1850-1877: Education: Chronology

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1850-1877: Education: Chronology




  • The New York state legislature passes acts mandating local school taxes, thus clearing the way for universal public education. Some oppose these measures as an infringement on property rights.
  • Genesee College (later Syracuse University) is founded as a coeducational institution in upstate New York.
  • Educational reformers in Ohio suffer a setback when advocates of local control abolish the office of State Superintendent of Schools, which had been established only three years earlier.
  • 4 Jan. James McCune Smith, a prominent New York African American educator, writes a letter to William Lloyd Garrisons Liberator expressing his resolve to improve the colored schools in this citybelieving them to be better only than no schools at all.


  • Francis Wayland, president of Brown University, allows undergraduates to choose courses, replaces semester-length courses with more-flexible study schedules, and creates programs in agriculture, applied sciences, law, and pedagogy.
  • Legislation is passed in Massachusetts permitting towns to raise taxes in order to support public libraries. This law follows similar legislation enacted by the city of Boston and the state of New Hampshire (1849). Maine and Vermont follow suit a few years later.


  • Massachusetts passes the first compulsory-attendance law, requiring children between eight and fourteen to attend school at least twelve weeks per year (six weeks continuous).
  • Catharine Beecher founds the American Womens Education Association to train female factory workers as teachers for schools in the West.
  • Avery College, an all-black institution, opens in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
  • The First Plenary Council of the Catholic Church, meeting in Baltimore, argues against separation of religious instruction from other forms of instruction and urges parents to give their children a Christian education based on religious principles, accompanied by religious practices, and always subordinate to religious influence. The Catholic school system evolves out of this and later meetings in 1866 and 1884.
  • Henry P. Tappan assumes the presidency of the University of Michigan.


  • The Southern Commercial Convention at Memphis recommends sectional independence from northern schools. In the following year, members appoint a committee at Charleston to encourage publication of southern textbooks.
  • Antioch College opens in Yellow Springs, Ohio, as a coeducational institution, following Oberlin, the nations first coed college (1838), and New York Central College (1849).
  • The office of State Superintendent of Schools is reestablished in Ohio.


  • Rhode Island establishes a state normal school at Providence.
  • The state of New York establishes the office of State Superintendent of Public Instruction. Supervision of public schools begins to shift from district to state authorities.
  • Ashman Institute (later Lincoln University) is founded in Pennsylvania as a black college. It is the oldest college in the United States having as its original purpose the higher education of black students.
  • Astor Library opens in Lafayette Place, New York City, with a gift from sponsor John Jacob Astor of $400,000 and one hundred thousand books, making it the largest library in North America. (It becomes the basis of the New York Public Library in 1895.)
  • Wilberforce College, an all-black school, opens in Wilberforce, Ohio.
  • 26 Dec. The American Association for the Advancement of Education calls upon the federal government to establish a separate department to oversee public education.


  • The rate bill system for funding schools is abolished by law in New York. Within four years similar acts are implemented in Ohio, Rhode Island, Michigan, and New Jersey.
  • The first kindergarten in the United States is founded by Mrs. Carl Schurz in Watertown, Wisconsin. The students are the children of German-speaking immigrants.
  • Massachusetts adopts a law barring religious sects from receiving state education funds. Catholics perceive this as an attack on the rights of immigrant children.
  • The Southern Commercial Convention at New Orleans urges southerners not to patronize seminaries and colleges in the North and encourages the production of southern textbooks that offer prizes for authors.
  • In his 1855 Annual Report to the Saint Louis Board of Public Schools, President Isaiah Forbes notes the unexampled success of our school system, and the great popularity of the schools.
  • 17 Mar. The Massachusetts state legislature passes a bill outlawing racial or religious discrimination in admitting students to public schools, culminating a fifteen-year campaign by black Bostonians and their abolitionist allies. Passage of the act encourages blacks to press for an end to segregation elsewhere.
  • Dec. City officials in Sacramento, California, veto appropriations for black schools because they are particularly obnoxious to those of our citizens who have immigrated from Southern States.


  • The Savannah Convention appoints a group of southern professors to prepare schoolbooks with a southern orientation.
  • Francis Wayland is replaced as president of Brown University after faculty members clamor for his dismissal.
  • The Massachusetts State Industrial School for Girls, known as the Lancaster School, opens, and the first group of girls referred by the Boston courts is admitted.


  • Chicago officials abolish ward-by-ward school districting and place the citys schools under the direction of one board of education.
  • A report of the New York Society for the Promotion of Education Among Colored Children finds white children attending schools in splendid, almost palatial edifices while black youth are pent up in filthy neighborhoods, in old and dilapidated buildings.


  • John G. Fee, son of a slaveholder and a Quaker mother, founds a biracial college at Berea, Kentucky. The hostility of local whites forces the college to shut its doors until after the Civil War.
  • New York Central College, founded in 1849 by the American Baptist Free Mission Society, declares bankruptcy. The school had been a center of controversy from its founding because of its biracial, coeducational policy.
  • 26 Aug. The National Teachers Association is established at Philadelphia to promote the educational welfare of our country by concentrating the power and wisdom of numerous minds.


  • Elizabeth Palmer Peabody charters the first English-speaking kindergarten in the nation. It opens the next year in Boston as a private institution.
  • Elmira College in New York becomes the first female college to award bachelor of arts degrees to women.
  • In his role as chancellor of the University of Wisconsin and a member of the State Board of Regents, Henry Barnard organizes teacher-training institutes throughout the state. By the end of the year there are twenty such institutes operating under Barnards supervision.
  • Horace Mann dies at the age of sixty-three.
  • Mar. In a declaration of his long-standing support for the campaign for school integration, Frederick Douglass writes that The point we must aim for is to obtain admission for our children into the nearest school house, and the best school house in our respective neighborhoods.


  • The University of Iowa, founded in 1856, becomes coeducational.
  • The abolitionist Gerrit Smith buys New York Central College, but closes the school again after a year.
  • 14 Mar. Citizens of Beverly, Massachusetts, vote at a town meeting to abolish the public high school. Under pressure from the courts and the efforts of educational reformers, the school is reestablished within a year. By this time there are some three hundred high schools in the nation, over one hundred of them in Massachusetts. There are also six thousand private academies in America.
  • Oct. Episcopalian bishop Leónidas Polk lays the cornerstone for the University of the South at Sewanee, Tennessee, hoping thereby to train a ministry for the Episcopal Church and insulate southern collegians from the influence of abolitionism.


  • Susan B. Anthony urges an end to discrimination against blacks in the North. Let us open to the colored man all our schools, from the common District to the College.
  • 15 Sept. Rev. L. C. Lockwood founds a Sunday school for freed slaves behind Union army lines at Fortress Monroe, Virginia. Two days later the first school for freed men and women is opened by the American Missionary Association under the direction of Mary S. Peake, a northern freed black.


  • John Swett becomes the California State Superintendent of Schools. By the end of the 1860s California provides a model of state commitment to public education.
  • Superintendent of Schools William H. Wells publishes his Graded Course of Instruction for the Public Schools of Chicago in an effort to institute a uniform citywide course of graded instruction.
  • Mar. A contingent of teachers and superintendents organized by the freedmens aid societies sails from New York to Port Royal, South Carolina, to begin educating freed slaves.
  • 2 July The Morrill Land Grant College Act is passed, setting aside millions of acres of federal land for states to teach such branches of learning as are related to agriculture and the mechanic arts in order to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes.
  • 11 Nov. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant appoints Col. John Eaton to oversee the Freedmens Bureau in Arkansas. Eaton proceeds to establish a school system in the Department of the West.


  • Andrew D. White, a prominent antislavery Republican and the future president of Cornell University, is appointed chairman of the New York state legislatures Education Committee. His efforts to abolish segregation in schools are unsuccessful.
  • Under its new state constitution, West Virginia becomes the first southern state to establish public schools for blacks.
  • 5 Aug. Abraham Lincoln writes Gen. Nathaniel Banks in New Orleans, urging that some provisions should be made for the education of the young blacks.


  • 22 Mar. General Order Number 38, issued by Gen. Nathaniel Banks, establishes one or more common schools in each and every school district, as defined by parish provost marshals in Louisiana. The decree also authorizes the purchase of land and books for schools, recruitment of teachers, and the establishment of boards of education in each district.
  • May The Rhode Island state legislatures Education Committee recommends abolition of segregation in public schools. The bill fails due to opposition of Newport senators.


  • In remarks before the National Teachers Association, President Richard Edwards of Illinois Normal University tells educators that the extension of public education to the defeated South will be the chief unifying process on which we can rely for a permanent peace.
  • Ballard Normal School is founded in Macon, Georgia, to train black school teachers.
  • Vassar Female College is established in Poughkeepsie, New York.
  • Sept. With prominent abolitionist Thomas Wentworth Higginson as a member of its school board, Newport, Rhode Island, abolishes segregation in its public schools. Within a year the legislature votes to prohibit segregated schools throughout the state.


  • The National Teachers Association grants equal membership status to women.


  • Beach Institute in Savannah and Storrs Normal School at Atlanta are established in an effort to train black teachers.
  • Atlanta University is founded by Edmund Asa Ware under the direction of the American Missionary Association.
  • The city of Boston opens the first public school for the deaf in the nation.
  • Feb. The Augusta Institute is founded in Augusta, Georgia, to train black teachers and ministers, but fails after a short period.
  • 14 Mar. Henry Barnard is appointed the first U.S. Commissioner of Education.


  • Thaddeus Stevens, eulogized as the father of Pennsylvanias public schools, dies.
  • The Connecticut state legislature abolishes segregation in public schools.


  • In his inaugural remarks at Harvard University, President Charles William Eliot complains that It is very hard to find competent professors for the University. Very few Americans of eminent ability are attracted to this profession. The pay has been too low, and there has been no gradual rise out of drudgery, such as may reasonably be expected in other learned callings.


  • Clark University is founded in Atlanta, Georgia, under the direction of the Northern Methodist Society.
  • The state of Mississippi establishes all-black Alcorn University in an attempt to head off black demands for admission to the state university.


  • Yale University president Theodore Dwight Woolsey, whose career at Yale began in 1823, resigns. His successor, Noah Porter, warns in his inaugural remarks that college and university education are not merely agitated by reforms; they are rather convulsed by a revolutionso unsettled are the minds of many who control public opinion, so sharp is the criticism of real or imagined defects in the old methods and studies, and so determined is the demand for sweeping and fundamental changes.
  • The Augusta Institute (later Morehouse College) reopens under the direction of the American Baptist Home Mission Society.


  • Speaking at the National Educators Associations national convention, E. E. White charges that classification and grading in the public schools is producing lock step mechanical education aimed at average students, handicapping bright students as well as slow learners.
  • Several black students are admitted to the University of Arkansas. Classes for them are conducted in the presidents office after regular hours.


  • South Carolina College in Orangeburg opens its doors to blacks as students and faculty. Mixed schools with separate classrooms follow in Columbia and Charleston.
  • Henry E. Haynes becomes the first black student at the University of South Carolina when he enrolls in medical school; a majority of white students and white faculty withdraw. In response the state legislature employs northern teachers, abolishes tuition charges, and establishes preparatory courses for underprepared students in a successful attempt to lure back white students.
  • The first public-school kindergarten opens in Saint Louis, Missouri. There are forty-two kindergartens in existence in the United States, with seventy-three teachers and over twelve hundred pupils.
  • Boston University is founded as a coeducational institution.


  • The New York state legislature passes a compulsory attendance law.
  • S. H. Hill of Florence, Massachusetts, contributes funds to open a charity kindergarten there.
  • Samuel King, the first superintendent of schools for Portland, Oregon, develops uniform curricula and tests children at years end to determine whether they have been thoroughly drilled in the work assigned. In seven of the twenty-one classrooms tested, none of the children pass. Only in six classrooms are more than half the children promoted. King publishes the names and test scores of children in local newspapers.
  • William T. Harris and Duane Doty publish The Theory of Education in the United States of America.


  • The Boston School Committee is reduced from 116 members elected by district to twenty-four elected at large. Critics charge that the change is designed to weaken local, working-class, and ethnic influence on schools.
  • 20 Apr. Col. Francis W. Parker, a student of European educational reform and formerly an educator in New Hampshire and Ohio, is appointed superintendent of schools for Quincy, Massachusetts. One of his many innovations is the establishment of a teachers training school for female high-school graduates.


  • Dr. Felix Adler establishes the Ethical Culture Society, a movement devoted to the belief that man must develop morally, aesthetically, and logically if he is to be truly educated.


  • Samuel King is forced to resign as the school superintendent in Portland, Oregon, by parents and teachers angered by his publication of student test scores.

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1850-1877: Education: Chronology

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1850-1877: Education: Chronology