President John F. Kennedy’s book “A Nation of Immigrants” documents the hundreds of countries and languages that had to be assimilated after arriving at Ellis Island. Also documented are the requirements laid upon those immigrants to demonstrate English writing and reading skills, or to join classes where writing and reading was the gateway to citizenship.
See also James Michener’s well researched book “Chesapeake” describing the boat loads of English women prisoners who were imported by mail order to assist the need for adding women to the dominantly male population. These women were our fore-parents,. illiterate and few read to their children. Nor did the father who was busy clearing land and struggling to survive. This was an early and limited period in our history.
Slaves also were usually prevented from learning to read, forming about 5% of the population prior to the emancipation. Today, as then, there are primarily servant’s positions for people who cannot write or read - short order cooking, migrant workers, lawn service workers.... Those who read and write advance from poverty to leadership and better paying jobs.
In our frontier years, however, the value of literacy is evidenced in every early American community: first the school was built, then the church, then the town hall.
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