Cursive as a Secret Code?

Cursive will become a secret code if young people in grade school are not taught to use it.

Last week we were working on our church archives and were looking at some of the documents dating back to the mid-19th century. One folder contained receipts for materials used in construction of the church, all handwritten, some literally on scraps of paper. By handwritten, I mean in longhand or cursive penmanship. Above is an example of a bill of sale, a legal document, dated 1882.

Cursive is a form of writing where the characters of the alphabet are joined or flow with the pen never being lifted from the paper. There are a number of variations of cursive and in some, the pen does leave the paper, but the intent was to make writing more efficient and thus faster.

Cursive was used by the ancient Romans and Greeks and evolved through the middle ages to more modern times into what every grade schooler was taught through the late 20th century. Almost all written languages developed some form of cursive and it became the dominant standard for putting words on paper. Prior to the use of the typewriter, professionals used cursive for their correspondence, contracts, agreements, deeds, bills of sale, etc. Some firms trained all of their clerks to use the same script for consistency. In the examples I have seen, the handwriting is always precise, well ruled, and the lettering is consistent throughout.

However, beginning as early as the 1940’s cursive began to be valued less as new technology came along, notably the ballpoint pen and the typewriter. Handwriting began to be seen as inefficient relative to newer technologies and began to be not necessary. Though still taught in schools, the emphasis shifted to keyboarding skills and once out of school, there is no option that requires a person to know cursive. Cursive is non-essential for graduation or for standardized testing.

So back to our church archives. One of our volunteers is a recent graduate of a top ranked university. As we were talking about the early handwritten church documents she pointed out that neither she nor others in her generation were taught to read or write cursive. This presents a challenge for family historians in the future. Essentially all written information up until the 20th century was in cursive. If it can’t be read, the information in our historical family documents will be lost. 

According to one local school teacher, there is a move afoot to bring cursive back into the curriculum across the country. Here in South Carolina, Gov. Haley has signed into law the requirement to teach cursive in public schools to younger students. We need to support this so that in addition to the efficiency of writing in cursive,they will be able to read and learn from the lessons so laboriously put to paper through the centuries.

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