"...Not even the slightest connected account of the inner life of the Dutch American school has come down to us. If only some school boy had written his experiences to his grandfather back in the Netherlands or if some master had in a long gossipy letter to a Holland friend related the trials of school keeping in the new country, we might be able to present to the reader a more satisfactory account of the school as master and pupil saw it. In the absence of even one picture made on the spot, nothing is left but to piece out an account from scattered hints here a little and there a little binding the whole together with our general knowledge of Holland custom.
"The school hours in Dutch America were almost universally from 8 to 11 in the forenoon and from 1 to 4 in the afternoon. The annual calendar, however, is not so simple. Apparently the school was kept through the year, that is, both in summer and in winter. The specific statements are not so conclusive as might be wished but, in the light of the Holland custom, we have no difficulty in accepting the statement as made. The pupils were free on festival days and according to custom on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons. This again was the rule in the Holland schools. The festival days probably varied in different places but quite likely most of the children of New Netherland enjoyed St Nicholas day (December 6), Christmas, New Year, Twelfthnight, Easter, Pinkster (Whitsuntide) and Kermis. The Dutch custom both in Holland and America was to hold school six days in the week, although, by 1773, Flatbush had come to the present American practice of five days in each week.
"The schoolhouse presents a most striking contrast to those known now to most of America Almost invariably school was held in the master's residence. The size of the schoolhouse appears to us ridiculous even for the few pupils then to be accommodated. We saw that the burgomasters at New Amsterdam petitioned in 1662 for a school lot 30 by 15 feet and that the town of New Haerlem in 1680 built the townshouse for the voorlezer 22 feet long and 20 feet wide. The largest schoolhouse noted was the one proposed at Beverwyck, 34 by 19 feet. When we recall that these measurements included possibly one or more living rooms, in addition to the schoolroom, we can only wonder. As to the internal arrangement of the schoolroom and its furnishings, we can say but little from American data. We may suppose that, following the Holland custom, the room contained the master's chair and desk and a number of benches probably without backs. The pupils were seated in such a way that the oldest were nearest the master and the girls were farthest off sometimes in a corner. Tables, presumably for writing, were also provided--certainly at Flatbush--if not generally.
"We have just said that the girls were probably separated from the boys, The question has been raised as to whether girls did, in fact, attend these schools The answer seems clear. The Holland custom was most certainly for girls to attend school. The strong presumption would then be that the same custom prevailed in New Netherland and only positive evidence to the contrary could make us doubt it. Curiously enough, there has appeared no explicit statement prior to 1733 that girls did attend the Dutch schools of America. At that date, it was required in the New York school that the "school children, both boys and girls" should recite on Saturday forenoon the appropriate "Lord's Day." An equally explicit reference and even more significant coming as it does from a more purely Dutch center is the testimony of Hamilton in his Itinerarium (1744) that in the school in Albany there were "about 200 scholars, boys and girls."
"But if there be no earlier explicit statement, evidence on the question is not lacking. The marriage contracts and wills in particular contain much pertinent material. It was the Dutch law that before a widow or widower, the parent of minor children, should remarry, guardians other than the contracting parties should be appointed for the children and the affiant parties should appear before official orphan masters and make formal agreement regarding the care of the child or children and of the property due to them. Quite a number of such marriage contracts are on record and in them we find definite references to the education of girls.
In 1632, a contract was drawn promising with regard to Resel (Rachel) and Jan, both minor children, "to keep them at school to teach them a trade." A boy and a girl are here to be treated alike. The same is true of the contract drawn by D[omine] Everardus Bogardus and Annitje Jans. The children are Sarah aged 16, Tryntje aged 13, Lytje aged 11, Jan aged 9, and Annitje aged 5. The affiants here promise "to keep them at school and let them learn reading, writing, and a good trade." In another contract of the same year, the children are both girls, Catrina and Johanna, and the promise is to let them learn "to read and write and have them taught a trade." The reader will note that even in this case where only girls are concerned a trade is none the less to be taught.
"So of Aelje Claes (1643) "to clothe her, to send her to school, to let her learn reading and writing, and a good trade." Sometimes accomplishments more evidently feminine are mentioned; thus, in 1663, "instruct her in God's word, let her go to school, have her taught to sew." Thus, according to the marriage contracts, girls were expected to go to school and to learn to read and write. We may add that in no marriage contract examined has there been found any discrimination against girls and in favor of boys, either in the fact or the extent of schooling. So far as this evidence is concerned, the sexes are on an equal footing."
"Quite similar testimony appears in the wills of the period, though here the evidence is not quite so satisfactory as the foregoing because of the later dates and the consequent uncertainty as to whether we have the pure Dutch tradition. However, since the English custom discriminated against girls, we need not on the score of possible English influence discount to any great extent the force of the argument. In the will of Christopher Hoogland of New York (1676), it was said of four boys and one girl "they are to be caused to learn to read and write and a trade by which they may live." Similarly, in 1680, Cornelius van Bursam of New York gave instructions to his wife: "She is to maintain my daughter Anna decently and cause her being taught reading and writing and a trade by which she may live."
"John Hendrickse van Bommell, of New York, included in his will of 1689: "My daughter Lyntie is to be maintained and put to school and learning until she is twenty years of age or is married." These wills seem to show the same attitude toward the education of girls that was found in the marriage contracts.
"While we should have been glad to find in the records of the Dutch days some explicit reference to the school attendance of girls, still the existence of the Holland custom (dating in the case of Utrecht at latest from 1583), the desirability if not the necessity that the girls have their religious training in the school, the ample corroboration afforded by marriage contracts and wills, and the explicit reference to girls and boys in the New York school of 1733--all these seem to put it beyond a reasonable doubt that in the ordinary Dutch parochial school, girls as well as boys attended at least until they learned to read.
"Of the schoolmasters, not much can be said It would be desirable to know the extent of their learning but little evidence is available. While no indication has been found that any of the parochial masters were university trained, there is no reference which would certainly disparage their learning. The few specimens of handwriting seen by the writer would indicate on the whole formed intellectual habits rather than the contrary....
"We have noted from time to time what additional duties some of the masters carried along with their school duties. Almost universally, the parish schoolmaster was also voorlezer and voorsanger. The only instances to the contrary were one at Albany and two at Flatbush, and these were not all certain.
"Somewhat more often was there a voorlezer who was not the schoolmaster. Several instances were noted at Albany and at Flatbush and possibly one at Schenectady. The instances of later New York, where the voorlezer, or catechist, was not also schoolmaster are hardly to be mentioned since at that time there were in New York several churches and but one Dutch schoolmaster.
"In the small villages, the schoolmaster was regularly not only voorlezer and voorsanger, but he was also sexton and frequently either court messenger or clerk of the town court .We may suppose that he also drew legal papers. This is so inherently probable as hardly to need proof, but there is corroborative evidence in the records.
"The curriculum of the school has already been given in part and we may here bring together the scattered statements What might be called the official Dutch program for the colonies was that promulgated by the classis in 1636 in the instruction for schoolmasters going to the East or West Indies:
"He is to instruct the youth--in reading writing cyphering and arithmetic, with all zeal and diligence; he is also to implant the fundamental principles of the true Christian religion and salvation, by means of catechizing; he is to teach them the customary forms of prayers and also accustom them to pray; he is to give heed to their manners and bring these as far as possible to modesty and propriety."
This curriculum we may divide into three parts: the three R's, the religious training (the catechism and forms of prayers) and manners. The last, so far as appears, was to be taught incidentally and nothing further about it is found in the American records."
--Taken from: Bulletin, Issues 1-12
By United States, Office of Education (1912)