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Colonial Boston took pride in its free public schools, which educated young Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Adams, John Hancock, Paul Revere, and thousands of other boys before the Revolution. But a close look at those five grammar and writing schools reveals that they provided only limited opportunities for middling-sort boys, not to mention no place for girls or non-white boys. Colonial Boston’s schools thus reflected and reinforced the town’s social and economic divisions. The creation of a new nation spurred major reforms in 1789, eventually leading toward today’s public education.
J. L. Bell is the author of The Road to Concord (Westholme, 2016) and a contributor to several other books about eighteenth-century America, including Children in Colonial America (NYU Press, 2006). He maintains the website Boston1775.net, offering daily helpings of history, analysis, and unabashed gossip about Revolutionary New England. He is a fellow of the Massachusetts Historical Society and an elected member of the American Antiquarian Society and the Colonial Society of Massachusetts.