type of English elementary school that emerged in the early 18th century to educate the children of the poor. They became the foundation of 19th-century English elementary education. Supported by private contributions and usually operated by a religious body, these schools clothed and taught their students free of charge. They were instituted in an attempt to cope with poverty by means of education and were scattered throughout the country, particularly in urban areas. Charity schools as such also existed in colonial America and on the Continent during the same period, but the term was not so commonly used.
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