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Thomas Jefferson's School Advice

September 4, 1996



The man who drafted America's Declaration of Independence and served as our third president (1801-09) was a devoted family man and a prodigious letter-writer. Here's what he sent to his oldest daughter, Martha, when she went away to school at age 11. Jefferson was then serving in the Continental Congress. His wife had died the year before.

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Annapolis Nov. 28, 1783

My Dear Patsy,

After four days' journey I arrived here without any accident and in as good health as when I left Philadelphia. The conviction that you would be more improved in the situation I have placed you than if still with me, has solaced me on my parting with you, which my love for you has rendered a difficult thing.... Consider the good lady who has taken you under her roof, who has undertaken to see that you perform all your exercises, and to admonish you in all those wanderings from what is right or what is clever to which your inexperience would expose you, consider her I say as your mother.... 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. 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 4. read French.

from 4. to 5. exercise yourself in music.

from 5. till bedtime read English, write &c.

Communicate this plan to Mrs. Hopkinson and if she approves of it pursue it.... I expect you will write to me by every post. Inform me what books you read, what tunes you learn, and enclose me your best copy of every lesson in drawing. Write also one letter every week either to your aunt Eppes, your aunt Skipwith, your aunt Carr, or the little lady from whom I now enclose a letter, and always put the letter you so write under cover to me. Take care that you never spell a word wrong. Always before you write a word consider how it is spelt, and if you do not remember it, turn to a dictionary. It produces great praise to a lady to spell well. I have placed my happiness on seeing you good and accomplished, and no distress which this world can now bring on me could equal that of your disappointing my hopes. If you love me then, strive to be good under every situation and to all living creatures, and to acquire those accomplishments which I have put in your power, and which will go far towards ensuring you the warmest love of your affectionate father.

TH: Jefferson

P.S. Keep my letters and read them at times that you may always have present in your mind those things which will endear you to me.

*To find out more about Thomas Jefferson and his life at Monticello (seen on the back of the US nickel) in Virginia, you may want to visit the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation's Web site at: http://www.monticello.org.