In her Godey's editorial of February 1836, Sarah Josepha Hale observed that formalized systems of penmanship had blurred the surface differences of a handwritten text so that "females of the same class in life, now write, as they dress, nearly alike." Still, she continues, "the destruction of individual character, by the adoption of the general type or form in manuscript, is really but a trifling loss" when compared with the gain in readability. Although handwriting may threaten to level individual differences, a written text will still attest to the entitlement of its absent writer, for "the language is a much better criterion of the writer's mental and moral qualities, than the characters in which it is clothed" ( 12:57-58). Hale's observations here encompass issues of upward mobility, social counterfeit, and the difficulty of reading "character" in an age of increasing literacy. She metaphorically equates orthography with dress, insisting, by extension, that although each may be an unreliable indicator of character, a lady's true "mental and moral qualities" may be measured in her language. Although Hale is vague here about what she means by language, in other texts she equates it with style, precise diction, and, of course, standard and grammatical English.
Although this editorial considered only one outcome of increasingly available education, it anticipated the combined effects of industrialization, state-mandated and state-supported education, and mass-circulation print, as well, all of which combined to make literacy a less-than-precise indicator of class entitlement. By 1850 in the increasingly homogeneous and industrial northeastern United States, outward signifiers of social class -- whether material goods, manners, taste, or literate behaviors -- were increasingly available to anyone with cash, regardless of the entitlements of birth or