1674 – Roxbury Mass., after worship taught catechism and Scripture
1680 – Pilgrim Church in Plymouth, deacons asked to assist pastor in teaching children
Robert Raikes of Gloucester, and editor of the Gloucester Journal, as well as people like Hannah More in Somerset and the Wesleys, certainly persevered in the late eighteenth century with the result that Sunday Schools were established extensively throughout England. They were formed to meet the great social and spiritual needs of the day. One day, while looking for a gardener, Raikes found himself in St. Catherine's St. He noticed a group of ragged children playing in the street. The gardener’s wife told him that it was even worse on Sunday when the street was full of children cursing and swearing and spending their time in noise and riot. Most of these children were employed in the pin making industry and worked twelve hours a day, six days a week, for a mere pittance and received no education. Sunday (the free day) was a time to run around lawless and wild. Robert Raikes then realized that the prisons were full of people whose lives had been shaped by their deprived childhood. From personal observation, he became aware that punishment did nothing to change these prisoners; it even served to harden them in their ways. He believed the root cause of most of the evil was ignorance. Soon after this, in 1780, he and the reverend Thomas Stock opened the worlds first Sunday Schools in St. Catherine's St. and in the neighborhood which was called Sooty Alley, because it was the area where chimney sweeps lived. At the time, any children between the ages of five and fourteen were admitted, no matter what the state of their clothes. Lessons were given by suitable ladies ( paid 1 shilling and sixpence ) and included reading and writing and a visit to Church.
The success of these Sunday Schools was reported in the Journal and they soon spread throughout the country . Within 4 years there were 250,000 students in Raikes' Sunday schools.
By 1785 the SS had 3 major characteristics: (1) strong lay leadership, (2) compassionate response to social evils, and (3) the Bible was focus of all study. The famous evangelist John Wesley remarked, “I find these Scools springing up wherever I go.”
In America, in the late 1780s, several schools were begun following Raikes plan, using paid teachers, spellers and hymnals, and providing a secular education. In 1785, William Elliott established first SS in USA on his plantation in Virginia. His concern: that children learn to read the Bible. Katy Ferguson worked in New York City with poor street children. One young woman was criticized, told she was “desecrating God’s day in God’s house. This was almost exclusively a lay movement: pastors in almost all denominations derided it. It slowly moved into churches as a result of the middle class interest: gradually a particular SS would become identified with a nearby congregation. Slowly clergy recognized the potential of SS as a growth force - and their attitude began to change.
In the early 1800’s schools were being organized by churches rather than individuals, using volunteers and giving religious instruction. Dr. Lyman Beecher was instrumental in getting middle and upper classes involved. Societies were formed to promote and establish SS,
The Pawtucket, Rhode Island, school brought education to the workplace, being founded on the property of the first U.S. cotton mill.
The Sunday school paved the way for the development of the public schools
1817 – Philadelphia Sunday and Adult School Union
1821 – Missionary employed who organized 60 schools in 6 states.
1824 - American SS Union (ASSU) was formed in Philadelphia. It had 3 purposes: (1) To
disseminate religious publications in every part of the country, (2) To endeavor to
plant a SS wherever there is a population, and (3) organize Sunday School leaders.
1832 – First national SS Convention
1840 – Stephen Paxson, an Illinois farmer, was born with a speech impediment and was later nicknamed “stuttering Stephen.” Paxson had little formal schooling, but when he was thirty years old, his daughter, Mary, begged him to attend Sunday school and help her win a prize. He obliged. When he arrived, he was pressed into service to teach a class of boys. They read the Scripture, and he asked questions out of a book. Embarrassed that the boys knew more about the Bible than he did, Paxson read the Bible and eventually was converted. In 180 Stephen Paxson, was commissioned to establish schools on the American frontier. In 20 years of rigorous horseback traveling, he personally established more than 1,200 schools.
Many schools were the soil out of which congregations grew. ASSU's strategy was to ignore doctrinal and political differences, to be non- denominational in purpose and practice. The movement produced thousands of hymns and songs, including “Jesus loves me, this I know”
1872 - B. F. Jacobs, a Baptist layman from Chicago, persuaded the Fifth National SS
Convention, meeting in Indianapolis, to adopt the Uniform Lesson Series. This plan
provided the same lesson for all ages. Even though it has changed significantly, the
Uniform Series is still in popular use, particularly for adult studies - currently some 8
million quarterlies a year are printed in the USA, based on the Uniform Series
1875 – David C. Cook Publishing founded
1969 - 40.4 million students. Peak enrollment. (US population was 203 million - 19.9% were in
SS). Attendance began dropping, and has not yet stopped.
1986 (most recent year for which I have comprehensive stats) - 26.6 million students (US
population was 241 million - 11% were in SS)