ATTEMPTS WERE MADE as early as 1761 to start a school in Pittsburgh, but they didn't last long. Then in the November 10, 1786, issue of the Pittsburgh Gazette, a Mrs. Pride advertised
a school for young ladies. Mrs. Pride said that she would teach needlework, embroidering, reading, and English. Young women learned the alphabet by sewing the letters with colored thread onto a stretched piece of cloth. This was called a sampler.

What would it be like to learn the alphabet
by sewing letters on a piece of cloth

Later, a boy's school was advertised. A Mr. Nickel said he would teach Latin, reading, English, writing, and arithmetic. In 1787 twenty-one men, including Mr. Brackenridge, started the "Pittsburgh Academy." Starting on April 13, 1789, Mr. George Welch began teaching at the new Academy. His lessons included "Learned Languages, English, Mathematics, Principles of Government."

The Academy included both boys and girls from 10 to 12 years old. They scheduled the classes to allow the children time to help with their family's farm work. Sometimes the children went to school at night, after working on their farms during the day. The custom of being off school during the summer months is a result of this need for children to help care for the family farm.

How would you feel going to school in the evening
after working all day on your family's farm?

Classes were first held in a log cabin at the corner of Cherry Street and Third Avenue. The classroom was also the schoolmaster's bedroom, so desks were hung on a hinge on the wall so that they could be lowered at night. Benches were split logs. The students had to bring their own goose quill pens, homemade ink, and paper. Ink was used instead of pencils then. Pencils were very expensive at that time and contained broad pieces of lead that made very large marks on paper. If students came to evening classes, they also had to bring their own candles. Some schoolbooks were printed in Pittsburgh by Zadok Cramer. Others were brought from the east. Students who could not purchase school books often made their own by copying the texts.

What would it be like to copy your own schoolbooks?

In 1790, a two-story brick building was added to the school that had one room downstairs and two rooms upstairs. This school changed its appearance and location many more times and is known today as the University of Pittsburgh. As a reminder of its humble beginning, a log cabin sits on the lawn of the University of Pittsburgh's largest building, the Cathedral of Learning.

Some of the children's chores before and after school included preparing flax, which was grown for its fiber. Flax was used to make a linen cloth. After the flax was cut, it was dried in the sun and the seeds were beaten out. Then the flax was put into a Flax Break where it was broken into pieces. These were then beaten again (called "scutching.") with a flat board. This allowed the flax fibers to be pulled through a tool called a Hackle. The Hackle had pointed metal spikes, which the flax was dragged through or combed through into strands. The larger strands were made into rough material for grain bags and heavy clothing. The smaller strands were spun on small spinning wheels to be woven into linen. Linen was made into various clothing including shirts, shifts, hats, aprons, tablecloths, napkins, and sheets.

On the hearth of some homes was a metal tool that held a rotating rack. Wire rods held pieces of bread in the rack that spun around when nudged. This act of spinning around was also called stirring. The tool was the original Toaster (Toast-Stir).

As Pittsburgh grew in size, wealth, and connections to the East, women in Pittsburgh began to wear the latest fashions of the time. To keep their expensive clothes from dipping into mud puddles, they wore Pattens. When they walked through the city, these acted as platforms to raise their shoes up above the muck.




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A Flax Break>

April 19, 2013 Addition: