Most schools in central New York did not issue report cards to students in the mid-nineteenth century. If students performed well in school, learned and recited their lessons properly, and exhibited good behavior, they received merit slips, or Rewards of Merit. The teacher wrote the student’s name on the pre-printed slip and signed it as the student’s reward.
Instead of writing in notebooks, students used a slate and slate pencil to do their school lessons in the mid-nineteenth century. After copying a lesson, they would study and memorize it in preparation for reciting the lesson to the teacher. The slates and slate pencils were usually purchased at the local general store.
Although school children most often used slates to complete their lessons, older students sometimes used quill pens and ink. The quill pen was dipped into the inkwell, then dabbed on a blotter to remove excess ink. Quills were used to practice penmanship and spelling, which was known as orthography. The teacher also used a quill pen and ink to write merit slips and other official school papers.