Raising a Child in the 18th Century

Raising children is hard. No matter what century or how many, it's hard! In the 21st century there are thousands and thousands of books, videos and unsolicited advice to help parents raise their children. Guidelines for what makes a “good child” today are cloudier then ever though. There are global opinions on how to raise a child as well as the opinions of your religion, your family and the general culture that surround you. Have you ever wondered what resources were available in earlier times? Well, keep on reading and you will learn about a pamphlet that was created in 1793 that gave direction to parents to raise their children.

The publication titled, "The School of good manners. Composed for the help of parents, in teaching their children how to behave during their minority," discusses the raising of children in 1793. The version I will be discussing in this post was the seventeenth edition. This is important to know since there were many version prior to this version so it had to be a pretty popular piece for parents of minors.

Religion was at the center of life at this time in America. Religiosity, especially Christianity is evident throughout this pamphlet. The pamphlet opens with, "Fear God and believe in Christ. 2. Honor the President of the United States, the Governor and all other Rulers of the Land."1 This tells us two things. First, religion was the most important thing to teach children and second, faithfulness to the country and those who rule and make the laws was second. Parents would come after both of these.

Chapter II has one hundred sixty-three rules for how children should behave and act in the Meeting House, at home, at the table, in company, at school and with other children.2 One hundred sixty-three! A few of these are summarized below.

In Meeting House, or church children should act with decorum. Be quiet and listen to their parents and superiors at all times. They need to essentially be seen and not heard with very specific ideas of what that is exactly. Many of these rules are about how the children should address parents/superiors and how they should act when in the presence of parents/superiors. My favorite part though is how children should behave at the table. We all have a child in our life that just cannot seem to get a handle on how to eat properly, or in a non-disgusting way! This pamphlet maybe goes a little overboard, but it does include some things that our society has gotten away from. For example, how to sit at the table, how to use a napkin properly or how to use utensils in the “correct” way.3

The final thing I want to bring attention to is the Caution VIII, “Disobedience to Parents is another sin too common among children.”4 This also shows that religion was at the center of the life of the family. Religion during this time required a certain behavior from both the parents and the children. If the children were misbehaving, it was not only their fault but the fault of the parent and that made it ungodly.

Remember, even if you choose to use these ideas in the raising of your own children, do so in the way that is best for them and for you. Religion has changed since 1793, but then again, so has the United States. Raise your children, worship in your way and keep faith.

1. The School of good manners. Composed for the help of parents, in teaching their children how to behave during their minority (Windsor, VT: Re-printed by Alden Spooner, 1793), Page Not Numbered,

2. Page 6.

3. Page 24.

4. Page 34.

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