Virginia was the first English colony in America to lay plans for establishing a university, the first to found a free school, and the first to propose a system of public education. Yet today, in every comparative rating of the public schools of the United States, Virginia is near the bottom. A carefully compiled table of statistics, published in the Virginia Journal of Education in February 1938, discloses the high rank that Virginia takes in its ability to pay for a public school system and the low place it occupies at present in actual expenditures. Virginia ranks seventh in Federal taxes in millions and fourteenth in total taxes collected; but it drops to forty-second in the percentage of income spent on education, to forty first in the value of school property per pupil enrolled, and to forty-third with respect to teachers' salaries; in literacy the State is forty-second; in power to hold pupils between the ages of 14 and 17 years, Virginia drops to the forty-second place. Dr. Sidney B. Hall, superintendent of public instruction, in his report for 1936-37, states that Virginia still falls below the minimum of five books to a pupil. The Virginia State Library is doing heroic missionary work in the field of extension libraries. On a parsimonious allowance, it sends traveling units to rural schools and clubs to furnish an indispensable instrument of twentieth-century education.

On the other hand, Virginia's revised curriculum, developed under the direction of Dr. Hall, has attracted wide attention. It has been called, however, an excellent machine without the motive power of adequate appropriation. Conditions in the rural schools of the State, where this curriculum should be functioning most efficiently, have been characterized by authorities in the Virginia Journal of Education as 'deplorable.' In an address delivered on April 12, 1939, before the State Chamber of Commerce, the superintendent of public instruction again called attention to the State's failure to support her public schools: 'Virginia is adding 11 millions this year [1937-38] to the value of school property, without making adequate financial provision for its operation and use.' In regard to teachers' salaries, he said that, 'because of the decrease in the purchasing value of the dollar, teachers are paid less today on the basis of the work done than they have been for more than a generation.'


Free education in Virginia had its beginnings soon after the founding of the colony. In addition to the Syms Free School, founded in 1634, and the Eaton Free School, established a few years later, there were seven other very early institutions generally known as parish schools. In 1646 the Virginia assembly passed its first apprenticeship law (confirmed in 1672, 1705, and 1748), which prescribed that poor orphans, neglected children of indigent parents, and all apprentices should be taught the elements of an education, given religious instruction, and trained in a good calling or trade. There is even some evidence of attempts in the seventeenth century to establish trade schools in the Virginia workhouses. The schools for 'all the children within the bounds' or for poor orphans and apprentices were supported by private philanthropy. Unfortunately, association of free primary education with the poor orphan produced what has been called an 'orphan fixation,' which for more than 200 years proved an obstacle to the development and general acceptance of a public school system and even after 1869 prevented a wholehearted support of free education for all classes.

The idea that education is a State function evolved slowly in Virginia, as elsewhere. Its first great American champion, Thomas Jefferson, was 100 years in advance of his time. Within a few days after his election in 1779 as governor of Virginia, he submitted to the assembly his plan for education: 'A Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge.' Its aim was to safeguard democracy by educating the people. Jefferson hoped to end the old horizontal system of schools for the rich and schools for the poor, and sought to remove the blight of pauperism from free education. The plan proposed three years of free elementary education for all children regardless of class or condition, free secondary education for those who had the ability to profit by it, and free college and university education for those with still greater endowments. The weakness of the plan came from its author's fear of centralization. He proposed to finance the schools mainly by a direct tax locally imposed. The bill, which would have given primary education to boys and girls alike, did not go through at the time, but some of its provisions were enacted into law in 1796. In 1818 Jefferson led another assault on the indifference to popular education. The assembly of 1810, prompted by Governor John Tyler, Sr., had passed a law establishing the Literary Fund, a form of school support intended to take the place of a local tax. This law, still functioning in Virginia, provides that all fines, escheats, and confiscations accruing to the State shall be used for the founding of a university, for the education of poor children, and for the encouragement of learning. Jefferson's amended education bill of 1818 was intended to establish a pyramidal system of education, a system of primary and secondary schools and district colleges, with the university the capstone of the structure. As only the primary schools and the university were founded, the result was a feeble substructure, a vigorous top, and nothing between by which free-school children could climb upward. Such as it was, however, the system functioned until about 1860. Amendments and re-enactments did not change its inherent weakness, which lay in the permissive nature of the provisions. The bill left the matter of setting up primary schools in a locality to the men of substance, who naturally did not hasten to tax themselves to educate the children of their poor neighbors. Before 1860 not more than half a dozen counties had established district free schools.

A growing sentiment in favor of extending educational opportunity was reflected in the educational conventions of 1841, 1845, 1856, and 1857. In the western counties a rising middle class was founding schools and colleges and demanding a State-supported system of free schools. The descendants of Scotch and Scotch-Irish settlers were the most powerful factors in this movement. Official recognition of free education actually came in 1851. Then through revision of the constitution it was provided that one-half of the capitation tax might be applied to free primary schools.

Even before the educational revivals of the 1840's and 1850's, Virginia had experimented with two other forms of free popular education, both originating in England. The first, the secular Sunday school, was welcomed here with enthusiasm, reached its crest of favor in the 1830's, and then rapidly waned in popularity. As initiated by Robert Raikes, the plan provided instruction for the poor in reading, writing, and religion, using the Bible and the catechism as the basis of teaching. The classes, in which all ages and all social strata were mingled, were held on Sunday, sometimes continuing all day. The aristocratic lion in some sections fed with the proletariat lamb. Jefferson's democratic ideal seemed on the eve of realization. The teachers were volunteers, and the cost was so low that prophets hailed this innovation as a solution of the problem of popular education. It proved a false dawn. The glow faded, but the democratic leveling had helped to inoculate the public with the idea of free schools disassociated from charity.

Almost at the same time the Lancasterian plan for popular education invaded Virginia. This monitorial system, invented by Joseph Lancaster, employed older pupils to teach the younger under the supervision of an adult teacher. The schools were supported by private contributions and municipal appropriations. Norfolk had a Lancastrian Academy in 1815, and the Lancastrian, or Lancasterian, School at Richmond, founded in 1816, functioned successfully until the establishment of the public school system in 1869.

In spite of all obstacles, the State was moving toward a genuine system of public education under the stimulus of the educational conventions and the efforts of such advocates as Dr. Henry Ruffner, Governor James McDowell and Governor Henry Alexander Wise, when the conflict over slavery and states' rights drew into its vortex the best energies of a generation. After the war, Virginia faced a new social order and founded her system of State-supported public schools for both white and Negro children. According to the mandate of the Federal Government, a constitutional convention was summoned to meet in Richmond on December 3, 1867, to frame a new State constitution. Firmness and patience helped the minority of native sons to shape the educational provisions in accordance with the spirit of Virginia.

These provisions required that public schools for both races should be set up and functioning by 1876. The general assembly met in March 1870 and elected Dr. William Henry Ruffner the first State superintendent of public instruction, requiring him to frame within 30 days a plan for a uniform system of public schools. In July 1870 this plan became a law. Illiteracy among both races had gained noticeably during the war. With this burden and financially impoverished, Virginia started on a new course.

By 1871 the public schools, had an enrollment of 150,000, but shipwreck threatened just ahead. In the lean years of 1877-79 the public school system found itself almost without funds. The Literary Fund had been diverted to other channels. Though Dr. Ruffner and other stalwart friends of education saved the system from complete disaster, the next two decades show a downward curve on the educational graph--the result of an alliance between school administration and politics. But the new State constitution of 1902 in large measure divorced the schools from political influence. The power of the State board was increased, appropriations were cut off from schools not under exclusive control of the State, and it was provided that the superintendent of public instruction should be an experienced educator elected by the people for a term of four years.

A series of educational conferences promoted by Robert C. Ogden of New York was held at various centers in the South in the opening years of the twentieth century. In Virginia they resulted in the May campaign of 1905. State officials were bombarded with appeals for improvement of the public school system. Better school laws were enacted, high schools and normal schools were established, and facilities for industrial and agricultural education were set up. In 1884 the State had founded a normal school for women at Farmville, and between 1908 and 1912 three more such schools were opened at Harrisonburg, Fredericksburg, and East Radford. These schools have since evolved into teachers' colleges. In 1937-38 Virginia's expenditures for educational purposes amounted to $29,140,234.86, a sum which, according to careful estimates, was $10,000,000 less than the amount needed. In 1937-38 the expenditure per pupil in average daily public school attendance was $45-56, as against a National average Of $74.30. The largest sum spent for a single specialized purpose in 1937-38 was $907,777 for vocational education; but, according to the superintendent of public instruction, this sum fell far short of what was needed. In 1937-38 the State employed 17,249 teachers, white and Negro, whose average annual salary (exclusive of supervisors and supervising principals) was $792. The average annual salary, including all types of instruction, was $886. Of the 735,198 children of school age in the State, 583,556 were enrolled in the public schools, with an average daily attendance of only 493,266. Virginia's revised curriculum proves, however, that those who planned it were intent on changing the gears of the educational machine to meet the demands for twentieth-century efficiency. It proves also that Virginia's low educational rating is not the fault of her educators but of those who dispense the public funds.


Before the widespread establishment of private schools, wealthy planters engaged tutors and invited the children of neighboring plantations to share the instruction and the expense; girls attended with their brothers or were taught by governesses. The enrollment lists of Eton, Cambridge, and Oxford show that many sons of wealthy Virginia families went overseas for their education. Frequently small planters or successful merchants set up community schools known as Old Field schools, sometimes patronized for convenience by the upper class. Here the instruction varied from the rudiments of knowledge to mathematics and the classics, under an educated master.

The academy movement, which started in mid-eighteenth century, carried Virginia to pre-eminence through the number and quality of secondary schools and the high cost of board and tuition. From 1776 to 1870, when the academy gave way to the public high school, 218 such institutions were chartered: 127 for boys, 71 for girls, and 20 that were coeducational. The academy responded quickly to the conditions of a changing economic life. It included in its curricula practical subjects needed in a new country-navigation, surveying, engineering, sciences, and modern languages. In Scientific Interests in the Old South, Dr. T.C. Johnson reveals through minute documentation the extent to which the sciences were taught in these academies, seminaries, or institutes, as they were variously known. Often the scientific instruction was strengthened by lectures from a professor at a neighboring college. When the academy movement waned, some of these institutions survived to form the nuclei of future colleges and universities.

An educational chart of Virginia, designed to display the scope and quality of the instruction given in girls' schools between 17oo and 186o, would show surprising variations. While the catalogue of one Virginia seminary was promising to 'temper the severities of arithmetic to the delicacy of the female mind,' another was publishing in its prospectus the stem requirement that the young ladies were 'expected to study philosophy from the original text of the master and use no easy compendiums'; and at Llangollen in Spotsylvania, the Lewis School for both sexes, in separate classes, was putting the 'delicate female mind' through the same severe intellectual discipline as was given the boys. This was in 1815, and the advertisement of other schools for girls, then and later, list Latin and Greek, with emphasis on Euclid 'to strengthen the mind,' and a surprising array of the sciences. Between 1835 and 1838, according to Dr. Johnson, nearly all the 100 advertisements of girls' schools in Virginia listed some natural sciences in the course of study. But few of these schools omitted the teaching of shellwork, beadwork, and the making of wax flowers, or neglected the -'captivating accomplishments' of music, French, and dancing. Intelligent Virginians-Thomas Ritchie, editor of the Richmond Enquirer, among them-grew more and more critical of the trivial and superficial education given to girls and argued for 'more masculine breadth and substance.' In response to this demand and as part of a Nationwide educational awakening, schools were founded to provide girls in Virginia with the same educational opportunities as were offered young men.


Higher education has always been Virginia's favorite child, while the free or public school has been left like Ishmael to sojourn in the desert. Before the Jamestown settlement was ten years old, ambitious schemes were afoot both in Virginia and in England to found a college or university at Henricopolis in the corporation of Henrico, with an endowment of $45,000 and a domain of 110,000 acres. The Massacre of 1622, however, discouraged all efforts toward higher education, and not until 1693 was the College of William and Mary founded by royal charter at Williamsburg.

Now Virginia has 24 senior colleges and universities, 10 of which are controlled by the State. The University of Virginia was founded at Charlottesville by Thomas Jefferson in 1819. The College of William and Mary passed into State control in 1906. Virginia's two military colleges, the Virginia Military Institute at Lexington (founded 1839) and the Virginia Polytechnic Institute at Blacksburg (founded 1872), combine military and technical training with courses in the liberal arts. The four teachers' colleges, to which men are admitted only in the summer sessions, now confer the degree of bachelor of arts. Since William and Mary passed into State control, Hampden-Sydney College (opened January 1, 1776 as Prince Edward Academy) has become the senior private institution for higher education in Virginia. Hampden-Sydney was the progenitor of Union Theological Seminary, now in Richmond, and of the Medical College of Virginia, organized in 1838 as Hampden-Sydney medical department. This medical college, also in Richmond and now a State-controlled coeducational institution, is the largest medical center south of Baltimore. Scotch-Irish zeal for education is responsible for the beginnings of Washington and Lee University, chartered in 1782 as Liberty Hall Academy. During the third decade of the nineteenth century several other colleges were established-the University of Richmond- , Randolph-Macon College at Ashland, and Emory and Henry College at Emory. In addition to the senior colleges and universities, Virginia has 12 institutions of junior college standing. Of these, nine are for women and three are coeducational, including the Eastern Mennonite School at Harrisonburg, the only one of this sect in the State.

State-controlled higher education in Virginia has been predominantly for men. Until 1918 no State-supported college admitted women. In that year the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and the College of William and Mary became coeducational. In 1920 the University of Virginia opened to women its graduate and professional schools, Women are still virtually excluded from the winter sessions of the university's school of liberal arts, though they may receive the degree of bachelor of arts by attending courses in the summer.

While Virginia has no college for women that ranks with the so-called 'Big Seven,' she can offer a list of several distinctive institutions, the oldest dating from the educational revival of the 1840's, and all except Randolph-Macon Woman's College and Sweet Briar College developing from a female seminary or institute. Hollins College near Roanoke, founded in 1842 as a coeducational institute, stands foremost among the pioneers. The Mary Baldwin Seminary in Staunton was opened, also in 1842, as the Augusta Female Seminary. Patterned after those in the men's colleges, the early courses at these two schools were exacting. Westhampton College, opened in 1915 as co-ordinate college for women at the University of Richmond, had as its first students 'co-eds,' who for several years had been tolerated on a masculine campus. Randolph-Macon Woman's College at Lynchburg, founded by Methodists in 1893, has the distinction of being the first fully accredited woman's college in Virginia. Sweet Briar College, one of the youngest of Virginia's colleges for women, was opened near Amherst in 1906 as a strictly liberal-arts institution.


The apprenticeship act of 1646 required masters to instruct and catechize their Negroes, as well as their white apprentices and indentured servants. In the eighteenth century occasional efforts were made in Virginia to give the Negro an elementary education and to train him in some craft or industry. At Bremo, the old Cocke homestead on the upper James, is still preserved the eighteenth-century slave schoolroom. Before 1764 the editor of the Virginia Gazette had established a school for Negroes in Williamsburg, as an entry against his estate, 'To paid Ann wages for teaching the Negro school,' furnishes evidence. In December 1827 The Richmond Whig advertised a school for 'free Negro boys' taught by a Joseph Sheppard, who sought to 'elevate them from mental thralldom and degradation.' When the foreign slave trade was abolished in 1808, Virginia became, in the words of President Dew of the College of William and Mary, a Negro-raising state for other states.' Her slaves were in demand because of their excellent training. House-servants were often taught to read and write, to increase their economic value. But steadily mounting unrest among the slaves, the increase of abolitionist propaganda, and fear of another Nat Turner insurrection produced a reaction against educating the Negro. Stringent laws were passed in 1849 penalizing Negro instruction or assemblages.'

At the close of the War between the States, Virginia was too impoverished to educate even her white children. It was then that the Freedmen's Bureau and the Peabody Fund, both Northern philanthropies, gave money and moral support for Negro education. They were aided in their efforts by the almost 60,000 free Virginia Negroes, many of them literate and property owners. In 1868 the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute was established by the American Missionary Association of New York, which had conducted schools for Negroes on Hampton River since 1861.

Not until 40 years after the establishment of Virginia's public school system was the vocational training of the old apprenticeship system restored to both whites and Negroes. Virginia Randolph, a Negro teacher in a rural school of Henrico County, started a movement in 1906 for the return of vocational and industrial training. Her plan so transformed the rural Negro schools of the county that it was successfully adopted elsewhere in Virginia and North Carolina. She was the first supervisor to be aided by the Jeanes Fund. Negro education in the South has been vitally assisted by four funds established by Northern philanthropists. The Slater Fund, the earliest, provided $1,000,000 for Negro rural schools and the training of Negro teachers. It was founded in 1882 by a Connecticut merchant, J.P. Slater. The Jeanes Fund, endowed in 1905 by a Philadelphia Quaker, Miss Anna Jeanes, finances supervisors for the rural schools. The Phelps-Stokes Fund, founded by Miss Caroline Phelps-Stokes in 1909, aids the public rural schools of both races. The Rosenwald Fund for rural Negro education, with a munificent endowment of $22,000,000, was founded in 1912 by Julius Rosenwald of Chicago. In 1930, near the old Syms School in Elizabeth City County, the Rosenwald Fund erected the five thousandth of the school buildings it has distributed throughout the rural South. The Slater Fund and the Jeanes Fund were merged in 1937 as the Southern Education Foundation, Incorporated. In 1928, Dr. Michael Vincent O'Shea of the University of Wisconsin made an exhaustive report on public education in Virginia to the Virginia commission of education. He found the Negro rural schools seriously handicapped by short terms, poor physical equipment, inefficient teachers, low salaries, and lack of effective supervision. Dr. Sidney B. Hall, Virginia's present superintendent of public instruction, lists as needs of the Negro schools more and better buildings, increased and improved transportation facilities, better teachers, higher salaries, and consolidation.

In addition to Hampton Institute, Virginia has three other Negro colleges. One of these, Virginia State College at Petersburg, is supported by State funds. Another, Virginia Union University, had its lowly origin in a building known as Lumpkin's jail, or slave pen, in Richmond. Virginia Theological Seminary and College was founded in 1888; its alumni serve many of the churches of the State. Other Negro institutions in the State, however, give some college courses. In the heart of the 'black belt' in Brunswick County, the Reverend James S. Russell, an Episcopal minister, started in 1888 the St. Paul Normal and Industrial School, now a coeducational junior college and teacher-training institution. The northern branch of the Presbyterian Church controls the Ingleside-Fee Memorial Institute at Burkeville, which gives an accredited high school course and two years of college work; and the Roman Catholic Church maintains the St. Emma Industrial Institute for Negroes at Rock Castle on the James River. The Bishop Payne Divinity School at Petersburg trains Negroes for the ministry.

The editor of the Richmond Times-Dispatch on May 19, 1937, commended the award of the Roosevelt Memorial Association to Dr. James Hardy Dillard, in recognition of half a century of wise and devoted work on behalf of the Negro, and said: 'School superintendents find it easier now in the South to give Negro pupils new schools than they did 20 or 30 years ago . . . Some of these superintendents are growing bold enough to discuss the disparity between the salaries of the white and the colored public teachers.' But for all advances that have been made in recent years, many inequalities with respect to Negro and white education still exist in the public school system of Virginia. In 1937-38 there were 27 counties without public schools for Negroes and 26 counties and two cities without Negro high schools. The total number of accredited, qualified, and certified Negro high schools in the State is 63. In 1937-38 the expenditure for each Negro pupil in average daily attendance was $26.08 in city schools and $12.19 in rural schools, as against corresponding expenditures of $47.62 and $24.01 for the white pupil. In 1937-38 the average annual salary paid Negro elementary teachers was $518, while white elementary teachers received $773. The average salary paid Negro high school teachers was $848, while white high school teachers received $1190.


Although the Virginia legislature at its 1938 session adopted only a part of the program advanced by educators for lifting standards in the schools of the State, public opinion has been so aroused that necessary appropriations cannot be indefinitely withheld. The following three-point unified program was adopted in January 1938 by the Virginia Educational Association: a minimum school term of nine months with a minimum average salary for teachers of not less than $720 per school year; an actuarially sound retirement law for teachers; textbooks furnished pupils in the public schools at the expense of the State. Although this program has not yet been achieved, public attention has been focused on the need, and additional appropriations constitute a step in the right direction. The comptroller's report for 1938 lists Federal aid for education in Virginia to the amount of $1,244,267, distributed among the funds for rehabilitation, for vocational education, for home economics courses given in 71 per cent of the accredited high schools, and in the College of William and Mary, the Medical College of Virginia, the Virginia Polytechnic Institute, and the Virginia State College for Negroes.

In 1938 the general assembly of Virginia made appropriations to help the local school boards develop already existing programs for adult education. These local programs are to be set up in community centers, unifying all phases of the education of adults. Delinquents, formally committed by the courts, are placed in private homes or sent to four industrial schools maintained by the State. A State institution cares for white epileptics and feeble-minded persons, and one for Negroes is now being built (1939). The State supports white and Negro institutions for the deaf and blind. The Virginia Commission for the Blind maintains workshops in three cities and gives effective aid in conserving sight. In 1936 the general assembly established an annual appropriation of $950,000 for the support of these institutions.

Besides these State institutions, there are a number of schools and homes for normal and subnormal youth supported by private philanthropy-Masonic and sectarian. Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1795: 'I do most anxiously wish to see the highest degrees of education given to the highest degrees of genius, and to all degrees of it, so much as may enable them to read and understand what is going on in the world, and to keep their part of it going on right; for nothing can keep it right but their own vigilant and distrustful superintendence.' And in 1820 he noted hopefully: 'Surely Governor Clinton's display of the gigantic efforts of New York towards the education of their citizens will stimulate the pride as well as the patriotism of our Legislature, to look to the reputation and safety of their country, to rescue it from the degradation of becoming the Barbary of the Union.'

Today in the education field, courageous and versatile leaders are pushing toward the goal set by Thomas Jefferson. With the fourth decade of the twentieth century at the threshold, there is already good hope that in the early 1840's Virginia will recapture her traditional prestige in education and link her present with her past.

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