After the construction of the new meetinghouse in 1830, one of the first items of business was to start a First-Day School so that Orthodox Friends could pass on to their children the values and beliefs that they felt had been challenged during the Hicksite separation. Although interest in this undertaking waxed and waned over the next few years, in 1833 a two-story schoolhouse was built on the meetinghouse grounds that would serve as the location for both a First-Day School on Sunday afternoons and a Quaker school during the week.
From 1833 to 1834, Elijah Coffin taught the First-Day School, and his son Charles was among his students. Charles Coffin, who later served for many years as clerk of Indiana Yearly Meeting, recalled his experiences at the school:
[It] was confined wholly to Biblical instruction, and was taught by my father without division into classes. There was no infant class, but boys and girls of my own age (I was then ten years old) attended. Most of the families of Friends residing in Cincinnati were represented in this school. The children of Wm. Crossman, Ephraim Morgan, and others were among the scholars, and the older Friends frequently attended as visitors.
I have no data to go upon, but from my recollection, should think that there were from twenty-five to fifty scholars. The Bible was read by the scholars and portions of it were learned and recited by them. The names, in their order, of the books of the Bible were repeated, and some of us have never forgotten the order in which they come, but could recite lessons then taught, at any time.
The Ten Commandments, Lord’s Prayer and other portions of the Holy Scriptures were also learned and recited by the scholars. . . . I recollect some of the names of the scholars: there were Christopher Morgan; Geo. E. Pugh, afterwards United States Senator; O. J. Luckey; and other boys of my own age. This school was continued during most of the time of our residence in Cincinnati, which terminated on the 1st of Twelfth month, 1834. I presume that it was not continued after our removal.
George Pugh’s sister, Mary, also attended, although she herself later wrote, “My opinion is that the school did not long flourish. There were not many pupils.”
Indeed, the minutes did not mention the First-Day School again for almost 20 years. Then in 1853, the meeting directed that $20.70 from the meeting’s library fund be appropriated to the library of the First-Day School. Over the next 15 years, that collection would grow to have 430 volumes.
In 1854, Cincinnati Monthly Meeting once again set up a committee to organize the First-Day School (also referred to as a First-Day Scripture School). As they did during worship, the boys sat on one side of the room, and the girls on the other. The teachers selected lessons from the Scriptures, and there was no singing. By 1868, there were about 50 First-Day School students.
Friends' dedication to religious education was not limited to that which occurred at the meeting. More than 40 Quakers taught at non-denominational Sunday Schools throughout the city, including one operated by Cincinnati Union Bethel, which offered Biblical instruction to about 2,500 pupils from two years of age to adults. Benjamin Frankland (who would later become one of the meeting’s ministers) was for many years the superintendent of the Sunday School there.
This article comes from the book Friends Past and Present: The Bicentennial History of Cincinnati Friends Meeting (1815–2015). You can obtain a copy of the printed book or a Kindle version from Amazon.com. The proceeds of all sales go to Cincinnati Friends Meeting.