Join The Conversation With Mishpacha's Weekly Newsletter

The World in a Room: School Days of the Past

Libi Astaire

Fall is in the air, so don’t forget to scrape some bark off the birch tree, sharpen a quill pen or two, and dust off the hornbook. And don’t worry if your spillin isn’t purrfekt — your teacher probably can’t “spill” too well, either. In other words, it’s back to school, back in the past!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Although the “first day of school” seems like a ritual from time immemorial, the idea that every child should learn the “3 R’s” didn’t become widespread in Western societies until the 1800s. Yet that didn’t mean that girls spent their days playing jump rope and chatting with their friends. A girl’s main education revolved around learning how to be a good wife and mother; the home was her classroom, and her mother and other female relatives were her teachers.

But even though learning how to cook and bake, launder and repair clothes, clean the house, and prepare homemade remedies for cuts and colds was the “core curriculum,” many Jewish girls did learn how to read Yiddish. Tzene Urena, Techines (prayers for women written in Yiddish), and works of mussar written especially for women and girls were therefore found in many a Jewish home.

Hebrew was less commonly taught, but girls would learn how to say essential prayers by listening to their mothers and grandmothers or by repeating the words after the firzogerins, the specially appointed women prayer leaders who could be found in the women’s sections of some European shuls.  

Girls from wealthier homes might also learn how to play a musical instrument, draw and paint, and do fancy embroidery. In fact, making an embroidered sampler was often the way that a girl first learned to “write” the alphabet.


To read the rest of this story, please buy this issue of Mishpacha or sign up for a weekly subscription.

Share this page with a friend. Fill in the information below, and we'll email your friend a link to this page on your behalf.

Your name
Your email address
You friend's name
Your friend's email address
Please type the characters you see in the image into the box provided.

Out with the Girls
Yonoson Rosenblum Another progressive revolution that eats its own
And I Will Glorify Him
Eytan Kobre Herman Wouk “made G-d a bestseller”
What You've Learned
Alexandra Fleksher Allow me to let you in on what school is all about
Going Broke
Mishpacha Readers Reader feedback for “The Kids Are Going to Camp..."
Top 5 Ways Jews Try to Lose Weight
Rabbi Dovid Bashevkin Gaining weight and talking about losing weight
He Soaked Up Our Pain
Rabbi Yaakov Klein A tribute to Reb Shlomo Cheshin ztz”l
Leaving on a High Note
Rabbi Ron Yitzchok Eisenman And then it happened. I knew it would
Family Matters
Baruch S. Fertel, MD, MPA, FACEP Not the answers they teach in medical school
Play the Night Away
Riki Goldstein May we all share simchahs, no strings attached!
Fast Thinking
Faigy Peritzman How we react when we're exempt from a mitzvah
Baalat Teshuvah
Rachel Karasenti Don’t ask, “So how did you become frum?”
Confessions of a PhD Graduate
Sarah Chana Radcliffe When it comes to parenting, we’re always learning
Dear Favorite Little Sis
Anonymous I ended up wanting to be like you
Who's Making My Phone Calls?
Sara Eisemann Should I be upfront that I’m calling for myself?