Massachusetts during the Colonial period and the early days of the Republic was probably the most literate society that the world had ever seen. According to the census of 1840, only 1.1% of adults in Massachusetts were illiterate. Literacy among native-born English speakers in Massachusetts was probably far higher in 1840 than it is today. The high rate of literacy in Massachusetts was no accident.
- Parents were required by law to ensure that their children learned to read.
- Local governments were required to provide schooling.
- The early schools used an effective phonetic method of teaching reading.