There was always some woman in every neighborhood who, for a small amount of money, was willing to take charge of the children and teach them the rudiments of knowledge. The older and larger towns had these dame schools as well as the pioneer villages, and they were everywhere a chief dependence for elementary instruction ; yet they were seldom at first town schools, and none of them were free for a long time. The dame school was an English institution, and the description of it by the poet Crabbe as it existed across the Atlantic would very well fit it here : —
... a deaf, poor, patient widow sits And awes some thirty infants as she knits; Infants of humble, busy wives who pay Some trifling price for freedom through the day. At this good matron's hut the children meet, Who thus becomes the mother of the street. Her room is small, they cannot widely stray, Her threshold high, they cannot run away. With band of yarn she keeps offenders in, And to her gown the sturdiest rogue can pin.
The school dame did not usually find the labor of teaching very onerous. While she heard the smaller pupils recite their letters, and the older ones read and spell from their primers, she busied her fingers with knitting and sewing, and in the intervals between lessons sometimes worked at the spinning-wheel. An interesting instance of school-dame industry occurs in the annals of Northfield, Massachusetts. The first teacher in the town was a woman hired to care for a class of little ones twenty-two weeks in