Education in the ‘Wild West’ usually conjures up an image of a packed classroom with mixed ages and genders, struggling their way through rather basic arithmetic or spelling. The reality is that it wasn’t all like that – sometimes the education was definitely advanced, and not just for boys, either.

Here is an actual advert which was placed in Dallas, Texas on July 18, 1868.

The next annual Session, divided into two terms of five months each, will commence on
Primary Class – $2.00
Preparatory Class – $2.50
First Junior Class – $3.00
Second Junior Class – $3.50
MUSIC on PIANO or GUITAR, PROF MILLER, Teacher of Music – $5.00
Contingent Fee – $0.25
The course that is pursued in first class Collegiate Institutions – embracing the elementary and higher branches, the Physical and Moral Sciences, the Mathematics (pure and mixed) and Ancient Languages – also German, French and Spanish, if desired. The school is to be of the first order as to knowledge, Morals and Manners.
Tuition in Specie or its equivalent in United States currency, payable in advance by the half-term (two-and-a-half months).
Board in the best private facilities at from ten to twelve dollars per month.
SMALL BOYS admitted, and special care given to their morals and their education directed (if desired) with reference to business or the complete College Course in future.

What does the advert tell us?

As writers, we can get a number of things from reading it through carefully.


The old schoolhouse
The old schoolhouse

To begin with, it suggests that there existed a very clear market for teaching girls mathematics, sciences and languages as well as piano or guitar. And it wasn’t just casually either; there were four classes being taught which indicates a minimum of four years of education and the possibility for a regular progression through the grades.

The choice of languages is also interesting. Spanish, undoubtedly because of Texas’ proximity to Mexico, French because it was perceived to indicate refinement but why German? The answer is that it was probably because of the large Amish communities in and around San Antonio. In fact the town of New Braunfels which is northeast of San Antonio was one of the biggest towns in Texas by the mid nineteenth century and, thanks to its Amish contingent, was almost entirely German-speaking at that time.

Moral education appears twice on the advert yet there is no mention of any religious connection. Undoubtedly the virtues of Christianity would have been part of the syllabus but it is not even mentioned making it seem incidental rather than causal. The mention of ‘manners’ would also seem to qualify the syllabus away from religious theory towards practical applications of ‘correct’ behaviour.

The advert mentions boarding. Given the importance attached to the reputation of females – even very young girls – there must have been considerable confidence in the behaviour and moral fortitude of the families with whom the children would have been lodged. Parents of students would certainly have sought assurance – particularly given the (then) astronomical fee of ten dollars or more a month.

The playground
The playground

It’s interesting to see that ‘small boys’ are allowed to attend. One wonders how old they would had to have been before they were expected to move on to a boys’ school. It’s also worth noting that, although the girls were tutored in very academic subjects (as opposed to those pertaining to domestic or artistic topics), business and commercial matters were outside of their assumed domain.

Of course, all this was only relevant if you could afford it. Even a trail boss would have been stretched financially given that they received about $90 a month and a flank or drag rider on around a third of that would not have been able to pay such fees. Higher education wasn’t cheap but it was there and it wasn’t just for boys either.

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