State of Delaware

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Early Education

Additional information may be included at individual County "Schools" pages.

and the State College for Colored Students

and the Delaware College Agricultural Experiment Station

In Newark, Delaware

In Wilmington, Delaware

In Newark, Delaware

Delaware Graduates from Area Schools
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While there is reason to believe that the blessings of education were appreciated in Delaware during the dark days of the Revolution, the records from 1703 to 1792 contain but little on the subject. It is not to be supposed that the illustrious sons of Delaware would have been honored with high positions in the early Councils of the Nation had they not possessed intellectual power and culture. It is an historical fact that Delaware not only had patriotic and brave men during the great struggle for American independence, but men whose intelligence was recognized and whose influence was felt in the cause of American freedom. John Dickinson, Caesar Rodney George Read and Thomas McKean, Delaware's honored servants in the early history of the State, were all men of unusual intellectual endowments, and clearly demonstrated the fact that education was not an unknown factor in those trying and perilous times.

In 1792, when the Constitution of the State of Delaware was framed, the Legislature was especially charged upon the subject of public education, and was directed to make provision by law for the establishment of public schools. Although the first Legislature that assembled under the new Constitution turned a deaf ear to the expressed wishes and direction of the people, four years afterwards, in 1796, the first Act for the establishment of public schools was passed by the General Assembly of Delaware. The law provided that all moneys paid into the State Treasury for tavern and marriage licenses from 1796 to 1806 should be kept as a school fund and applied to the formation and support of schools in the State.

The State Treasurer was constituted the custodian of the fund, and was invested with full power and authority to receive bequests and donations for the maintenance of public schools. When the school fund should reach a sufficient amount, the State Treasurer, or trustee, was directed to invest it in shares of bank stock, the banks of the State of Delaware, the Bank of the United States, the Pennsylvania Bank and the Bank of North America being specifically named in the Act. With the dividends accruing therefrom the trustee or treasurer of the school fund was directed to purchase other shares, and the whole fund was then to be used in the establishment of schools in the various Hundreds of the State. This fund was guarded by a provision in the law, that no part of it should be applied to the erection or support of any university, college or academy in the State, but go directly to the free schools. The law of 1796 was supplemented in 1797 by a clause providing that the money received from marriage and tavern licenses should first be appropriated to the payment of the judges and the chancellor and the residue applied to the establishment of schools.

In the year 1806 the General Assembly passed an Act which authorized the continuance in full force of the Act of 1796 and the supplementary Act of 1797 until the first of January, 1820. In 1823 the General Assembly passed an Act that the entire school fund which had been raised from the sources named should be deposited in the Farmers' Bank. Thus it appears that the little mustard-seed faithfully invested from year to year was destined to increase and multiply, and the establishment of a school fund in Delaware really dates from the year 1797.

The first draft on the school fund was made February 6, 1817, when the Legislature passed an Act appropriating $1,000 to each county for the instruction of the children of poor parents in reading, writing and arithmetic. Trustees were appointed to disburse the appropriation in the several Hundreds of the counties, and to make reports of the condition of the schools. This Act remained in force several years, but did not meet with general approval from the fact that it drew envious distinction between the rich and the poor, thus opening the way for discontent, and causing the school money to be generally called "a poor children's fund." A few schools were organized, but the purposes of a liberal education were not met, and the law became exceedingly unpopular.

Long and zealously did the friends of education labor for a better matured and more efficient system of public instruction and in 1822 a plan for the advancement of general education was devised by the beloved Judge Willard Hall, who was at that time Secretary of State under Governor Collins. At the session of the General Assembly in that year Governor Collins in his message called attention to the subject of education, and presented with much force the ideas of Judge Hall for the promotion of public schools. The desire for the improvement of schools gradually but surely grew, and the example of Governor Collins was followed by subsequent governors; Rodney in 1823, Thomas in 1824, Paynter in 1827, and Polk in 1829, all advised the establishment of a substantial system of public education.

It was in 1829 that the first free school law of Delaware was enacted, and all former acts relative to the management and support of schools were repealed. Judge Willard Hall was the originator of the free school system, and his educational ideas, formulated in 1822, were embodied in the general law of 1829. This law provided for the formation of school districts, for holding and regulating meetings of the school voters, and giving to the voters the full control of the schools in the respective districts of the State. The school voters were empowered to hold a stated meeting every year, elect a clerk and two commissioners, and also determine how much money should be raised for the support of free schools in the district during the year. Each district was allowed to have from the school fund an amount equal to that decided by the voters to be raised, and no greater. The clerk and commissioners were authorized to determine sites for the erection of school buildings, to provide schools for as long a time as the funds would justify, and to collect all moneys and apply the same to the support of the schools. The law further directed the appointment by the Governor of a superintendent of schools for each county.

While this law seemed at the time to meet the wants of the people, it was soon made apparent that there were many objectionable points in it which amendments could scarcely correct. The fact of leaving to the voter the power to determine whether the children of the district should have the advantages of a school, was often used to the detriment of the district. In many instances poor men who had children, and whose tax would have been very small, attended the annual school meetings and voted for no tax, thereby making it impossible to keep a school open in the district. While the State was generous and made appropriations from its general funds of an amount equal to the amount to be raised by taxation, there were many who did not seem to appreciate it, voting as they did for many years "no tax," and thereby depriving their children of school privileges.

The law was amended in 1830, providing that no school district should be allowed to raise by taxation more than $300 in one year. In 1833 the law was again amended, giving adjacent school districts the privilege of uniting and changing the time of annual school meetings from October to April. At this time 133 school districts had been organized and were drawing aid from the school fund. There were sixty-one districts in New Castle County, thirty-six in Kent, and thirty-six in Sussex. In 1835 the Legislature authorized the use of a lottery scheme to raise $100,000, of which $25,000 was to be set apart for the school fund. In 1836 Congress ordered a surplus of over $42,000,000 to be deposited with the several states in proportion to their representation in Congress. The amount ultimately distributed was about $32,000,000, and Delaware received its share and applied it to the public school fund, dividing the amount equally among the counties.

In 1837 an Act was passed by the Legislature permitting each district to draw its share of the school fund by raising $25 by taxation. Some of the features of the school law became so objectionable, that public sentiment throughout the State grew in favor of removing taxation for the support of schools beyond the narrow-mindedness and selfish whims of the voter. The law of 1829 had made provision for the appointment of county superintendents but as these officers were not to receive any salary, men could not be secured to give their time to the work. Judge Hall, who served as superintendent of the schools of New Castle County for many years discharged his duties with great fidelity; he called school conventions, discussed methods of education, and by his earnest efforts stimulated an increased interest in the growing cause of public education. Judge Hall was succeeded in the superintendency of New Castle County in 1855 by Dr. Arthur H. Grimshaw, who made a full report upon the condition of schools to the next convention. The publication of an educational monthly, the "Delaware School Journal," was begun about the same time under his editorship, but was not continued beyond a few numbers for want of sufficient encouragement.

Other county superintendents were Henry W. Peterson, Dr. Robert H. Griffith, Samuel M. Harrington, Peter Robinson, Joshua G. Baker, Joseph Smithers, Simon Spearman, Charles Marim, Robert O. Pennewill, William Cannon, Daniel M. Bates, Willard Saulsbury, William Johnson, John A. Nicholson and Jonathan R. Torbert. Some of these served in Kent and some in Sussex County. The first educational convention in Delaware was held at Dover in January, 1843, to discuss the merits and the demerits of the existing school law. It was found that one hundred and eighty-three schools were in operation at that time with 6,148 pupils. Measures for the further improvement of schools were presented, and ideas advanced with reference to the question of taxation; and the people were asked to hold meetings and consider the expediency of providing by law a general system of taxation. Stirring appeals were made in favor of a liberal support of public schools.

The results of that educational meeting were soon evidenced. In 1843 and in 1845 a favorable public sentiment developed, and in 1852 the amount raised by taxation in New Castle County for the maintenance of free schools was nearly double that of the year 1832, while in Kent and Sussex Counties it had increased but little more than one-fifth. The friends of education did not cease or weary in their labors, and after untiring efforts, extending over many years they were instrumental in securing the passage of the school law of 1861. By the law of 1861 it became obligatory upon the school committees at the school meeting in each school district of the State, to assess and levy annually in each of the school districts in New Castle County, the sum of seventy-five dollars, in each school district of Kent County, one hundred dollars, and in each district in Sussex County, thirty dollars, to be used for the support of the schools. The law further provided that each district could by vote increase the sum designated above, but the amount was not to exceed four hundred dollars, exclusive of the sum set apart by law. The same law gave the school voters the authority to raise by tax the sum of five hundred dollars for repairing or building school houses in their respective districts. The question of deciding whether or not a school was to be maintained in the district was, by the School Law of 1861, removed from the decision of the voters of the district. Thus it will be seen that legislation for school purposes at that time gave decided signs of progress.

The increasing interest in educational matters developed in a largely attended convention held at Dover, December 23, 1867. This meeting was called for a general interchange of opinions and the discussion of further improvements in the school laws. A number of prominent men were present and a committee was appointed to draft a general school code, expressive of the alterations and changes needed. At the meeting of the convention the following year, the committee reported, and the result of the work of the convention was presented to the General Assembly of 1869, in what was designated "The New School Law." The adoption of this law was strenuously urged by the friends of education but failed of success at that session.

In 1871 and 1873 renewed efforts were made for the passage of the newly drafted school bill, but without success. The advocates of education, however, did not cease to urge their cause with continued energy; and on March 25, 1875, they succeeded in securing the enactment of the "New School Law of 1875." It provided for a fixed tax to be raised annually in each district for the support of schools. Each district in New Castle County was required to raise one hundred dollars instead of seventy-five, and each school district in Sussex County to raise sixty dollars instead of thirty. The amount in Kent County remained the same as before, one hundred dollars. The law of 1875 provided for the appointment by the Governor, of a State Superintendent at a salary of $1,800 a year, who should have general supervision of the schools of the State, examine teachers, hold a teachers' institute in each of the counties at least once a year, visit all the schools, report to the Governor each year the condition of the schools and exert every effort looking to a thorough improvement all along the educational line.

By the provisions of the new law, a State Board of Education, comprising the President of Delaware College, Secretary of State, State Auditor and State Superintendent, was established, the President of Delaware College to be, by virtue of his office, President of the Board, and the Auditor, Secretary of the same. The duties of this Board were to determine what text-books should be used in the schools, to issue blanks and forms to local school officers, and to hear and determine all appeals and controversies between teachers and commissioners.

The first State Superintendent under the new law, was James H. Groves who served from 1875 to 1883. He was appointed by Governor Cochran and proved to be an efficient organizer, and filled his position with great credit. His organization of the teachers' institutes and the remarkable tact displayed by him in the management of them, resulted in their success from the beginning. During the first year 370 schools were in operation under 430 teachers, 266 men and 164 women. The school attendance was 21,587, making an average of 58 to each school. The total expenditure for the year, including State appropriations, and district taxes, was $216,225.45. There was a decided improvement in the efficiency of the teachers. Prior to 1875, the schools suffered from the need of competent instructors, but the new law compelled the applicant for a school to have his or her qualifications approved by the State Superintendent.

The new law gradually grew into public favor, but great difficulty seems to have been experienced in persuading school committees to improve their old buildings or construct new ones. In addition to this fact the school houses were poorly furnished. In his seventh animal report, December 1, 1882, Superintendent Groves called attention to this subject in the following language: "What we need more than anything else is a strong public sentiment in favor of better school accommodations. A majority of our school buildings are unfit for the purposes for which they are intended. They are flimsily constructed, wretchedly arranged, built on small lots and in low places, and contribute in no respect to the comfort of the children." In 1879 an amendment was made to the Act of 1875, authorizing the State superintendent to issue three grades of teachers' certificates, known as the first grade, good for three years; second grade, for two years; and the third for one year. He was also empowered to issue temporarily, permits of thirty days, to teachers to teach whenever in his judgment the interests of the schools should demand it.

Notwithstanding the many obstacles in the way of school improvements that presented themselves and the indifference which prevailed in some sections, the wave of educational progress rolled onward as the years went by. In the year 1881 additional amendments were made to the Act of 1875, among which was one authorizing the governor to appoint an assistant superintendent for the term of one year. The salary of the State superintendent was fixed at $1,500, and the assistant at $800 per annum. The State superintendent was required to purchase all the school books at the least cost, and to sell the same to the clerks of the school districts at cost. The clerks were required to sell the school books to the children at cost, and to turn the money over to the State superintendent. A bond of $1,500 was required of the superintendent for the faithful account of the money received by him, for the sale of school books, and the payment of said money to the State Treasurer. In 1881 Henry C. Carpenter was appointed assistant superintendent by Governor Hall.

From 1881 to 1883 the subject of education received increased attention on the part of the people in many parts of the State, and a marked improvement was evidenced in many localities. In 1883 the school law was further amended, placing the school books in the hands of retail merchants in the several school districts, whose stores were made the school depositories. The State regulated the price of the books, and a fair commission was allowed to the retailer. In 1883 Governor Stockley appointed Thomas N. Williams superintendent, and Henry C. Carpenter was reappointed assistant superintendent of free schools. At the beginning of Superintendent Williams' administration strenuous efforts were made by him and his assistant to arouse public sentiment in behalf of popular education. Educational meetings were held in the various towns and school districts throughout the State, and the result was a most gratifying one. During the years 1883 and 1884 $129,000 was expended for the erection of better and more comfortable school houses. The planks without backs, used as seats in many of the rural school districts, rapidly gave way to modern school desks, and in some localities log cabins, called "school houses," in which children sat six hours a day with no resting-place for the soles of their feet, and breathing an atmosphere destructive to bodily health and mental vigor, were supplemented by the erection in their stead of attractive and comfortable buildings, furnished with the necessary equipments for school work.

Another progressive feature at this time was the employment of better qualified teachers. In the years 1885 and 1886 more than $125,000 was expended in the erection of additional school buildings, and from that time to the present the school system of Delaware has gradually and steadily improved. Under the administration of Messrs. Williams and Carpenter, the county institutes increased in usefulness; a legislative appropriation of $100 for each county to defray the expenses of the institutes was secured. At the close of Superintendent Williams' term of office in 1887, there were in the State 422 districts, 562 schools, average number of months schools were open 8.42, whole number of white children in attendance 29,421, whole number of teachers employed 635, average monthly salary of each $32.40. In 1886 the total cost of public education in Delaware was $222,130.46 and the total value of school property was $733,032. The period from 1883 to 1887 was a progressive step in the course of popular education in Delaware.

In the year 1887, the offices of State and Assistant State Superintendents were abolished, and in lieu thereof an Act was passed, providing for the appointment of three county superintendents. Governor Biggs appointed the following three gentlemen as county superintendents: Herman Bessey for New Castle County, Levin Irving Handy for Kent County, and James H. Ward for Sussex County. The salary of each county superintendent was fixed at $1000 per annum. The county superintendents were required to examine all teachers in their respective counties, issue certificates and visit each school at least once a year, each visit to be of two hours duration; to advise with the teachers under their supervision; to hold teachers' institutes once a year in each county, of at least three days' sessions, and make annual reports to the State Board of Education, concerning the condition of the schools.

In 1891 the General Assembly passed an Act providing free text-books for all public school pupils.

In 1898 an Act was passed by the General Assembly placing the supervision of all the free public schools, including those for colored children, in each of the counties of the State, subject to the general supervision and control hereinbefore vested in the State Board of Education, in a County School Commission, to be composed of three members for each county, who should be appointed by the governor, and hold office for three years. The County School Commission has a general oversight of the schools throughout the county. The commission is expected to acquaint itself with the methods of instruction and discipline practiced in the various schools, and to exercise supervision over school officers, teachers and property. Each County Commission, by this Act, has full power and authority to visit the schools in its county including incorporated schools, and is required to make reports quarterly to the State Board of Education, containing any suggestions as to improvements in school methods and systems. Further, the Commission is vested with authority to condemn any school building or any part thereof, which may be thought unsafe or unhealthy.

The transfer of property from one school district to another, the altering of the boundaries of school districts and the forming of new school districts are regulated under the Act of 1898, by the County School Commissions. Under this Act it is made the duty of every teacher in the free public schools of the State to make a report to the commissioners of the district at the end of each quarter, setting forth the number of pupils in attendance during the quarter, giving an inventory of the books in the school belonging to the district, and furnishing such other information as may tend to the welfare of the schools. The law of 1898 gives the general supervision and control of the public schools in the state to a Board of Education, composed of the Governor, the Secretary of State, the president of Delaware College, the State Auditor, and the senior member of each County School Commission. This Board is vested with full authority to make laws requisite for its own government, and to prescribe and enforce all regulations necessary for the execution of its duties and tending to the advancement of the free schools throughout the State. The State Board of Education is authorized to adopt a list of text-books, to make contracts for the rates at which such books shall be furnished, which list shall be the same throughout the State, to issue a uniform series of blanks for the reports of teachers and school officers and the Board is required to make a report to each General Assembly of the work done, and suggest any alterations or amendments in existing school laws.

State Superintendents of Free Schools.

James H. Groves from April 13, 1875, to April 13, 1883.
Thomas N. Williams from April 13, 1883, to April 13, 1887.

Assistant State Superintendent.

Henry C. Carpenter from April 13, 1881, to April 13, 1887.

County Superintendents for New Castle County.

Herman Bessey (1887 - 1891)
Hiram D. Griffin (1891 - 1895)
Willard T. Smith (1895 - 1901)
David B. Jones (1901 - 1903)
Arthur R. Spaid (1903 - ___)

County Superintendents for Kent County.

L. Irving Handy (1887 -1890)
Peter L. Cooper, Jr. (1890 - 1891)
Caleb C. Tindal (1891 - 1901)
James E. Carroll (1901 - ___)

County Superintendents for Sussex County.

James H. Ward (1887 - 1890)
John G. Gray (1890 - 1893)
Roman Tammany (1893 - 1894)
William W. Knowles (1894-1897)
Roman Tammany (1897-1899)
John H. Willey (1899 -1901)
Leon A. Davis (1901 - 1903)
John D. Brooks (1903 - ___)

County School Commissioners under General Law of 1898 for New Castle County.

Elias N. Moore (1898 - ___)

Andrew S. Eliason (1898 - ___)

Benjamin A. Groves (1901 - 1907)

L. Scott Townsend (1907 - ___)

Kent County
James F. Anderson (1898 - 1901)
Henry Ridgely, Jr. (1898 - 1902)
Herman P. Hazel (1898 - ___)
Theodore Townsend (1901 - ___)
Thomas C. Roe (1902 - ___)

Sussex County
Robert H. Richards (1898 - 1898)
Woodburn Martin (1898 - 1901)
Henry A. Houston (1898 - 1903)
James B. Gilchrist (1898 - ___)
Joseph L. Cahall (1901 - ___)
Everett Hickmann (1903 - ___)

[History of the State of Delaware by Henry C. Conrad, Volume III, Published by the Author, Wilmington, Delaware, 1908, submitted by Mary Kay Krogman]



DOWN DOVER WAY. The State Board of Education to-day passed a special resolution prohibiting school teachers in the employ of the State from acting as agents for book concerns. The list of text books, selected several months ago, was ratified by the board.
[Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, PA) Friday, July 1, 1804, submitted by Mary Kay Krogman]


Special to The Inquirer.
MILFORD, Del., April 17.-The following new officers of the Delaware State Sunday School Teachers' Association have been elected: President, Robert G. Houston, of Georgetown; vice presidents, for New Castle county, Professor H. S. Goldey, of Wilmington, for Kent county, A. N. Dailey, of Dover; for Sussex, J. B. Gilchrist, of Milford; recording secretary, I. Elmer Perry of Wilmington; treasurer, George J. Chandler, of Centreville, Md.; chairman of Executive Committee, C. H. Cantwell, of Wilmington; Executive Committee, New Castle county, D. B. Maloney, of Townsend; S. H. Baynard, of Wilmington; George J. Chandler, of Centreville, Md.; Kent county, George Massey Jones, of Dover; John S. Collins, of Dover; Jas. B. Gilchrist, of Milford; Sussex county, T. P. Scott, of Lewes; B. F. B. Woodall, of Milford; S. H. Messick, of Bridgeville.
[Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia PA) Saturday, April 18, 1908, submitted by Mary Kay Krogman]

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