 July 1787, at the Close of the Quarterly Examinations. Philadelphia: Prichard & Hall, 1787. The dedicatory letter at the front of this 32 page work claims that some of the opinions therein are “contrary to general prejudice and fashion,” and Rush makes clear on page 5 that he believes that American “young ladies” should be educated very differently than British women were at the time.
Rush’s first three curricular suggestions are: “A knowledge of the English language. She should not only read, but speak and spell it correctly. … Pleasure and interest conspire to make the writing of a fair and legible hand a necessary branch of female education. … Some knowledge of figures and bookkeeping is absolutely necessary to qualify a young lady for the duties which await her in this country.”
Good old “reading, writing, and arithmetic.”
Rush does continue, after mentioning also geography and history, to include vocal music and dancing in the curriculum. Singing would be a good skill to learn because it prepares her to sing in worship and because “the distress and vexation of a husband … may all be relieved by a song”. And dancing “promotes health, and renders the figure and motions of the body easy and agreeable.”