The Puritans were a group of early Christians in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. They were English Protestants who wanted to return to the pure and simple words of Jesus after battling corruption within the official church.
A group of Puritans traveled to the New World of North America where they significantly shaped American history and culture. These Puritans included graduates of Cambridge University, and they named their new city Cambridge after the university (now in Massachusetts). Besides making a basic living and building homes and churches, one of their top priorities was creating a university so that their children could read the Bible.
That group successfully founded the first university in North America— Harvard University. Like Yale, Princeton, and most of the leading state universities, Harvard began as a seminary, which is a college focused on training spiritual ministers or pastors. That early group of Puritans gave their lives and fortunes to establish Harvard as a Bible-training university.
The Puritan leaders wanted everyone in their communities to be able to read and write (literacy), including girls, which was not common at the time. This requirement was revolutionary for a time period when less than 30 percent of people in England could read and write.
The Puritans valued education so that children could read the Bible. They opened the first public schools in America to offer a free education to boys and girls. In 1647, their government required all towns with 50 or more households to hire a teacher and towns with 100 or more households to hire a grammar school instructor to train boys for college. These were the first public high schools.