The first Sunday school may have been opened in 1751 in St. Mary's Church, Nottingham. Another early start was made by Hannah Ball (not Glass!), a native of High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire, who founded a school there in 1769. However, the pioneer of the Sunday school movement was Robert Raikes, editor of the Gloucester Journal, who saw the need to prevent children in the slums descending into crime.

In 1781, Raikes saw the plight of children living in the Gloucester slums. In the home of Mrs. Meredith, he opened the first school on Sunday, the only day these boys and girls living in the slums and working in the factories could attend. Using the Bible as their textbook, he taught them to read and write. Within four years over 250,000 children were attending schools on Sunday throughout England. By 1831 it was reported that attendance at Sunday schools had grown to 1.2 million. Robert Raikes' schools were seen as the first schools of the English state system.

In the 1790s, Samuel Slater brought the Sunday School system from his native England to his textile factory at Pawtucket, Rhode Island, and hence to America.

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