The Teaching of Writing After
the American Civil War

The American Civil War was fought between 1861 and 1865 after the Southern states seceded from the Union. Over 500,000 Americans from the Northern states died trying to abolish slavery and keep the nation whole.

Higher Education Before the Civil War

Before the war, those few Americans who went to college did so because they sought a career in medicine, law, or the ministry.

Higher Education After the Civil War

After the war, American entered a boom time of industrial expansion. Families wanted their sons (very few women went to college) to have a background in business. That included strong skills in writing, logic, and public speaking.

Colleges were overwhelmed with students. Professors who taught writing had classes jump from being very small to being very large.

The requirements of composition courses did not change. Students were expected to write an essay each week. The professor was expected to require that students explore a different theme – usually on a subject involving morality, such as “honesty.” The essays were called “Themes.”

Professors wanted to reduce their workload. Their solutions to the problem changed the teaching of writing.