Education in the Jeffersonian Era
Opportunities for Men
One of the main tenets of Jefferson’s social philosophy was his vision of the “virtuous citizen,” and his “crusade against ignorance.” Jefferson , as seen by his establishment of the University of Virginia, was a fervent advocate of education, and envisioned a national system of free schools to educate future voters (only men, though). Despite Jefferson’s ambitious vision, schools were often private and quite expensive; therefore the richer families often were able to educate their children better than the poor. Schools across the nation were often private; church run in the south and mid-Atlantic and more secular in New England. In fact, the Phillips Exeter Academy, established in 1781, still exists and is a well-known institution today.
Women and Others
During the Revolutionary and colonial eras of America, women were confined to roles as wives and housekeepers and only received schooling in rare circumstances, such as if they were born into a rich family. However the idea of “Republican Motherhood;” that women should raise their children to be virtuous citizens of American society, became more prevalent during the Jeffersonian age. Some states, such as Massachusetts, passed laws that allowed women to attend public schools.
Native Americans , who many thought to be “noble savages,” saw a rise in educational opportunities, particularly by missionaries. African-Americans, however, barring a small minority of freed slaves in the north, saw literally no educational activity. Slave masters often feared that knowledge equaled power, power being a greater potential for uprising.
A statue of Thomas Jefferson at UVA
A statue of Thomas Jefferson at UVA

Higher Education, or the Lack Thereof
Though Jefferson himself was a great proponent of higher education (his effigy is plastered all over the University of Virginia); "Enlighten the people, generally, and tyranny and oppressions of body and mind will vanish like spirits at the dawn of day ," he said. Despite the fervent enthusiasm of the president, though, higher (collegiate) education was an extremely rare opportunity. As if its unreachable nature for anyone but the wealthy wasn’t enough, colleges were often heavily religion-focused, their main purpose being to train ministers. Some law schools, such as Penn, were established, but most lawyers trained as apprentices of others.
Culture and Literature
As America embraced their role as a new nation, they sought to establish a new, unique culture, separate from the ones of Europe that they had been so much influenced by prior to the revolution. Noah Webster, co-publisher of the quintessential Merriam-Webster Dictionary, actually took to establishing newfangled “American” spellings of words, changing words like “honour” to “honor” and “colour” to “color.” Despite the overall majority of British writing in publications, American authors established a presence. Authors such as Washington Irving, author of popular works of fiction such as The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle and Mercy Otis Warren, who authored works such as History of the Revolution.
Religion and the Great Awakening
The ideas of the European Enlightenment affected religion in America in the post-revolutionary era. Deism was the belief that God
Methodist leader Francis Asbury
Methodist leader Francis Asbury
was responsible for the creation of the Universe, but took a “hands-off” approach following that. In fact, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin both considered themselves Deists. At the beginning of the 19th century, though, evangelism became a prevalent force in American culture and religion in general. Protestant leaders such as Francis Asbury of the Methodists and Timothy Dwight of the Presbyterians held “camp meetings,” events where large numbers of followers gathered and professed their faith. Evangelists often appealed to people in the western, rural areas of American settlement, such as Kentucky. Women, who comprised a majority of the population in some areas, used religion as a substitute for the institution of marriage, which was sometimes unavailable to them. African-Americans attended many revivals, which brought a message of egalitarianism. Evangelical spirits also penetrated the Native American culture. The prophet Handsome Lake encouraged the Iroquois to strive for the restoration of their native culture and become farmers, rather than hunters as they had traditionally been. Overall, the Second Great Awakening brought the spirit of evangelism to the forefront of American religious activity, a spirit that is still seen today.


Works Cited
Brinkley, Alan. "The Jeffersonian Era." American History: A Survey. 12th ed. New York: McGraw Hill, 2007. Print.
"Francis Asbury | Christian History." ChristianityToday.com | Magazines, News, Church Leadership & Bible Study. Web. 20 May 2010. <http://www.christianitytoday.com/ch/131christians/denominationalfounders/asbury.html>.
"Short History of the." University of Virginia. Web. 20 May 2010. <http://www.virginia.edu/uvatours/shorthistory/>.
"Thomas Jefferson Quotes - The Quotations Page." The Quotations Page - Your Source for Famous Quotes. Web. 18 May 2010. <http://www.quotationspage.com/quotes/Thomas_Jefferson>.