Quill pens were the writing implement of choice before the invention of the metal-nibbed pen in the mid 19th Century. The wing feathers of large birds made excellent quill pens. The hollow interior of the feather helped hold ink in reserve, allowing the writer to dip into the ink less often. This quill is made from a turkey feather. People gathered the feathers during the turkey’s annual molt where turkeys shed the feathers naturally. People trimmed the feathers to a fine point- that rarely needed to be resharpened.
During school, pupils practiced reading from books called readers. Readers often contained short stories to read and recite. Spelling and vocabulary words, as well as questions to answer about the story, often followed a reading.
Many of the stories in readers reflected the lives that students led. One of the lessons in Cobb’s New Juvenile Reader No. III is about a farmer’s son and the son of a widow. The story also reflects the fact that families had to pay to send their children to school. If a family could not afford school, a child did not attend.
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.