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Some time before 1830, girls in New England began to attend town schools more or less on par with boys, and women's mastery of basic literacy in the region rose to levels comparable to those of men. Women also came to assume increasingly important teaching roles. Each of these changes had some bearing on the other two and establishing the timing of the changes with some precision is important. First, the timing of the changes in levels of female literacy, school attendance, and teaching matter for their own sake. More especially, these changes are important because historians, insofar as they have attended to these changes, have seen them as reflections of wider cultural shifts—changes in views of women and women's roles.
The last decade has seen an explosion in educational reform initiatives to improve educational quality, including programs in which colleges and universities join together with public schools to support local education. The work of Boston University in supervising the Chelsea Public Schools is among the best known. These cooperative efforts are not new, however, and have a long history in the Boston area. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Harvard and its faculty played an important role in founding, supporting, and supervising the Cambridge grammar school. Like many cooperative activities today, the two institutions were brought together through philanthropy. In 1726, the executors of the Edward Hopkins legacy entrusted Harvard with funds to support both divinity scholars at the college and Latin students at the grammar school. As administrator for the funds, the Harvard Corporation sat as de facto overseers for the school, designating the Hopkins scholars at the school, conducting annual visitations, and providing partial financial support for the schoolmaster.
In the mid-eighteenth century, the American colonies could boast of only six colleges—Harvard and Yale in New England; William and Mary in Virginia; and the three fledgling institutions in the middle colonies, King's College (Columbia), the College of New Jersey (Princeton), and the College of Philadelphia (University of Pennsylvania). With the exception of William and Mary, these institutions were located on the northeastern seacoast, enrolled mostly local students, followed a scholastic course of study within a regentship system, and had few graduates. The number of college-educated males in the colonial population in the early 1760s is estimated at only one per thousand.
Scholars have long recognized the Great Awakening (circa 1735–45) as an important moment in the history of American higher education. As increasing numbers of young men experienced conversion and entered the ministry, leaders seized the opportunity to establish educational institutions that furthered the aims of the revival. Within a generation after the Awakening, prorevivalist groups founded four new colleges: the College of New Jersey at Princeton by Presbyterians in 1746, Rhode Island College (renamed Brown University) by Baptists in 1764, Queen's College (renamed Rutgers) by Dutch Reformed in 1766, and Dartmouth College by the Congregationalist Eleazar Wheelock in 1769.