1878-1899: Education: Overview
1878-1899: Education: Overview
Changing Economy, Changing Schools. The period from 1878 to 1899 was marked by major changes in the American way of life. In the early 1870s the United States was predominantly a nation of farmers, with 83.9 percent of the population living in rural areas or small towns of fewer than eight thousand inhabitants. Immigration and industrialization changed this picture of American life. In 1882 a record number of European immigrants further swelled the ranks of city dwellers. By the 1890s many rural Americans had begun drifting into the cities and nearly one-third of the population was classified as urban. Americans living in this increasingly industrial world were convinced that their era was a bridge between a traditional agrarian America of independent yeomen and a future dependent on cooperative activities in large-scale industries and vast urban areas, a change much like the one Great Britain had experienced a generation earlier. The changes from small-scale to large-scale industrial production, from domestic to factory organization, and from hand- to power-driven machine manufacturing were accompanied by fundamental changes in society. Instead of every man working independently for himself to scratch out a living, the new image of America was of a corporate state in which each worker was to do a specialized task in cooperation with the entire social system. Even in the Midwest where agriculture was still the heart of the economy, improvements in transportation and farm machinery turned farming into a much more sophisticated business. The South, however, was not experiencing this industrial expansion. As Reconstruction — that “hideous orgy of anarchy, violence, and unrestrained corruption” — came to an end with the withdrawal of federal troops in 1877, the afflictions of poverty, racial enmity, and resentment of northerners stunted any significant economic development until the early years of the twentieth century. Elsewhere in the United States, however, the rapidly increasing complexity of economic and social conditions called for significant changes in schooling.
Influences from Europe. Americans soon realized that the schools that had served the populace in the mid nineteenth century were not sufficient for the new era of industrial expansion. During the last two decades of the nineteenth century, therefore, significant reforms were introduced. Improvements came as a result of the scientific study of the elementary, secondary, and college curricula, and of the methods of teaching and learning. The impetus for these early reforms was from European educators, since there were no graduate programs of education in the United States to inspire American thinkers and practitioners. More than any other educational reformer, Johann Heinrich Pestalozz, who conducted experimental schools in Switzerland, laid the foundation for the modern elementary school and helped to reform elementary school practice. Pestalozzi, a strong advocate of universal education, insisted that teachers use the environment and experience of the child as the most valuable means and material of his or her instruction. The curriculum he advocated valued observation and investigation over memorizing, and thinking over reciting. These principles, popularized by American educators who traveled to Switzerland or who read reports in the earliest educational journals, had a wide influence on industrial education and the teaching of arithmetic, geography, reading, and elementary science.
Changing Education for Young Children. European influences that helped to change elementary school educational theory and practice came from two of Pestalozzi’s disciples, Johann Friedrich Herbart and Friedrich Wilhelm August Froebel. Herbart maintained that interest was the most important element in good teaching, and he elaborated a five-step formal teaching method that emphasized student interest, the adaptation of instruction to the past experiences of the pupil, and the unification of the subjects. In the United States a fervid enthusiasm for Herbartian principles developed during the late 1880s and the 1890s. Many American converts wrote articles for teachers and lectured to educators, slowly dispensing the reformist theories throughout this country. In 1892 the publication of Illinois Normal School professor Charles McMurray’s “how-to” book on Herbartian principles called The General Method popularized the ideas so widely that significant changes began to appear in elementary schools nationwide. Another enthusiastic follower of Pestalozzi, Froebel, directly contributed one of the most important reforms of the late nineteenth century—the kindergarten. Froebel, who emphasized the importance of social development and self-expression in education, inspired the earliest and most influential American educational reformers, Col. Francis Parker and John Dewey.
The High Schools. The American high school was born in the nineteenth century, and although there were high schools as early as the 1820s and 1830s, these schools existed primarily for a small segment of the population. At the end of the century adolescents and their families faced the unsettling consequences of the early commercial and industrial revolution, urban growth, and immigration — all of which rendered familiar strategies for personal mobility obsolete. In response, political activists and school reformers redefined the educational experiences of high school students, investing more money and reshaping existing secondary schools to confront the dilemmas of this new age. By the 1880s, especially in the Northeast, the free public high school was no longer an anomaly. Social reformers had eliminated most alternative forms of secondary instruction, such as tuition academies, seminaries, and other private institutions. Without a national ministry of education to dictate policy and implement reform, Americans built high schools through local initiative. Educators and activists shared ideas across state boundaries about how to create, shape, and administer high schools, producing some common features to educational systems across the nation. However, high schools still varied enormously in the nineteenth century. Most pupils studied what was called “the higher branches” in modest, ungraded country schools; others in more elaborate “union graded” schools in villages and towns; and a privileged minority in ostentatious architectural facilities that conservatives called “palaces” in many American cities.
Questioning the Collegiate Curriculum. Colleges, too, were struggling to adjust to the changing social and economic conditions of the industrial age. Defining what a liberal arts education should be had been problematic since, earlier in the century, the classical curriculum of Greek, Latin, mathematics, philosophy, science, and English had come under attack by both faculty and students. In the 1860s and 1870s scientific studies of evolution, beginning with Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species (1859), further strained the limits of the traditional course of study as the range of courses gradually became wider and wider. Innovative educators intent upon establishing a more modern college education had to define what criteria would mark educated men and, since they were entering higher education in significant numbers for the first time, women. At major American colleges and universities both monumental and incrementai changes in the curriculum were effected during the late 1880s and 1890s. Under Charles William Eliot’s leadership, Harvard’s approach was the most radical, allowing students to choose all of their courses under an elective system. Few other universities went that far, but Stanford, Columbia, and Cornell carne close.
The Rise of the Research University. Institutions of higher learning grew rapidly in number, endowment, and quality of instruction, but one of the most significant changes in the colleges was American scholars’ attempts to increase the world’s store of knowledge. In order to accomplish this new mission, it became necessary to provide the opportunities for postgraduate instruction in this country that had been available only in Europe, most notably Germany. During the 1880s more than two thousand Americans studied in German universities, twice as many as in the preceding ten years. When these young scholars returned home with their doctorates they were determined to provide opportunities for, as historian Arthur M. Schlesinger said, “the truth born of knowledge, for the eagerness to learn to do a few things supremely well instead of many things well enough, and perhaps an unconscious withdrawal from the soliciting materialism which characterized the ethics of the great captains of industry.” For the first time in the American economy, the broad diffusion of worldly goods made it possible for middle-class young men to take advantage of opportunities for advanced studies that previously had been restricted to the wealthy few. The returning American scholars made their influence felt in many universities. At Johns Hopkins University, which had opened in Baltimore in 1876 primarily for graduate study, nearly every faculty member had a doctorate from Germany. In 1878 only four hundred Americans pursued nonprofessional graduate study; by 1898 nearly four thousand doctorates were awarded. By the end of the 1880s the University of Chicago, Harvard, and Yale all enrolled more graduate students than Johns Hopkins. It was no longer necessary for talented students to seek graduate training in Europe, for America offered rich opportunities at many different institutions of higher learning.
Technical and Professional Schools. By the 1890s most Americans realized that many new types of schools—trade, manual training, technical, commercial, corporate, agricultural, and evening schools—had to be developed to provide adequate vocational preparation for the new realities of industrialization. After 1880 immigration to the northern and midwestern United States from southern and eastern Europe and from the American South rose significantly. The percentage of illiteracy among these new immigrants, combined with the policy of labor unions’ limiting the number of apprentices they would train, created a need for industrial training for adults. In 1885 a state law was passed by New Jersey providing subsidies to encourage cities to offer manual training in their courses, and three years later manual training became a part of the course in the elementary schools of Boston and New York. The trend toward more vocational study influenced higher education as well. Noteworthy higher institutions that combined serious study of industrial subjects with liberal arts courses include Tuskegee Institute (1881), Pratt Institute in Brooklyn (1887), Drexel Institute of Philadelphia (1891), and Armour Institute of Technology in Chicago (1893). A system of commercial education was begun in the 1880s, and the Wharton School in Philadelphia (1892) served as an important model for other business institutions. Schools for education in high technology also opened to serve an increasingly industrial society. Although the Massachusetts Institute of Technology had been opened in 1865, its enrollment and stature grew significantly during this era, and the Georgia School of Technology (1888), the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn (reorganized in 1889), and the Carnegie Institute (1895) gave future engineers and scientists more options for higher education.
The Feminization of Education. The period following Reconstruction was marked by women becoming schoolteachers in greater numbers. Hundreds of black and thousands of northern white women had been drawn into the desolate rural areas of the South during Reconstruction. Additionally, accelerated immigration and the settlement of the West created a demand for more schoolteachers. Since few women were able to afford a full liberal arts education, more and more female students demanded intermediate institutions offering vocational or professional training. The founding in 1884 of the exclusively white Mississippi State Normal and Industrial School initiated a pattern soon followed by Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Oklahoma, and Texas. These schools offered a briefer and less expensive course of study than did colleges. By 1890 more girls than boys were being graduated from high schools, and this credential alone allowed students to begin teaching school. Communities unwilling to overtax themselves to support education soon came to appreciate the fact that these women worked at lower wages than their male counterparts. In 1880, for example, male teachers worked for an average monthly wage of $42.68; women teachers made $33.95 for the same jobs. Although Americans in the latter part of the nineteenth century demanded more and better schools, they were not eager to pay teachers for their expanded roles. For both men and women, the average monthly salaries for teaching more and more of America’s students increased by only $11 between 1870 and 1908. Despite some financial setbacks for teachers, the period from 1878 to 1899 saw a revival of public interest in education for all citizens. By the late 1890s the forces of change were at work, and American education was at the beginning of a period of fundamental reform.
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