Starting in Massachusetts

On April 14, 1642, the Massachusetts Bay Colony was the first to pass a law in the New World requiring that children be taught to read and write. Those Puritans from England believed that an individual’s well being, as well as success of the colony, depended upon being literate. They recognized that people needed to be able to read in order to understand and interpret the Bible and the laws of the land.

Five years later, in 1647, Massachusetts colonists passed another law requiring that all towns establish and maintain public schools to ensure that learning to read and write was possible.

Since Black men enjoyed relative equality aboard whaling ships, they were unwilling to settle for inferior separate schools for their children at home. Nantucket Whaling Captain Absalom Boston led a group of black people who put pressure on Massachusetts lawmakers to pass a law to make quality education a right for all children. After a hard fought struggle, the Massachusetts legislature passed House Bill 45 on March 25, 1845 promising that every child in the state would have free access to public school regardless of race, religion or economic status.

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Nantucket Historical Association