The History of Education: The American Educational System, Early National Period (Noah Webster)

[Editor’s Note: This is the 25th in a series of blogs that examine how education developed throughout history until the present. Links to previous blogs are included at the bottom of the post.]

When we talk about contributions to education, we’d be remiss in not mentioning Noah Webster — yes, that Webster, whose name appears on the Merriam-Webster dictionary.

Webster was America’s greatest lexicographer, a man who mastered 20 languages, including Chaldean, Syriac, Hebrew, Arabic, Ethiopic, and Persian. Born in Connecticut in 1758, he graduated from Yale with a bachelor’s degree, and he taught school for several years while he studied to get his law degree. Admitted to the bar in 1781, he didn’t go into active practice until 1789 but discovered law wasn’t his calling.

It was in 1782, when Webster taught school in Goshen, New York, that he identified the need for the new American schools to have textbooks on the American language, as opposed to the British texts they currently used. To fill this gap, he wrote a three-volume work. The first volume contained a speller, known as the “Blue-backed Speller” because of its binding color, which became standard in American schools for quite some time and influenced the direction of American English and its use in education. The remaining two volumes were a grammar book and a reader, but they were less popular.

His other major contribution to American education and the culture at large was his publication of the first uniquely American dictionary. This dictionary, like his speller, reflected the language Americans actually used instead of using words, phrases, and spellings drawn from the British tradition. Webster was widely criticized while working on the project, but when the dictionary was finally published in 1828, it drew acclaim from both sides of the pond. “An American Dictionary of the English Language,” as it was named, was adopted by Congress in 1831 as the national standard.


Next week: Early National Period, educational ordinances


To read part 1: Introduction, click here.

To read part 2: Purpose of education, click here.

To read part 3: Prehistory to pre-industrial, click here.

To read part 4: Mesopotamia and the Sumerians, click here.

To read part 5: Ancient Egypt, click here.

To read part 6: Ancient Greece and Rome, click here.

To read part 7: The Greek philosophers, click here.

To read part 8: China, click here.

To read part 9: The Olmecs and the Maya, click here.

To read part 10: The Islamic World: Basics, click here.

To read part 11: The Islamic World: The Golden Age, click here.

To read part 12: The Renaissance, click here.

To read part 13: American Educational System Overview, click here.

To read part 14: European Influences, Jon Amos Comenius, click here.

To read part 15, European Influences,  Froebel, click here.

To read part 16, European Influences, Herbart, click here.

To read part 17, European Influences, Herbert Spencer, click here.

To read part 18, Colonial Period, Puritans, click here.

To read part 19, Colonial Period, New England Books, click here.

To read part 20, Colonial Period, Massachusetts Education Laws, click here.

To read part 21, Colonial Period, Harvard College, click here.

To read part 22, Early National Period, Benjamin Franklin, click here.

To read part 23, Early National Period, Benjamin Rush, click here.

To read part 24, Early National Period, Thomas Jefferson, click here.




[1] Weidner, Linda Ebersole. (June 15, 2004). “Noah Webster.” History of Education Web Project. Retrieved from


Author: AceReader Blogger

The AceReader blogging team is made up of specialists in a number of different areas: literacy, general education, content development, and educational software. For questions about posts, please submit them in the form below. For suggestions about blog topics, please email them to

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