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American Women: Resources from the General Collections

School Primers & Readers

Ansel Adams, photographer. Children at Sunday School Class. 1943. Prints and Photographs Division.

The Library holds more than two thousand elementary-school primers and readers. These small volumes show the vocabulary, concepts, and literature considered appropriate for children at various age levels in different time periods. The texts and illustrations depict clothing, homes, and toys, as well as conventional views of children and adults and activities thought suitable for each sex.

In a lesson from the Franklin Second Reader (1873), a mother advises her daughter to be good, clean, tidy, to do as she is bidden, and to attend to her sewing. More than seventy years later, School Friends (1951) explains that mother helps us by cooking, sewing, and shopping for food, and father helps us by carpentry, lawn mowing, and fire building. You can clearly see cultural norms, contemporary values, and gender stereotypes that children are taught in their school readers.

These primers, like college catalogs, education-association journals, or histories of individual schools, are examples from the vast quantity of material available for studying the education of girls and women at the Library of Congress. School readers also serve historians in other fields such as sports and language.

Title page from Beauties of the New-England primer. 1818. Library of Congress Rare Book and Special Collections Division.

Browse by Subject Heading

Below are some Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) that will lead to more resources through browse searches in the Library of Congress Online Catalog:

Browsing by Library of Congress Classification (Call Numbers)

The following Library of Congress Classification Numbers will lead to more items in the Library's online catalog, but can also be used in other library catalogs.

The following titles represent resources which may prove useful in your search for school primers and readers. Each title links to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog.