Artifact Corner: Children’s Primer

Hi everyone, and welcome back to another artifact corner. Today we will be looking at a book that was published in 1885 by A. S. Barnes & Company of New York and Chicago. This is the Child’s Health Primer for primary school children. This book was designed as an educational text book for young people on the subject of health. Let’s take a look at schooling in the late 19th Century, and the lessons that this book taught to children.

Schooling in the 19th Century was very different from what we experience today. In the early 19th Century, only wealthier families could afford a comprehensive education. Most poor families relied on Church schools, or other charitable organizations that offered very basic instruction. Here in the United States, Massachusetts was the first state to make education mandatory in 1852. Other states followed their lead, but it wasn’t until 1930 when all of the states adopted this law. The law required that children be given a basic education from kindergarten through eighth grade. The most common subjects taught were reading, writing, grammar, rhetoric, geography, and arithmetic. The average number of days children attended school was around 132, which is less than the 180 or so days kids attend per year today. This was mostly because children living in rural areas were likely needed to help on family farms at certain points in the year. A modern hold over for this is the summer break that we all enjoy today. The average rate of attendance in schools was only around 59% of students.

So, let’s take a look at what we would be learning if we were students in the 1880’s studying health with this book. When looking at the table of contents it is pretty clear that this book was designed to warn young people about the dangers of alcohol and drug use. The first three chapters are fairly straightforward in regards to human anatomy. The next six chapters focus on what effects alcohol, tobacco, and opium have on the body, both young and old. The one chapter that seems like an oddity in the book is the chapter on distilling. The primary lesson one gleans from reading this is that alcohol is “bad” and “a poison,” and yet chapter six is basically a step by step instructional on how to distill spirits. It seems a bit odd, and is definitely not something you would find in an elementary school text book today.

This book belonged to Fannie Delord Webb Hall. She was a self taught pharmacist, and an avid member of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. Given the context, it now makes a lot of sense why we have this book in our collections. The book itself is in quite good condition. There is a bit of wear on the cover, but the spine and pages are in great condition for being 136 years old. This book is an interesting look back at the education system in the late 19th Century, and we are so lucky to have it in our collections. Thanks so much for stopping by.

Music: Acoustic Breeze by Benjamin Tissot,