Everything You Must Know About Dunce Cap

Emma | 12 - 08 - 2023

Have you ever been punished at school? Were you made to kneel down or stand outside your class? All of us would have faced such situations at school. Some of us might even have heard the words, “dunce cap.” You might wonder how such caps and punishments at school are related… Well, that’s why we have come up with this blog! Here, you will find everything you need to know about the “dunce cap.” Let’s start right away!

Dunce Cap Definition

What Is a Dunce Cap

If you have the question, “What is a dunce cap?” in mind, the answer is right here!

The dunce cap is a square-shaped cap/hat.
  • A. True
  • B. False

A dunce cap or hat is nothing but a conical, pointed cap or hat, placed on the head of a person considered stupid or slow in learning. This is the significance of the dunce cap. The object is also known as a “dunce’s cap,” or “dunce’s hat.” 

The term, “dunce’s cap” was first used in English literature in 1840 by Charles Dickens in “The Old Curiosity Shop.” Talking about English literature, do you know the seven most controversial books in English?

What is the History and Origin of Dunce Cap?


A dunce cap was regarded as an object of discipline in the U.S., and Europe, during the 19th and 20th centuries.

John Duns Scotus was a philosopher and theologian of the 13th century. He was from a village called, “Duns” in Scotland. He designed a “duns cap” for kids who needed an object that helped them focus. His students were called “Dunsmen.”

But in time, people began to misunderstand the meaning of the cap. They started using it to stigmatize and mock children who were not as fast in learning as their peers. Some of these hats resembled those of the wizards in ancient days. If you are interested in wizardry and witchcraft, here’s a quick recap of the Harry Potter series.

That is all about the origin and history of the dunce cap. 

What Does the Dunce Cap Symbolize?


Some say that the dunce cap was earlier considered a symbol of respected scholars. This was because the cap/hat resembled a wizard’s hat. But as the years passed, it became a symbol of intellectual failure. At times, the hat, which was placed on the head of a student found to be slow in learning, had the letter, “D,” or the word, “Dunce,” on it. 

You have now seen what the dunce cap symbolizes!

Why was the Dunce Cap Used?

Keeping a dunce cap on the head of a student was also a form of punishment in the olden days. However, in the course of years, dunce caps began to fall out of favor because people found it degrading. So gradually, dunce caps became outdated objects!

Dunce Cap Used during Victorian Times

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In schools of the Victorian era, when a student had a dunce cap on their head, they were made to stand still in a corner of the class. They were not supposed to move, and if they did, they got whipped. In some scenarios, they were not allowed to have any food/drink the entire day!

Why Was the Dunce Cap Banned?

In 1831, Sidney Babcock, a writer of children’s books, condemned the use of the dunce cap. She called the cap “harsh” and “debasing.” In 1899, Alice Morse Earle, a famous historian, compared the dunce cap with other degrading forms of discipline in schools. Sometime in the early 20th century, dunce caps became unpopular.   

We hope you have enjoyed reading about dunce caps and their significance. Refresh your memory by answering the Quiz on this page.

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