Dig Deeper - Educating Children

"With Respect to the Distribution of Your Time"

Thomas Jefferson had high expectations for his daughters' and grandchildren's upbringing. Following the death of his wife in 1782, Jefferson took an active role in the education of his daughters, Martha and Maria.

"What I Should Approve"

PastelsIn 1783, for instance, Jefferson wrote Martha, then eleven years old, outlining a schedule for her to follow. He drafted the routine because she was staying in Philadelphia, while he was awaiting word in Annapolis, Maryland, about his diplomatic appointment to France:

With respect to the distribution of your time the following is what I should approve.

from 8 to 10 o'clock practise music.
from 10 to 1 o'clock dance one day and draw another.
from 1 to 2 draw on the day you dance, and write a letter the next day.
from 3 to 5 read French.
from 4 to 5 exercise yourself in music.
from 5 till bedtime read English, write etc.

The letter continues: "I expect you will write to me by every post. . . Take care that you never spell a word wrong. . . If you love me then, strive to be good under every situation and to all living creatures."

"I am Afraid You Do Not Comply"

Despite Jefferson's hopes, it seems that Martha was not very partial to his schedule, for three weeks later, he wrote her: "I am afraid you do not comply with my desires expressed in that letter. Your not writing to me every week is one instance . . . ." In fact, she had not written him once in that time. They did, however, carry on a long and affectionate correspondence during their separations.

Jefferson: "A Hard Student"

It might be appropriate to note that Jefferson did not ask his daughters to work any harder than he had at their age. He described himself as "a hard student," and during his studies, he worked as many as fifteen hours a day. He also scheduled physical exercise into his day, believing that "if the body be feeble, the mind will not be strong."

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Paintbox and palette of Cornelia Jefferson Randolph. Palette courtesy University of Virginia.

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