Beginning in the 1850s, the Ottoman Empire’s educational landscape expanded and diversified. During this era of imperial reforms, discourses around education increasingly focused on the importance of female education. This article uses census material from Tripoli in today’s Lebanon to explore the experiences of students in the wake of these shifts. It examines literacy rates across different social and religious groups and the extent to which educational decisions parents made were biased by gender and class. The analysis reveals that the rate of Muslim boys’ literacy was high even before new schools opened starting in the 1850s. As for the post-reform developments, it shows that although around a quarter of propertied families decided to send their sons and daughters to school, a considerable proportion of Muslim and Christian families privileged sons alone. Still, reforms allowed a number of groups in the generations between 1860 and 1910 to achieve higher rates of literacy, including Muslim and Christian girls as well as the children of artisans.