The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21). rn VOLUME XVII. Later National Literature, Part II.XXIII. Education
§ 8. Elementary Schools
The colonial elementary school received little attention in written records except in the minutes of ecclesiastical bodies and in town records. In these references the records of Massachusetts towns are particularly rich. The town of Salem ordered in 1644 “that a rate be published on next lecture day that such as have children to be kept at school would bring in their names and what they will give for one whole year, and also that if any poor body hath children, or a child, that the town will pay for it by rate.” The first part of this town order indicates the method by which the earliest schools were generally supported—that of voluntary contribution. The last clause of the entry constitutes probably the first instance in America of legal provision for free education by state support. From these conditions and within a generation free public education in the Massachusetts towns developed.