"Religion, morality and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged."


Many a school boy has started his essay with these words from the Northwest Ordinance, many a paper on education has begun with them, and they appear emblazoned above Angell Hall at the University of Michigan. In fact, they have become so commonplace they are taken for granted by our present generation., However, to the generation in control when Michigan became a state, those words were practically emblazoned in their hearts; and these men by their actions encouraged education and enabled Michigan to take early a lead in education that she has never lost.

Michigan drew up its constitution at a very optimistic time in United States history. The Erie canal had opened in 1825 and the old Northwest had experienced such a decade of growth that to those living through it the opportunities must have seemed unlimited. Jacksonian democracy had brought the government closer to the people and the growth of political democracy encouraged democracy in all phases of life. It was not yet the century of the common man, but he achieved a new eminence. Humanitarian reforms of all kinds thrived, education for the masses assumed an importance never experienced before in history, business flourished, times were good and men looked forward to unlimited progress. At such time young men dreamed grandiose dreams and believed them capable of fulfilment.

Two such young men were Isaac Crary and John D. Pierce, whose dreams and plans for a system of Michigan education were so farsighted that even yet we are in the process of carrying them out. So well did they plan that Michigan's system of education became in many ways the ideal for the Middle West and for many of the states of the Far West.

Prior tot he meeting of the constitutional convention in 1835, Pierce and Crary, both of Marshall, Michigan (Calhoun County), had discussed what education provisions were desirable. A copy of Victor Cousin's Report on education in Prussia which had come into their hands had been eagerly read. They were much impressed with the Prussian system of state instruction, which consisted of three degrees: primary instruction corresponding to our district schools; secondary instruction in schools called gymnasia, which corresponds to our present day high schools; and highest instruction, given in the universities. A state minister, called the Minister of Public Instruction, had charge of this system.

Crary was chairman of the committee to draw up the article on public education for the constitution. Thus Michigan's constitutional provisions were based on this Prussian System. Crary's election as Michigan's first Representative took him away from Michigan during much of the early statehood years. Since he was not available, it was fortunate for the operation of the system that the working out of the plan was given to his friend and collaborator. Crary persuaded Governor Stevens T. Mason to appoint Pierce as Superintendent of Public Instruction. Thus Pierce had the honor to be Michigan's first Superintendent of Public Instruction; indeed he was the first person in the United States ever to hold such an office under a state government. Throughout the nation there had been a steady extension of state control over education, and the need for some official to supervise this phase of state activity was increasingly felt.  Various states had combined this job with that of Secretary of State or had appointed superintendents for short lengths of time, but it remained for Michigan to define both the name and the powers of such a position and put it into permanent operation. E. P. Cubberley in his standard text on education says on this achievement:

The first States to create separate school officials who have been continued to the present time were Michigan and Kentucky, both in 1837. Influenced by Cousin's Report. . . on the organization of schools in Prussia, the leaders in the Michigan constitutional convention of 1835-Pierce and Crary-insisted on the title of Superintendent of Public Instruction and on constitutional provisions which would insure, from an administrative point of view, a state school system rather than a series of local systems of schools. Kentucky, on the other hand, evolved, as had New York, a purely American-type official, known as Superintendent of Common Schools. The Michigan title in time came to be the one commonly used, though few States in adopting it have been aware of its Prussian origin. Other states followed these. . . by 1861 there were ex-officio officers in nine and regular officers in nineteen of the then thirty-four States, as well as one of each in two of the organized Territories.

The Michigan constitutional provisions for education in 1835 were unusual in other particulars as well. Besides making Michigan the first American commonwealth to have an independent department of education with its own head, Michigan's was the first state constitution to include a specific prohibition against the appropriation of state funds for the use of sectarian or religious institutions.  A third provision that was new in the development of constitutional provisions for education was the section providing for the forfeiture of state financial aid in case of failure to maintain a school for the required constitutional period of three months.  This clause as the late Dean James B. Edmonson pointed out, was of far reaching importance, since it indirectly compelled communities to provide school facilities, and was generally written into the later constitutions of western states.  Michigan also has the single honor of being the first state to provide for libraries in its state institutions.  The constitution of 1835 read:

"As soon as the circumstances of the states will permit, the legislature shall provide for the establishment of libraries, one at least in every township: and the money shall be paid by persons for exemption from military duty, and the clear proceeds of all fines assessed in the several counties for any breach of the penal laws, shall be exclusively applied for the support of said libraries."

In addition to the educational provisions of the constitution, another contribution of the Crary-Pierce team was their conception of a state primary school fund. Of this development Pierce, himself, in Vol. I of the Michigan Pioneer Collections relates:

"At this period in our history there was one question pertaining to our primary schools of absorbing interest, the settlement of which must necessarily affect them for all time to come. The question gave General Crary, our representative, and myself, much solicitude, for on its solution depended in a great measure the success or failure of our whole system. But is was a difficult question to manage, because it depended on the action of Congress. That body at the time seemed not to be very disposed towards Michigan on account of our southern boundary trouble. Hitherto, on the admission of a new State, the sixteenth section had been donated to the township in each and every case.  But these sections had been so managed in all the new States by the townships as to be of little worth to the cause of education. Many a section of great value was sold as an early day, and but in by the settlers for a mere song. Besides there was no equality in the system - one section might be valuable, another of little worth. I once sold a section for $31,000, while in the next township the reserved section might not have been worth as many pennies.  Hence it was deemed to essential importance to us that the sixteenth sections reserved from sale should be given in trust to the State, and not to the surveyed townships. How the uniform policy of Congress could be changed, was the problem to be solved. But it was accomplished in this way: General Crary, our representative, aced with the committee whose duty it was to draft the ordinance of admission. This work was assigned to him, and in drafting the ordinance he so worded it that these school lands were really conveyed to the State, and it passed without question."

From that time on this same clause has appeared in the ordinances admitting subsequent states.

Pierce recognized the need for a method of communication with his far-flung school system, so in March 1838, he established the Monthly Journal of Education.  This publication was the first teachers journal west of the Appalachians and one of the first in the United States to circulate to a whole school system. It preceded by almost a year the publication of the Common School Journal of Horace Mann in Massachusetts.

Due to the nature of the situation, Pierce was primarily concerned with elementary education and with the Sate University, but he recognized the importance of secondary education as a preparation for the University and the teaching in the elementary schools. It was with this dual purpose in mind that he and his immediate successors laid such stress on the importance of the branches of the University. These were academies under the supervision of the Regents, supported in part by University funds. The branches accepted both men and women, with the dual purpose of preparing both for teaching and young men for the University. The branches were supposed to correspond to the Gymnasia in Germany; after a short time, however, the Regents were unable to continue their support. This was the only part of the imported system that did not fit the American scene. The branches were gradually dropped, and an American institution, the high school, developed in their stead.

The honor of developing the high school belongs to Massachusetts. According to Cubberley the high school as a distinct institution dates from a Massachusetts law in 1827 which required every town of 500 families or more to operate such a school at which would be taught United States history, bookkeeping, algebra, geometry, and surveying; and every town of 4000 families was required to add Latin, Greek, rhetoric and logic. The democratic west soon adopted this idea and established schools as quickly as cities developed. Yet in many of these states there existed hostility to public high schools and they were attacked in courts. It is in this field that Michigan made its great contribution to the development of the high school. Cubberley says,

"One of the dearest cases of this came in Michigan, in 1872, and the verdict of the Supreme Court of the State was so positive that it influenced all subsequent decisions in other States. The case is commonly known as the Kalamazoo case. The city of Kalamazoo, in 1872, voted to establish a high school and employ a superintendent of schools, and levied additional school taxes to cover the expense.  A citizen by the name of Stuart brought suit to prevent the collection of the additional taxes. The case was carried to the Supreme Court of the State, and the decision was written by Chief Justice Cooley. After stating the case in hand, the contention of the plaintiff that high schools were not comprehended under the heading "common school," and that the district board should supervise the schools, and after reviewing the educational history of the State, the court concluded: 'If these facts do not demonstrate dearly and conclusively a general state policy, beginning in 1817 and continuing until after the adoption of the present state constitution, in the direction of free schools in which education, and at their option the elements of classical education, might be brought within the reach of all the children of the State, then, as it seems to us, nothing can demonstrate it. We might follow the subject further and show that the subsequent legislation has all concurred with this policy, but it would be a waste of time and labor. We content ourselves with the Statement that neither in our state policy, in our constitution, nor in our laws, do we find the primary school district restricted in the branches of knowledge which their officers may cause to be taught, or the grade of instruction that may be given, if their voters consent in regular form to bear the expense and raise the taxes for the purpose.'  In almost all the Upper Mississippi Valley States this decision has deeply influenced development. In more than one State a Supreme Court decision which established the high school has been clearly based on this Michigan decision.  It ranks, therefore, along with the Massachusetts law of 1827 as one of the milestones in the establishment of the American public high school."

Since the high schools were only in their infancy and the branches of the University had failed through lack of financial support, some other institution was needed to prepare teachers for the primary schools. This came to be the normal school. It is interesting to note, however, that the eight branches of the University, at Pontiac, Romeo, Monroe, Kalamazoo, Detroit, Niles, White Pigeon and Tecumseh, all of them in part engaging in teacher training, were established prior to the first state normal school, which opened in Lexington, Massachusetts, July 3, 1839. Massachusetts set up a second and then a third normal school before any other state followed suit. New York established one in 1844 - Connecticut followed in 1849, the same year as Michigan; thus they share the honor of being the third state to create such a school. It is to be noted that Michigan's predecessors were older states with will developed resources and populations while Michigan had only been a state for fourteen years, with little resources for experimentation.  Yet in her usual way she led in the West, and Michigan State Normal School at Ypsilanti [now Eastern Michigan University], became the first institution, west of the Allegheny for the training of teachers.

In agricultural education Michigan pioneered not only for the West but for the nation. In 1850 the newly formed State Agricultural Society petitioned the legislature to establish an agricultural college. The petition received recognition in the new state constitution of 1850 with the inclusion of the following clause; "The Legislature shall encourage the promotion of intellectual, scientific and agricultural improvement; and shall, as soon as practicable, provide for the establishment of an agricultural school."

The Legislature petitioned Congress to make a gift to the state of 300,000 acres of land for the support of an agricultural college, thus setting in motion the train of events that was to lead to the passage of the Morrill act in 1862. When the 300,000 acre gift was not forthcoming, the legislature acted on its own and on February 12, 1855, passed an organic act creating the agricultural school. Michigan thus became the first state to establish such a school. Several years later this unique idea was broadened into the Land-Grand Colleges, established under the terms of the famous measure introduced by Senator Justin Morrill.  Michigan State College's pioneering work in this field was recognized by Morrill in his formal speech supporting his bill. The only college he mentioned as an example of what he wanted to create was the college in "Michigan, liberally supported by the State, in the full tide of successful experiment." Michigan thus can justly claim to have led the way, to have set the example, and to have been largely instrumental in securing for all the states the advantages of Land-Grant Colleges.

The crowning achievement of the state, however, is her great University.  The dream of a state university free from sectarian control was a heritage of Michigan from its territorial days. The Catholepsitemiad or University of Michigania founded in 1817 under the territorial government envisioned such a state scheme of education. The early catholicty of interest was shown by the fact that one founder was a Catholic priest and the other a free thinker.  The system they set up, although it never functioned, was remarkably similar to that created by the legislature following Pierce's proposals twenty years later.

University of Michigan, Ann Arbor CampusThe 1885 constitution provided that "The legislature shall take measures for the protection, improvement, or other disposition of such lands as have been or may hereafter be reserved or granted by the United States to this State, for the support of a University, and the funds accruing. . . . shall be and remain a permanent fund for the support of said University, with such branches as the public convenience may hereafter demand." Two months after becoming a state, the Legislature, operating under this clause and according to the proposals of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, passed March 18, 1837 the organic act establishing the University. According to Wilfred B. Shaw, the University of Michigan thereby "was given the most advanced and effective plan for a state university so far evolved, a model for all the state institutions of higher learning which were established subsequently."

Here in the West was created something new - a comprehensive system of education reaching from the elementary through the secondary schools into the University. It was the breadth of such a dream that appealed to such men as Henry Simmons Frieze, Andrew Dixon White, Henry Philip Tappan, James B. Angell and many others of like stature.  In Frieze's own words the attraction that drew them from the East to the West was that those who served in it were devoting their lives not to the interests of some limited corporation but to those of a commonwealth. . . None of the old colleges of the Atlantic States had ever held such an organic relation to general education.  Each of them was in some sense isolated, and took little interest in building up the "educational fabric as a whole. But this new University was so linked with a great community of secondary and elementary schools, that in its growth and progress it must carry all of these with it. . . "

This is not to say that Michigan was the originator of state universities but that her University was the first to free itself of sectarian control and become a true public institution.  This was not accomplished all at once. Various efforts were made to extend religious control over the infant University.  At first the four professorships were chosen one for each of the principal denominations. The arrival of President Tappan put an end to that practice, although his own removal was partly caused by religious pressures.  Even as late as the 1870's the Rose-Douglas controversy over mis-appropriation of University funds was in some essentials a revival of the effort at denominational control; but always the majority of those in control of the University stood firm on the principle of non-sectarianism. Again quoting Cubberley, the national historian of education, Michigan, the first of our state universities to free itself, takes its proper place, and set an example for others to follow, opened in 1841 with two professors and six students . . .  but by 1860 when it had largely freed itself from the incubus of Baptist Latin, Congregational Greek, Methodist intellectual philosophy, Presbyterian astronomy and Whig mathematics, and its remarkable growth as a state university had begun, it enrolled five hundred and nineteen. Michigan's position therefore, as the first western state institution founded and permanently maintained on on-sectarian principles seems incontestable.

Since the University was a part of a democratic state, a system of administration by representatives of the people was needed, and Michigan pioneered in the development of such a system in the creation of a Board of Regents elected by the people.  This unique position was given to the University of Michigan by the constitution of 1850, which provided not only for the election of Regents, but more important, made the Board of Regents a coordinate instead of a subordinate department of government, equal in status to the legislature, governor and Supreme Court.

In addition to the system of administration, Michigan also pioneered in its method of financing its University. In 1867 the Legislature voted to grant to the University the income arising from a tax of one-twentieth of a mill on every dollar of property taxed by the state. Unfortunately, certain conditions were attached to the grant which the University refused to accept, but in 1869 the grant was made outright. The University, therefore, throughout the important formative years of the nineteenth century had a method of financing that it could count on and which would grow with the prosperity of the people.  Following Michigan's example, many other states used the mill tax in supporting their universities.

An ideal of non-sectarianism, a system of administration, a method of financing were all important contributions, but only a beginning. As a downhill snowball gains impetus by its own progress, so this university, building on such a foundation. . . has jumped from advancement to advancement. From its origin,  the fact that it was a university rather than a college, and that the Legislature provided for instruction in the sciences revealed a broader vision and purpose that was then prevalent in the eastern colleges. This provision was implemented when Henry Philip

Tappan became president of the University in 1852; a curriculum in the sciences was introduced and in 1855 a course in Civil Engineering instituted. Michigan was preceded only by Harvard in this regard.

In certain important particulars the University was destined to lead the nation. It pioneered in the development of both the elective and the credit systems. IN 1878, a decade before President Eliot made so profound a stir at Harvard with his advocacy of free elections, the University of Michigan had inaugurated such a system. Within certain limits the student was given liberty to choose what courses he would take. In connection, with this there was no requirement as to when the course should be taken. By adopting a system of credits the University discarded time as a qualification for a degree, requiring only that a certain amount of work be completed. Both of these plans have been followed by Western and by Eastern schools.

The University also pioneered in developing a closer relationship between the high schools and the University. From the beginning, Pierce visualized an integral relationship between secondary and university education.  Following in his footsteps in 1870, acting President Frieze inaugurated a system similar to that of the Prussian gymnasia. A committee of the faculty was appointed to visit the public high schools of the state and report on their condition. Students from those found acceptable were admitted directly to the University without an examination. This practice came to be called the Michigan system and was accepted in practically all the states.

The University came into closer contact with the preparatory schools through the progressive liberalization of its curriculum./ Beginning with the scientific course that ran parallel with the classical course, through the Latin course which dropped Greek as a required subject and substituted modern languages to the English course which dropped both Latin and Greek, the curriculum was brought into line with what was being done in the high schools in the state. This was a national movement of which one again Michigan was in the vanguard.

Of national importance also was Michigan's action in regard to co-education. Co-education began in Ohio. Prior to the Civil War both Oberlin and Antioch colleges had opened their doors to women, but Michigan was the first large university to take this step. In 1870 Michigan was the most important western university and the only one well-known in the East, so that when the University in that year opened its doors to women, they were admitted to instruction of university status for the first time in the United States and Michigan's action was quickly followed by other state universities.

The University of Michigan was the first University in America to use the seminar method of teaching history. In 1857 Professor Andrew Dixon White had infused new enthusiasm into the teaching of history at Michigan. His courses were the first in any American school to represent the modern trend in historical teaching. His successor, Charles Kendall Adams, in his inaugural address before the American Historical Association in 1889, made this claim: "The work abandoned by Professor White, practically in 1863, and formally in 1867, was carried on by myself, his successor until 1885. Perhaps the most notable fact during that period was the introduction of the historical seminary (sic) in 1869 - Observation in the seminaries of Leipzig and Berlin had convinced me that even advanced undergraduates could use the methods of the German seminary with great profit. My expectations were more than realized. Such instruction was not instituted at Harvard until two years later, and not at Johns Hopkins until 1876.

The concern of the University of Michigan for the entire educational system had always been evident. As early as 1852 that concern was evinced in the establishment of what was known as the "Special Course" which allowed people of maturity and ability to enter upon studies at the University without regular entrance examinations. This was designed especially for teachers. Aware of what a large part the University played in providing secondary teachers, President James B. Angell in 1879 prevailed upon the Regents to establish a chair of the Science and Art of Teaching. This action was epoch-making, marking the first of its kind in the United States and the second in the world, the University of Edinburgh having already established such a chair. There had been unsuccessful attempts at Brown, Antioch, Columbia and the University of Missouri prior to this time, and in 1873 the University of Iowa had established a part-time chair but the action of the Board of Regents established in 1879 the first permanent chair devoted exclusively to the professional training of teachers in any American college or university. The following editorial praising this action appeared in Harpers Weekly, July 26, 1879:

The University of Michigan is one of the most progressive as well as efficient of our great schools of learning, and adapts itself with singular facility to the conditions of its situation in a rapidly growing country. It was, we believe, the first of our larger universities to adopt the elective system of studies, and its spirit has always been hospitable and generous.  The most striking fact in its recent annals is the establishment of a chair of the history, theory, and art of education. The value of such a chair is seen at once form the fact that the public schools of Michigan generally fall under the control of the graduates of the university. The State Normal School is engaged in the same general work, but upon another plane. In a society like ours, whose security depends upon educated intelligence, there is no more important function and service than that of teaching teachers. The art of the teacher is that of effectively communicating knowledge. But this can be taught like every art and science, only by those who are especially fitted for the work; and the University of Michigan is fortunate in finding for its new chair apparently the very man to fill it.  The authorities of the university have invited to the new professorship the late Superintendent of the Public Schools of Adrian, Professor Payne.  He is now called the first chair of the kind established in the country, and the University of Michigan again justifies its position as the head of educational system of the State.

This action will promote the highest interests of education not only by tempting future teachers to the training of the University, but by appraising the public that teaching is itself an art, and the knowledge of how to teach may make all the difference between money well or uselessly spent in a community. Both the educational and charitable systems of Michigan have an enviable reputation, and the good example again set by its university will be doubtless heeded and followed elsewhere.

Pioneered by W. H. Payne and B. A Hinsdale, the University of Michigan's courses in the Science and Art of Teaching become models in the presentation of the philosophy of education.

Regular instruction in forestry was given for the first time in the United States at the University of Michigan. Scattered lectures had been given at various Eastern universities, but at the instigation of Volney Morgan Spaulding it was made an integral part of the Curriculum of the Department of Political Science. These courses, organized in 1881, were continued for four years. Dropped in 1885 they were begun again in 1901.

The University was unique also in the development of instruction in the field of speech. A one=semester credit course begun in 1884 was expanded to a full year in 1889. At this time no other college or university in the United States offered credit for speech. This development was due largely to Thomas Clarkson Trueblood. When in 1893 he was made chairman and full professor of a separate Department of Elocution and Oratory, this marked the first separate department and the first professorship in speech in any of the larger United States universities.

The first chemical laboratory building at a state university was built at Ann Arbor in 1856. By the 1880's it was the largest and best equipped chemical laboratory in the United States. Most of the larger universities had small specialized laboratories for their professors, but Michigan was the first university to offer its facilities to students and to require laboratory courses from them. The laboratory was an off-shoot of the Medical School. Prior to its opening the only laboratory course required of medical students anywhere in the country was in anatomy.

Another important landmark in American medicine was the authorization by the Regents in 1869 that one of the hour houses originally built for professors be used as a hospital - it was the first instance of a university owning and operating a hospital in connection with its Medical School. Although it began as hardly more than a receiving home, it rapidly developed into a full-fledged hospital offering excellent clinical study. It remained continuously under the control of the Medical School and the Board of Regents and helped to demonstrate that hospitals controlled by universities were practicable.

The Department of Law was of national importance almost from the year of its founding in 1859. In its first year it attracted students from nine different states and one foreign country. By its third year most of the Middle Western and Eastern states were represented, plus Kentucky in the South and California in the Far West. By 1865-66 it had become the largest law school in the country and remained so for many years. The largest number of students from other states and abroad were drawn to the University of Michigan primarily by the work of Thomas McIntyre Cooley who had become nationally and internationally famous through his writings on constitutional law and through his decisions on the State Supreme Court.  Throughout the first twenty-five years of its existence the University of Michigan Law School was the outstanding law school of the Middle West and in many respects, of the country.

Undoubtedly one of the reasons for the growth of the University of Michigan was the concentration of effort on one institution while surrounding states were frittering away their energies on a multitude of small colleges. Pierce had wanted only the University to be able to grant degrees, and though this policy was later changed, it did operate to hold down the growth of small sectarian colleges.  The Legislature also aided by setting up minimum standards that an educational corporation would have to meet before it could incorporate. This was the first such law west of the Alleghenies as the tendency was at that time to fix maximum rather than minimum standards. Though such concentration of money, energy, talent and dreams, wonderful results were attained. As Frieze had earlier predicted, the University of Michigan as the head of the educational fabric of a great commonwealth inspired and lifted the whole organization until Michigan's system of education became a model followed by many states. In the field of education the seeds so carefully planted by Crary and Pierce have borne abundant fruit: Michigan has lived up to its pioneering tradition.

Source of Information: University of Ann Arbor 1955 - Martha Mitchell Bigelow "Wikepdia"






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