Selling Gentility and Pretending Morality: Education and Newspaper Advertisements in Philadelphia, 1765–75


In the decade before the American Revolution, advertisements for education commonly advanced appeals to gentility while simultaneously promising that instructors oversaw appropriate moral development of students. As the consumer revolution unfolded and greater numbers of colonists possessed goods formerly reserved primarily for elites, all kinds of educators (schoolmasters and -mistresses, language tutors, dancing and fencing masters) marketed manners, morality, and comportment—their own and that learned by their pupils—as means of distinguishing the truly genteel from pretenders. In so doing, they fashioned impressions of exclusivity while simultaneously selling their services to any who paid their fees. Advertisements concerning schoolmasters who duped others demonstrated the cultural fragility inherent in pretenses of gentility and morality.