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The Great Vertical/Slant wars of the turn of the century.


From about 1890-1910 a great debate was heating up. Should students be taught to write with a slant, or write more vertically.

Around 1894, a teacher named Jackson first published a book advocating vertical writing as more natural and less damaging to young hands. It's also easier to read and faster to write. Within a couple of years several more authors jumped on the vertical bandwagon.

In the 1890's Vertical writing took off with an explosion, but was soon met with sitff opposition.

Here's a quote from an article in 1901 explaining the move towards "Intermedial Slant" or "Modified Slant" writing from "Vertical Penmanship."

It gives you an idea of the churning of ideas and debates within the educational systems on the proper way to write, and how important penmanship had become by the end of the 19th-century. This is from The School Journal, January 05, 1901.

"When the sudden rage for vertical penmanship came into vogue in 1890, [AAA: Jackson originally published his first book on vertical writing in 1875] there was not a series of copy-books published in this country that did not follow, substantially, the standard Spencerian slant of fifty-two degrees. Professional penmen were therefore very slow to follow any departure from that slant, and it was only when they began to investigate the writing that was in use in business offices that they saw there was some foundation and reason for a considerable departure from the old standard."

Then some penman, led by Lyman and Heman P. Smith, studied the problem by getting actual samples from hundreds of clerks and others who have to write quickly and clearly. They had them write on tracing paper, and then put that up against an under-sheet with angles on it. What they found was that 90-percent wrote somewhere in the 70-80-degree slant, rather than purely vertical or the Spencerian 52-degrees. Thus, Smith's Intermedial Round Hand Penmanship was published.

In the same issue of the journal an ad for Esterbrook steel pens asks the question, "Vertical or Slant" They then go on to say, "Whatever is the decision of the powers that be as to which shall be used, we shall be able to supply orders for either style with Esterbrook Pens."

Later that year, you find this article published.

--- Quote ---"The Solution of the Writing Problem"

Resolutions adopted By The National Penmanship Teachers' Association, at Detroit, Michigan, December 29, 1900.

We the Penmanship Teachers' Association of the National Commercial Teachers' Federation in convention assembled, in order to suggest the proper solution of the Public School Writing problem, adopt the following preamble and resolutions:

Whereas, No system of writing, whether vertical or slant, will in itself, insure good writing, whether taught by copy-book, copy-slip, tablet, blackboard, or by any other method;

Whereas, the best results can only be secured by earnest, faithful, intelligent teaching on the part of well-qualified teachers;

Whereas, It is a very well known fact that a large per cent of teachers have no prepared themselves to teach this important brand, simply because their boards of examiners have not subjected them to as rigid an examination in this as in other branches, but have simply graded them from their manuscripts, and have never refused to grant certificates however illegible the writing; ...
--- End quote ---

The article then goes to to say that the Penmanship Teachers' Association calls upon boards of examiners to examine ability to teach penmanship as rigidly as in other branches, and they should "call to their aid the assistance of specialists." (i.e. them, surprise) And that instructors of penmanship should be hired by every school in every district. (another not surprise)

Interestingly enough, they call for primary school students to write less, as they are incredibly prone to finger writing and it's hard to break them of that habit once it is taken up.

For a while, every pen maker was making a "Vertical Writer" and also quickly began making "Modified Slant" or "Natural Slant" pens. By 1920, it seems the debate, at least in the United States, had mostly ended in favor of a form of Intermedial Slant called Palmer.

I also found this great resource for penmanship books.

Thank you very much, it's very interesting!

Erica McPhee:
So interesting! I will have to dig out the article I was just reading last week that said vertical writing was banned in NY schools via the board of education.  ;)


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