Milcah Martha Moore, author of this book for school children, was a member of the Quaker community in Philadelphia. The Quakers were a Protestant faith that believed in the equality of the sexes in the eyes of God. Quaker women were allowed to preach, interpret the Bible, write and publish religious essays, and teach others about their faith. This meant Quaker women were generally more educated and more comfortable speaking and writing publicly than women of other faiths in the English colonies.
For all their religious freedom, Quaker women were still expected to be subordinate to the men in their communities. For example, they were responsible for caring for the poor and making sure their children were raised properly, but most of their decisions had to be approved by Quaker men before they could be enacted.
Milcah Martha Moore followed the eighteenth-century practice of keeping a common book. Common books were notebooks where women recorded their favorite sermons, poetry, passages from books, excerpts from letters, and bits of wisdom. Women shared their common books with one another, and wrote original poems and essays for their friends’ books. These books were rarely published, making them a semipublic, and distinctly feminine, form of entertainment, instruction, and information sharing.
Milcah’s common book came to the attention of a Philadelphia publisher in the 1780s. He asked her to turn it into an instructional book for school children. The book reveals the strong religious themes prevalent in eighteenth-century education, as well as the personal qualities prized by eighteenth-century communities. Benjamin Franklin endorsed the book, writing an introduction in which he said the book was exactly what the new country needed to instruct the next generation of citizens.