Infant Schools – or Daycare in 1830s Jacksonville

20151210_143513Last month, you read about women coming to Jacksonville in the 1830s to teach. This week, we’ll add one more to the list: Miss Caroline Blood. Her name first caught my eye when I found this ad, placed by Sarah Crocker in the Illinois Patriot on 19 October 1833. Just above it is an ad for an Infant School, taught by Miss Caroline Blood and held in the back of Mr. D.B. Ayre’s Druggist Shop (you may recall that Mr. Ayres was on the board of the JFA and later the superintendent of the Morgan County Alms House and Poor farm).  More than a woman trying to get by through taking in young children, Miss Blood was an important player in a national movement to establish the first preschools and daycares in the United States. 

Finding information about Caroline Blood was a mixed bag. Some sources assert that Blood was responsible for establishing the American Sunday Schools movement – as opposed to infant schools (though infant schools had a strong religious component). She supposedly originated the concept of Bible stories for children by carefully illustrating stories, simplifying language, and creating a curriculum that combined readings with hymns and discussion. We know for sure that Blood maintained an infant school in Boston and that her efforts attracted the attention of local ministers, including Edward Beecher. Henry J. Howland, one leader in the American Sunday School Movement, recalled how in 1829 he drew inspiration from Blood’s courses and methods, visiting her classes to learn more about how to engage children in religious discourse (see  James L. Hill, “Julius A. Reed, A State Builder, Annals of Iowa, 13, no. 4 (April 1922), 268-269).

Sunday schools (or Sabbath schools) actually began in England in the late 18th century as a means to educate working adults and children. Students learned religious materials, as well as rudimentary reading, writing, and math skills. Americans readily adopted similar models and began formalizing nationwide organizations by the 1810’s. The movement picked up steam with the Second Great Awakening in the 1820s. Early Jacksonville newspapers from the 1830s are riddled with articles and editorials as to the merits of Sunday schools, with calls to establish more in Illinois.

But James Hill, the scholar who affiliated Blood with the Sunday School movement, didn’t have it quite right. Blood’s obituary used the term infant school, which matched the term used in the above ad. A bit more searching revealed that Blood was actually involved in an early experiment to provide daycare and preschool for the young children of working mothers. In the 1820s.

Blood’s interest in helping working mothers may have come from her own experiences growing up. She was born in Carlisle, MA on 2 December 1807 to Ruben and Relief Blood. As a teenager, and as the eldest of six children, Caroline sought an education and opportunities to support her family after her father’s death. She attended the Ipswich Female Academy, under the direction of Mary Lyon, Zylphia Grant, and yes, Sarah Crocker. She also managed an infant school for children aged 3-8 years in Boston, said to be the first of its kind in the city.

Blood did  not act alone. In fact, she was part of a much larger organization. In 1828, the Infant School Society of Boston organized several schools that accepted children between the ages of 18 months and four years between the hours of “6 A.M. to 7 P.M. in the summer and from 8 A.M. to 5 P.M. in the winter.” The schools provided an “eminent service, both to parents and to children. By relieving mothers of a pan of their domestic cares, it would enable them to seek employment.” Providing care and daily activities ensured the children “would be removed from the unhappy association of want and vice, and be placed under better influences. . . .” (Infant School Society of Boston, 1828). (From:  Emily D. Cahan, “Past Caring: A History of U.S. Preschool Care and Education for the Poor, 1820–1965,” (New York: National Center for Children in Poverty, Mailman School of Public Health Columbia University, 1989), 11.

In 1833, Blood moved to Jacksonville with her younger brother, Charles, a minister. According to one writer, Caroline “was a person of marked refinement and engaging manner, and was much given to hospitality.  She was loyal to her convictions of duty and a worthy descendant of her many Puritan ancestors” (see William Richard Cutter, New England Families: Genealogical and Memorial, Vol. III (New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1914), 1150). Sources tell us that about this time, the JFA Trsutees and the members of the Ladies Association for the Education of Females hotly debated the appropriate ages of students at the JFA (by 1834, they opted to set the minimum age at 12). They also expressed concerns about the lack of preparation for younger students. Once in Jacksonville, Blood must have been privy to these conversations and worked with Crocker and Ayres to help remedy the problem. Unfortunately, Blood didn’t stay in Jacksonville long. In 1835, she married Rev. Julius A. Reed and the two moved frequently throughout their married lives. At the same time, the emergence of separate spheres ideology encouraged mothers to manage children’s early education in the home. According to Cahan, writers and educators increasingly warned of the dangers of separating mothers from their children and by the early 1830s, “the child’s home was deemed the most appropriate environment for early development, and the informed mother was deemed the best teacher” (12). The infant school movement fizzled by 1835, less than a decade after it began in the United States.

So what we see in that ad from 1833 is more than just a woman trying to make her way. We see a woman, within the context of a short-lived national movement, making a difference in the lives of children and their parents. We see a group of citizens in Jacksonville who were willing to give a controversial idea a try. Like the creators of Sesame Street and modern early childhood education movements, teachers like Blood did not see themselves as babysitters, but actors hoping to remedy poverty.

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