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Q: Literacy rates in Colonial America ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   1 Comment )
Subject: Literacy rates in Colonial America
Category: Miscellaneous
Asked by: billk1018-ga
List Price: $25.00
Posted: 15 Jun 2004 10:00 PDT
Expires: 15 Jul 2004 10:00 PDT
Question ID: 361434
Please describe and enumerate literacy rates in Colonial America and
how they compared to England at the time.  Please, please quote your
sources.  This for a research paper on the origins of the American
Revolution.  One of the factors I'm proposing is at least partialy
responsible is the literacy rate of Colonial America.  Thanks
Subject: Re: Literacy rates in Colonial America
Answered By: juggler-ga on 15 Jun 2004 12:10 PDT
Rated:5 out of 5 stars

I've located a number of sources that should be helpful to your research.

One of the most commonly cited sources on this subject is Lawrence A.
Cremin's book American Education: The Colonial Experience, NY: Harper
& Row, 1970. For bibliographic information, see the Library of

Cremin was a professor at Columbia University. His research indicated
that literacy among adult white males was 70 to 100 percent in
Colonial America versus 48 to 74 percent in England.

"Education historian Lawrence A. Cremin, who has written several books
about American education, has concluded that literacy rates among
American whites were as high or higher than in provincial England, and
significantly above those in Ireland.
   'At a time when estimates of adult male literacy in England ran
from 48 percent in the rural western midlands to 74 percent in the
towns . . . adult male literacy in the American colonies seems to have
run from 70 percent to virtually 100 percent . . . .'
(See Traditions of American Education, NY: Basic Books, 1977, and
American Education: The Colonial Experience, NY: Harper & Row, 1970.)"
Bibliographic information for the other book cited:

"While educational attainment data were not abundantly collected in
early America, noted educational historian Lawrence Cremin infers from
his extensive research that U.S. adult male literacy in the eighteenth
century was between 70-100 percent (1970, p. 546).  He, like Dupont de
Nemours, compared U.S. literacy most favorably with England, the
closest in attainments, even though England lagged behind with its 50
to 75 percent literacy rate for adult males."
source: educationrevew 

However, Cremin also asserted that the overall rate of literacy in
Colonial America was probably lower than in England because of
extensive illiteracy among American blacks and Indians.

"...comparing the American colonies first with the English metropolis
and then with Ireland (which was colonized by the English at roughly
the same time as North America), I would maintain that literacy rates
in the colonies on the eve of the Revolution were only slightly below
those in England (rates among whites were roughly the same as those in
provincial England, but extensive illiteracy among American blacks and
Indians lowered the overall American rates) and significantly above
those in Ireland, testifying to the vitality and efficacy of American
educational institutions.'
From Traditions of American education, pp. 32-33

additional sources:

"Kenneth Lockridge's study of literacy in colonial New England is
relevant here. Lockridge found that, in 1660, 60 percent of New
England males signed their wills; it was 70 percent in 1710, 85
percent in 1760, and 90 percent by 1790. He estimates that half of
those unable to sign wills could read. Thus, there was practically
universal adult male literacy in New England by 1790."

"In 1750 nearly 90 percent of New England women (and virtually all
men) could read and write, giving this region a higher literacy rate
than any other area in Europe or America."
source: MSN Encarta

"This emphasis on universal literacy resulted in New England's having
the highest literacy rate in the world at the time. The literacy level
in the other colonies, although significantly lower than New England,
was higher than England. In England, the opposite trend was at work,
leading to stagnation, and possibly even a decrease in literacy among
the working classes.
 Estimates of male literacy levels during the colonial period, while
inexact, nonetheless demonstrate this. Immigrants to all of the North
American colonies were more literate than the general population of
the countries they left. In New England, the literacy rate was over 50
percent during the first half of the Seventeenth century, and it rose
to 70 percent by 1710. By the time of the American Revolution, it was
around 90 percent, certainly the highest on earth."
Part 2 of The Aesthetic Education of America

"If the ability to write one?s name (rather than just making a mark on
a document) is evidence of literacy, then, excluding American Indians
and African Americans, there was near universal literacy, in excess of
80-90 percent, for both men and women by the end of the eighteenth
century (Perlmann & Shirley, 1991). Of course, all such studies of
literacy during these early years of the nation depend on samples of
adults who do not represent the entire adult population of the
colonies and so are contentious on the basis of sampling bias."
The Rise of Adult Education and Literacy System in the United States: 1600-2000

search strategy:
"literacy in" colonial america
"revolutionary war" "literacy rate"
colonies "literacy rate" "in england"
"adult * literacy" colonies
cremin, colonial literacy

I hope this helps.
billk1018-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars and gave an additional tip of: $5.00
Couldn't have asked for more.  Great job

Subject: Re: Literacy rates in Colonial America
From: juggler-ga on 15 Jun 2004 13:23 PDT
Thank you for the tip.

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