Sir William Curtis – Reading, Writing, And Arithmetic

By | August 21, 2019

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A classroom. Source: (

Where did the three “R’s” come from anyway? It has always been said that we need to go to school to learn reading, writing, and arithmetic, but who decided on those three subjects to be the most important ones?

The phrase “Reading, ‘Riting, and ‘Rithmetic,” which came to be known as the three “Rs,” supposedly originated from a toast given by Sir William Curtis at a dinner that was being held for the Board of Education in 1795. There are conflicting stories as to exactly where the phrase came from. Other claims suggest that at least the skills of reading, writing, and arithmetic came from St. Augustine’s Confessions.

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Sir William Curtis. Source: (

Background on Sir William Curtis

Inheriting the family business, Curtis was born in 1752 as the son of a biscuit maker (baker) in Britain. The business, owned by his father and grandfather, was a bakery that expanded upon by Curtis and his brother to make sea biscuits. The business had been passed down to him and his older brother. Besides the business, Curtis was also a successful businessman and banker as well as a politician.

Some of his accomplishments included: Office of Sheriff (1789); M.P. for the City of London (1790) which he held for 28 years; and Lord Mayor of London (1795-1796).

He was also head of the Tory Party, but he was not a very good public speaker as he did not have a good education. The Whigs party constantly made fun of him. Because of his political stand regarding the war and other issues, he was at the bottom of the poll in 1806. He became so unpopular that he lost his seat for the city in 1818.