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American Primers and Readers

Featuring the Words and Collection of Richard L. Venezky

An online exhibition of the Cubberley Education Library, Stanford University

Southern Textbooks

Overview of Southern Textbooks exhibit case
Detail of left side of exhibit case Detail of the cover of the Southern Primer

"And yet on the great question of slavery, the question which, most of all, lies at the very foundation of Southern Society, the question upon the answer to which depends our acquittal or condemnation, upon this question are we criminally careless. Wherein consists the good sense of prohibiting, to a Southern school-boy, the perusal of the works of George Sand or Paul de Kock, while the same youth is allowed, at will, to devour the abominable sophistries and jingling rhymes of Stowe and Whittier, is more than I have ever been able to discover. I have, however, long since learned that the custom is a very general, indeed, nearly a universal one. What earthly improvement a girl, not yet 'in her teens,' or a boy not yet free from the reign of the 'roundabout,' can derive from reading works wherein they are constantly informed that their fathers, and ancestors generally, for the last two hundred years, have been a heartless, cruel, bloody-minded set of robbers, kidnappers, and slave-whippers, I cannot imagine. The course of the Southern public, in this particular, is quite indefensible" ("Our School Books", 1860, p. 436)

Detail of right side of exhibit case
Southern Primer title page

The Southern primer, or, Child's first lessons in spelling and reading. 1860. Richmond, VA: Adolphus Morris.

Southern Primer pp. 24-25

"Even though the quality of southern printing was inferior to that of the North, due to the lack of both good press equipment and high-quality paper, southern textbooks remain important sources of regional expression" (Venezky, 1992, p. 454).

Southern Primer pp. 26-27

"Similarly, the South, beginning in the 1850s, started to produce its own textbooks in reaction to northern-produced texts that expressed opposition to slavery" (Venezky, 1992, p. 446).

Detail of pp. 84-85 of the Confederate Spelling Book

Smith, R. M. 1865. The Confederate spelling book; with reading lessons for the young, adapted to the use of schools or for private instruction. Richmond, VA: G. L. Bidgood.

Confederate Spelling Book title page

Smith, R. M. 1865. The Confederate spelling book; with reading lessons for the young, adapted to the use of schools or for private instruction. Richmond, VA: G. L. Bidgood.


Detail of pp. 650-651 of DeBow's Review

"Education at the South." De Bow's review and industrial resources, statistics, etc. 21 (December 1856): 650-59.