The American Sunday school system was first initiated by Samuel Slater at his textile factories in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, in the 1790s. Although religious education of various types was previously known in Christianity, the beginning of modern Sunday school dates back to the work of Robert Raikes (1736-1781), newspaper editor from Gloucester, England. He decided that young children, many of whom worked in factories every day except Sunday, could be deterred from a life of crime if they received basic and religious education on Sundays. The first school was opened in 1780 with the collaboration of the Anglican parish minister, although lay people were in charge.
The classes were held in the teachers' homes. After three years, what Raikes wrote about Gloucester Sunday Schools in his newspaper aroused interest and the system was copied throughout the British Isles. Some church officials opposed schools because they thought teaching interfered with the proper observance of Sunday, and others didn't believe in educating the poor because that could lead to revolution. However, over time, Sunday schools became closely associated with churches.
When Raikes died, 31 years after the first school opened, some 500,000 children from the British Isles were reported to be attending Sunday schools. In the late 19th century, Sunday school was considered the main hope for church growth, a vision that continued until the middle of the 20th century. Working with a local pastor, Raikes established a Sunday school for the poor and orphans in July 1780. Bible societies, which emerged at the end of the 19th century to facilitate international Christian dissemination, often made it their first task to obtain copies of the Holy Bible for every Sunday school student who wanted it and showed dedication to their study.
The Philadelphia Sunday School Union, the first interdenominational Sunday school association in the United States, was organized in 1791.As Raikes also reported, the crime rate among young people attending Sunday school dropped significantly, improving the safety of the overall community. Driven by the country's growing nationalist fervor, the Sunday School movement of the early 19th century established its deepest roots in America's most established towns and cities. However, in Europe, since religious teaching was normally provided in regular schools, Sunday schools were not as important as they were in the United States, where the separation of church and state prohibited religious teaching in public schools. While the activities of middle-class philanthropists were important, it could be argued that Sunday schools came to represent an important aspect of organized working class activity.
Teaching slaves became a unique consequence of the Sunday school movement in the United States, as Elliott's efforts inspired others in the antebellum South, such as Methodist Bishop Francis Asbury (1745—181), to establish schools for black slaves. Dick (1980) stated that Sunday schools should essentially be seen as conservative middle-class institutions aimed at improving working class youth from the top. Subsequently, reading and writing were learned Monday through Friday in school and the Sunday school curriculum was limited to religious education. As Smith pointed out, no plan has promised to effect a change of habits with the same ease and simplicity as the moral-based literacy taught in 18th century Sunday school (Trumbull, 1888, p.
Sunday school became a way for unbelievers to learn about church life and then assimilate to it. Among the many male Sunday school teachers who enlisted in the service of their country was a Baptist from Ohio, Thomas Shaw, who fought for the Union Army. For many of us, Sunday school is a deep-seated tradition, although in reality it is a fairly modern institution. Sunday school students often graduate to become Sunday school teachers, thus acquiring leadership experience not found anywhere else in their lives.