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The Pennsylvania School System


Chapter 3: The Early Schools

Most of the early Pennsylvania schoolhouses consisted of one-room and were built of logs.  They were crude, uncomfortable, and poorly lighted and heated.  In many cases the one-teacher schools were ungraded.

Teacher salaries were low.  The very early teachers received $10.00 or $12.00 a month.  The teacher “boarded around” and often received food and commodities in lieu of pay.  The first minimum wage law was not passed until 1903.   Salaries were than at least $35.00 a month.

The school laws of Pennsylvania from 1864 to 1895 prohibited boards of school directors to spend funds for library books except for teachers.

The early curriculum included reading and arithmetic.  In some school girls were not given instruction in handwriting as the subject was not viewed as having practical value for them.  Gradually, composition and grammar were common subjects.

In 1885 instruction in physiology and hygiene was required with special reference to the effect of “alcoholic drinks, stimulants, and narcotics” upon the human system.  Education for the blind was provided by law in 1911.  Safety education was established in 1921 along with the teaching of music and art.  Special state aid for the mentally and physically handicapped was created in 1925.

Many early schools had only one teacher.  In certain areas of the state the children came from families working for the timbering industry.  As the trees were removed, and the lumber industry declined, the school population decreased.  The smaller schools were becoming expensive to operate.  By the turn of the century, consolidation of schools would become necessary.

Many students in early schools could not afford the cost of schoolbooks.  In 1885 a state law was passed to aid school districts in the purchase of school books for poor children.  But, the law was optional with local schools.  Finally, in 1893 the “free textbook law” was made compulsory.

The high school system came later.  In 1860 there were only six public high schools in the state.  Secondary education was largely the function of private academies until the state legislature passed laws in 1887-1895 authorizing the creation of high schools.



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Copyright 2006-2007 F. Charles Petrillo

Copyright 2006-2008 F. Charles Petrillo