Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Secret Life of the American Teenager: Circa 1700s


When we think of July 4th, Independence Day, a couple of things come to mind (probably in this order): BBQ, fireworks, Will Smith, freedom, and finally the American Revolution. Teens today are afforded many luxuries, from cell phones to a sense of entitlement, but what would like have been like for them in the Colonial period? Imagine no technology, no electricity, and no personal freedom.

According to Ellen Holmes Pearson of Teaching History, “that stage of their lives was not the carefree, exploratory period that today’s youth experience.” Back then, teens were already expected to know their plans for the future; there was no wait-until-you-get-to-college attitude. In fact, most young adults didn’t have the opportunity for any higher education. Teen boys, specifically, had to learn a trade and practice it every day. Telling a 21st century American teenager today to get a job at fifteen is laughable by adults and teens alike.

Much like today, however, one’s status in life composed his/her future. The rich had more opportunities in education, career, and social life. Pearson claims that “children of poor families were often bound to servitude at a young age, earning their keep while learning a trade.” The rich get richer and the poor get poorer adage has not changed much since the 1700s. The majority of the poor were illiterate while the middle and upper classes were taught to read and write. If you were a teen boy of average means, you would work in the family business until you could take it over yourself. If you were a wealthy teen boy, Pearson states that you were sent to boarding school and then to universities such as Harvard and Yale. Even then, there weren’t many choices. You either started your own business or returned to the family business.

Let’s talk about girls for a second. Girls, you weren’t allowed any higher education. You were expected to learn how to be a mother and run the household. However, Pearson cites one exception: Eliza Lucas, who at 15, was moved to Charleston, South Carolina (about two hours from where I live). While her father was traveling with the army and her mother was sick, Pearson states that Eliza was in charge of three plantations. Maybe she can be considered the first businesswoman and the pioneer for the generations of women to follow who wanted equal education and career opportunities.

So, teens of 2k14, consider July 4th a time to consider life from a different perspective, of a different time. Put the cell phone down for a while, take a walk with the cousins you rarely visit, and talk about the entire future that stands before you. It’s all yours, and there is no end to the boundless opportunities that you have.


http://teachinghistory.org/history-content/ask-a-historian/24098