A-B-C-darians, ABC-darians, or abecedarians were the youngest students (then called scholars) in the typical one-room school of 19th-century America, so-called because they were just learning their “a-b-cs.”

Early references

In his autobiographical reminiscences on his school days, Warren Burton recounted that he “was three years and a half old when I first entered the Old School-house as an abecedarian.” cite book
last =Burton
first =Warren
authorlink =
coauthors =
title =The District School As It Was, By One Who Went To It.
publisher =J. Orville Taylor
year =1838
location =New York
pages =p.5
url =http://books.google.com/books?id=4CcvFsc81fsC&printsec=frontcover&dq=warren+burton&lr=#PPA5,M1
] Many young children were simply sent along with other siblings in order to get them out of their mothers’ way. [cite paper
first =Mark
last = Sammons
author =
authorlink =
coauthors =
title =Myths and Methods: the District School in Early 19th-Century New England
version =
publisher =Old Sturbridge Village
year =1985
url =http://books.google.com/books?id=NGoPHAAACAAJ&dq=mark+sammons&lr=

Front row seats

In the district schools of the early 19th century, the youngest scholars were seated on the front benches in a room that typically had floors that sloped up from the center on three sides like a small amphitheater. The entrance door(s) and the teacher’s desk were located on the unsloped side. The desks accommodated two or more scholars and were arranged up the ramps around a center space, the front of each desk providing the seat for the desk before it, with the front rows consisting only of the benches attached to the desks of the second row where the youngest children sat. [ cite book
last =Fennelly
first =Caroline
authorlink =
coauthors =
title =Town Schooling in Early New England, 1790-1840
publisher =Old Sturbridge Village
year =1962
location =Sturbridge, MA
pages =p.17
url =http://books.google.com/books?id=eRoEAAAAMAAJ&q=Town+schooling&dq=Town+schooling&lr=&pgis=1
] Samuel Griswold Goodrich (a.k.a. Peter Parley)attended a district school around 1810 in which “The larger scholars were ranged on the outer sides, at the desks; the smaller fry of a-b-c-darians were seated in the center.” [cite book
last =Goodrich
first =Samuel Griswold
authorlink =Samuel Griswold Goodrich
coauthors =
title =Recollections of a Lifetime
publisher =Miller, Orton & Company
year =1857
location =New York
pages =p.140
url =http://books.google.com/books?id=6YHoJbGhdpMC&pg=PA140&dq=abc-darians&lr=
] Warren Burton also noted that "next to the spelling floor, were low, narrow seats for abecedarians and others near that rank. In general, the older the scholar the further from the front was his location."

A day in the life of an a-b-c-darian

A-b-c-darians in unreformed schools were drilled in their letters two or three times a day, then spent the rest of the school day on their own trying to recall the names of letters, and probably watching the recitations of older scholars who were called to the middle of the room to show what they had learned for the schoolmaster. Educator William Augustus Mowry recalled that “I was sent to the old brick schoolhouse when I was four years old. Two or three others entered school at the same A-B-C time. We sat on the low seat facing the open Class floor—the boys on one side and the girls on the other. We had nothing to do but to look on and thus cultivate our powers of observation. With all the classes of an ungraded school to teach, of course the teacher could give but a few minutes to the three A-B-C darians, who had just entered the school. Twice a day we were called up and took our places at the teacher's knee. Here we received our first lessons in learning to read; and this reading lesson of five minutes in the forenoon and five minutes in the afternoon was all we had to do." [cite book
last =Mowry
first =William Augustus
authorlink =William Augustus Mowry
coauthors =
title =Recollections of a New England Educator, 1838-1908
publisher =Silver, Burdett & Company
year =1908
location =New York, Boston & Chicago
pages =p.16
url =http://books.google.com/books?id=43O6sv1M6GwC&pg=PA16&dq=%22a-b-c-darians%22&lr=#PPA15,M1


Beginning in the 1830s, education reform included consideration of how to improve instruction for all students, including the a-b-c-darians. Education reformer Henry Barnard shared in the "American Journal of Education"(Volume XII, 1863. p. 597) that "Basedow at Magdeburg Johann Bernhard Basedow, adopted a constructive method of teaching the letters, by presenting them made in gingerbread—then rewarding success in remembering the name by gift of the substance. This founder of Philanthropinism should be held in everlasting and grateful remembrance by A-b-c-darians." [cite journal
last =Barnard
first =Henry
authorlink =Henry Barnard
coauthors =
title =A-B-C Books and Primers
journal =American Journal of Education
volume =vol.XII
issue =
pages =p. 597
publisher =Henry Barnard
location =Hartford
year =1863
url =http://books.google.com/books?id=jQYVAAAAIAAJ&pg=PA597&dq=abc-darians&lr=
] In the 1850s it was reported that in some some modifications has already taken place: “The A B C darians are each in a separate class, and are instructed in a very uniform style.” [cite journal
last =Phelps
first =W.F.
authorlink =
coauthors =
title =Lecture before the N. Y. State Teachers Association, in Hope Chapel, Broadway, August 8th, 1850.
journal =The District School Journal of the State of New York
volume =vol.11
issue =
pages =p. 106
publisher =Weed, Parsons & Company
location =Albany
year =1851
url = http://books.google.com/books?id=9dwBAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA106&dq=abc-darians&lr=

By contrast, New York educators continued to complain of poor methods for the younger students into the 1860s. “The habit of requiring the children of the alphabet class to give formal definitions to words which are far more simple than those used to define them, is a practice which I have endeavored to discourage. For instance, such words as father, mother, brother, sister, boy, girl, etc., it is not uncommon to hear defined by these little A-B-C-darians, in this manner:—" Mother—a female parent; brother—a male child born of the same parents; girl—a female child; cat— a domestic animal; cow—a domestic animal," &c." [ cite book
last =
first =
authorlink =
coauthors =
title =Twenty-Second Annual Report
publisher =New York (N.Y.). Board of Education
year =1864
location =
pages =p. 101-102
url =http://books.google.com/books?id=z74fcMw0eHsC&pg=RA1-PA102&dq=abc-darians&lr=


By the end of the 19th century the mere use of the term represented a bygone era of the one-room schoolhouse. George Howland, superintendent of the Chicago Public Schools declared in 1898 that “The days of the A-B-C-darians, and the three R's— all! ah! and alas! —have happily gone by, and hard after them are following those to whom the ability to trace with index-linger, word by word, and line by line, the pupil's progress down the page of the text-book, was enough. [cite book
last =Howland
first =George
authorlink =
coauthors =
title =Practical Hints For The Teachers Of Public Schools
publisher =D. Appleton & Company
year =1898
location =New York
pages =p.26
url =http://books.google.com/books?id=TAcBAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA26&dq=abc-darians&lr=


External links

* [http://www.fpg.unc.edu/~abc/ The Carolina Abecedarian Project]

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