Cursive Handwriting in the United States

Close-Up Of Human Hand Holding Paper and writing in cursive

Donatello Viti / Getty Images

From the 1850s into the 1920s, Spencerian script was the primary cursive handwriting taught in many schools in the United States. In the late 1880s, Austin Palmer introduced the Palmer Method of cursive writing which emphasized arm movements over finger movements and used plainer, less elaborate letter shapes than the popular Spencerian script.

It was a faster writing method than the Spencerian allowing it to compete more effectively with the typewriter — although it would eventually succumb just as Spencerian business writing did. The Palmer Method caught on quickly in primary schools because of both its simpler style and because its writing drills were believed to foster discipline and uniformity — though not necessarily better handwriting.

Are You a Product of Zaner-Bloser or QWERTY?

In 1904, the Zaner-Bloser Company published The Zaner Method of Arm Movement aimed at teaching handwriting in elementary schools. Along with the Palmer Method, it became quite popular in US schools. The Palmer cursive writing remained the standard for cursive writing into the 1950s and Zaner-Bloser is still found in many US schools and favored in some homeschools. The company has been holding an annual National Handwriting Contest for many years.

Cursive is the term used in the United States for what some other countries call joined-up or linked writing. These are not the only styles of cursive handwriting taught today or in the past in the US or elsewhere. Others, which offer not only specific methods of teaching handwriting but may incorporate different letterforms as well, include:

  • D'Nealian
  • Getty-Dubay
  • Harcourt Brace
  • McDougal, Little
  • Peterson Directed
  • Handwriting Without Tears
  • Infant script, Nelson, Jarman, UK Looped (UK)
  • Victoria, Queensland, and New South Wales Cursive (Australia)

How you write in cursive now is strongly influenced by the method of instruction used when you were first learning to write and by how much you continue to use cursive handwriting. Today, teaching cursive in US schools is on the decline in favor of print and keyboarding skills. Today's students know QWERTY quite well but many wouldn't be able to find the Q if it were written in most older cursive styles.

"While penmanship studies haven’t completely disappeared from the American curriculum, schoolchildren today spend more time mastering typing and computer skills than the neat, standardized cursive of their parents and grandparents. As early as 1955, the Saturday Evening Post had dubbed the United States a “nation of scrawlers,” and studies show that handwriting abilities have largely declined since then."
-- A Brief History of Penmanship on National Handwriting Day, January 23, 2012​

What Does Cursive Handwriting Have to Do With Desktop Publishing?

There are practical reasons to understand cursive handwriting. For one thing, script fonts are based on historic and more modern handwriting styles. Sure, you may choose a font just because you like the way it looks. However, when you are aiming to create a certain feel through your font choices or you want to create historically accurate layouts (such as for logos, ads, or illustrations) then it helps to be able to match a digital script font to the right time period and historical usage. And if you're trying to find a font to match an unknown handwriting sample, if you can recognize certain letterforms and styles, it can help you find the closest matches in a font.

If you're doing genealogy or have a job that involves reading old manuscripts deciphering old handwriting, it is easier if you know cursive.

Formal Cursive Handwriting Fonts

While not necessarily designed for creating materials to teach cursive handwriting (although some might be), these free and commercial fonts provide examples of some of the different formal cursive handwriting styles. See which ones most closely match how you learned to write. Did you know that you can improve your handwriting using these or other fonts already on your computer

  • Educational Fontware, Inc. sells fonts designed for teaching many of the styles described above as well as others including Bob Jones University, SSD, and Cursive First.
  • School Script sold at comes in regular, bold, dashed, and lined (like school paper) versions.
  • Handwriting Fonts at Fontspace are free fonts. You can see the Spencerian and Palmer legacy in many of these scripts.
  • Learning Curve 2.0 is a free font from Blue Vinyl that resembles old-style Zaner-Bloser.
  • LA EI 2, a shareware font, is probably a style of cursive from Germany or somewhere else in Europe.