Time to go Back to School!

Henry Lea Tatnall

As we move into the middle of September, schools are open again and kids across Delaware are hitting the books. I have also been hitting the books while cataloging the unique manuscript collections at the research library here at DHS. For the past few weeks, I have been cataloging school composition books, math exercise books, and autograph books kept by Delaware school children. But school was not always fun and games for students. Like today, students worked hard at their studies and spent countless hours on homework and preparations for exams. Henry Lea Tatnall, of Wilmington, was one such student. In his adult life, Henry was known locally for his landscape paintings of the Brandywine valley. But in early life, Henry liked to draw scenes from his everyday experiences as a student. His education was very similar, yet very different, from how children experience education and school today in the 21st century. Henry started his school days in a one room schoolhouse. He then packed up his bags and left home for “college,” probably around the age of eleven or twelve. For Henry, “college” meant Westtown Academy, a Quaker boarding school outside of Philadelphia. Leaving home for a boarding school was very common among well-to-do families of Delaware. The last scene we see of Henry is a little sketch entitled, “The effects of hard study upon Henry L Tatnall.” The messy hair and perplexed look over the complicated math problem is a scene very familiar to school kids even today! Although, poor Henry did not have a calculator to make his math exercises easier. You can visit the DHS research library yourself to see school books from the 1700s, 1800s, and 1900s. What kinds of things were school kids your age learning one hundred or two hundred years ago? Come find out!



3 thoughts on “Time to go Back to School!

  1. Thank you!! Henry Lea is my Great Great Grandfather and I came across this posting while doing research on the web. I will need to visit DHS soon

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