Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute Home

The History of Public Education in Connecticut

Clifford J. Dudley

Contents of Curriculum Unit 81.ch.02:


The idea of public education has come to mean various things to many people. What is your concept of it? What images do your students have when “public education” is mentioned? Public schools in England have little in common with their name-sakes in America; more like our private schools, they are exclusive schools which serve to prepare students for important jobs in the government or military, “public” service. Yet the present American idea of publicly supported schools which would teach basic knowledge to future citizens did not exist in our state most of our early history.

This unit is concerned with how education developed throughout the state’s history. The overall goal of the unit is to Provide students with insight into how education has responded to changing conditions. Your students should learn how education affects, and in turn is affected by, the attitudes of the society in which it exists.

The unit is divided into three sections: the colonial era, the 19th century, and the 2Oth century. The sections may be taught together as a two-week unit, or separately in connection with each period as it is covered in traditional American history courses. It may be used for grades eight through ten. However, depending on your desires and the class ability, the unit may be used for a more intense study of Connecticut public education. I have prefaced each section with a general objective which the students should recognize. Following each section are some activities which you nay find useful. Of course, each of us will use this material in the way we feel will be most informative and interesting to the students.

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1. The Colonial Era

OBJECTIVE: Students will learn how education was regarded as an important aspect of life even in the state’s colonial period. They will study the content and purpose of early education laws and relate them to the school environment.

SUMMATION: Among the significant features of Connecticut’s early development was the value that the founding fathers placed upon education. This was for no profound intellectual purpose. Rather, it was so that all children would be able to read scripture, have 1 a proper upbringing, be knowledgeable of the law, and find “honest” work. Education found its roots in the Puritan’s religious values. Satan was a reality to these people, a reality who was determined to destroy God’s Church in the new land. Education which enabled one to fortify himself with the strength of Biblical readings was a necessity:

It being one chief project of that old deluder Sathan, to keepe men from the knowledge of the scriptures . . . 2

In education, as in other aspects of colonial life, the church was the predominate force, and much teaching was of an ecclesiastical nature,3 and some modern historians find that education had a strong secular purpose as well. Colonial leaders tried to enforce the need to read the “holy word” by use of the Code of 1650 which required each town with fifty families to hire a schoolmaster to teach students to read and write. Towns of one hundred families were to open “Grammar Schools” to prepare students for studies at Harvard. Students entering these Grammar Schools were expected to be literate. This meant that families wishing their children to attend these schools had to take an active part in the child’s preparation. These laws were modified in 1662 to make then applicable to New Haven after its inclusion in the Connecticut Colony.4 In 1864 school property, like Church property, was made tax exempt.5

In 1717 the General Assembly required every parish, in towns with more that one parish, to have a school. The upkeep of the school was to come from a tuition paid by the parents. However, the town covered the cost for anyone too poor to afford it.6 In those townships where no school-houses existed students received their instructions at the teachers’ home. When the teacher lacked a home the class would be rotated among the homes of the families whose turn it was to board the teacher.

Throughout the 18th century the building, or room, that a town used as its school was usually about 25 by 20 feet, and housed anywhere from a handful to sixty or more pupils. These students sat on backless benches positioned along the side walls and facing the teacher. A child’s first instruction consisted of reciting letters. The teacher called up one student at a time to do his lesson while the rest sat and read. Since the class contained children of all age levels, older ones often helped younger students. A horn-book was used as a text. This consisted of a small, short-handled wooden board upon which was fixed a single page containing that alphabet, syllables, and the Lord’s Prayer. The New England Primer was introduced in 1685 and remained the basic text for a century. This five-inch by three-inch, eighty-page book consisted of the alphabet (with pictures and religious rhymes such as, “In Adams fall, we sinned all), words to spell, and prayers for morning and evening. Later editions included secular poems and stories. It was not until 1783 that a uniform attempt at spelling was made with Webster’s 168-page American Speller. It was even later, in 1788, that English arithmetic texts with pounds and pence, were replaced by an American book written by Nicholas Pike.


(1) Divide the class into sections representing church officials and other town people. Have them discuss why or why not the town should open a school. Use the material in this section with the material on colonial life from the students’ social studies text. Have students discuss what a colonial boy should be taught, and why.
Since women were not allowed in such discussions, do not let then participate for a while. Then ask them how they felt about being denied not only an education but the right to speak. What are their views on what should be taught during the colonial era?

(2) Have a class construct a basic primer of what they feel the most important parts of their modern social studies lessons are. You may like to have the class produce a colonial hornbook. There is an illustration in Appendix I, and all you need is some thin wood, tacks, and paper (those brown bathroom towels would give a nice “antique” color).

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2. The 19th Century

OBJECTIVES: Students will learn how Connecticut schools began to decline in the 19th century. They will learn the reasons for this and how the trend was reversed, through a study of primary sources commenting on buildings and curriculum.

SUMMATION: A new period of education in Connecticut began in 1795. In that year Connecticut parcelled and sold off to private purchasers areas of its Western Reserve in the Ohio Territory. The money from this sale was originally to be used as funds for the ministry. However, this idea met with so much opposition that the General Assembly decided to set aside this money for perpetual educational use,1 and it became the base for the state’s first School Fund.2 In 1798, the legislature transferred control of the public schools from the ecclesiastical societies of the town to the newly formed school societies.3 From now on, the schools would be maintained by a civil authority. A board of managers was established to control the public fund, and under James Hillhouse the board showed an annual dividend of nearly $50,000 after 1800.4 However, things did not go along as smoothly as hoped. It soon became clear that towns relied too much on the school fund. They became indifferent to the need for local funds to meet school needs and maintain standards. In 1821 the state property tax was discontinued thereby cutting off a major source of financial support.

As a result of this local indifference and fiscal neglect, schools declined in academic and physical quality. Roger Minto Sherman of Fairfield established the first, “society for the improvement of common schools” in 1827.5 These societies stressed the importance of keeping records of school performance. The idea of School Visitors, officials charged with the supervision of district schools, was implemented, and these new supervisors discovered some disturbing conditions. They were distressed that parents showed little interest in the workings of the school, apparently too preoccupied with other matters.6 The Visitors also found teachers to be poorly qualified and perhaps worth only the average salary of $14.50 monthly for men and $5.75 monthly for women (exclusive of board).7 Nevertheless, Visitors deplored the low wages. A wide variety of textbooks were also in use within the same class because teachers changed almost every year, with each new teacher likely to require parents to buy different texts annually. It is not hard to imagine the difficulties for student and teacher alike to work on the same lesson while using different books.

By 1839, observers reported high absenteeism in the public schools. The Report to the Board of Commissioners of Common Schools for that year states that 17,000 students were absent from a possible enrollment of 67,000. This was due to many reasons. Many young people had to work to help support the family, many families still regarded education as more of a luxury than a necessity, and since public schools still charged tuition poorer families found it a financial strain to educate their children at the schools.

The school buildings themselves were in horrendous condition. Architectural structure, as well as instruction, had changed little from the early colonial Period. Of the one hundred and three schools examined in the 1830s only thirty-one could be classified as in good repair and only seven as really comfortable. The majority were still quite small, with the average room size being twenty square feet with an eight foot ceiling. Stoves or fireplaces provided heat, but only three schools in one hundred and four school districts surveyed had an out-house. The walls and desks were, “ . . . cut and marked with all sorts of images, some of which would make heathens blush.”8 Most rooms were without maps, globes, or other supplies. It was this area that Henry Barnard was to regard as in most need of immediate action:

In the whole field of school improvement there is no more pressing need of immediate action than here. I present with much hesitation the result of my examinations as to several hundred school-houses in different parts of the State. I will say, generally, that the location of the school-house, instead of being retired, shaded, healthy, attractive, is in some cases decidedly unhealthy, exposed freely to the sun and storm, and in nearly all, on one or more public streets, where the passing of objects, the noise and the dust, are a perpetual annoyance to teacher and scholar; -that no play-ground is afforded for the scholar except the highway, -that the size is too small for even the average attendance of the scholars, -that not one in a hundred has any other provision for a constant supply of that indispensable element of health and life, pure air, except the rents and crevices which time and wanton mischief have made; that the seats and desks are not, in a majority of cases, adapted to children of different sizes and ages, but on the other hand are calculated to induce physical deformity, and ill-health, and not in a few instances (I state this on the authority of physicians who were professionally acquainted with the cases) have actually resulted in this -and that in the mode of warming rooms, sufficient regard is not had either to the comfort and health of the scholar, or to economy.9

Henry Barnard was born in Hartford, and along with Horace Mann in Massachusetts and John Pierce in Michigan, was one of America’s early advocates of education for all children.10 In 1838 he proposed a bill to create a state supervisory board of education. He was appointed secretary for the new board of commissioners for common schools when his friend Thomas Gallaudet had to refuse the post. He was soon disheartened by the lack of educational interest in Connecticut,11 but determined to establish his ideas for improving education. Barnard thought that a better system of organization and administration should be developed by placing more emphasis on supervision and accountability.12 To decrease the confusion over books, he advocated that no texts be used unless studied and then ordered by a specific committee.13 The proficiency of the system would be upgraded by an exam-graded curriculum that included spelling reading, arithmetic, writing, geography, history, and grammar.14 His statement that Connecticut and America should have, “schools good enough for the best and cheap enough for the poorest,” was the framework of his struggle for practical and universal education.15

One of Barnard’s main problems was to produce an efficient school system that could manage the large population with little money.16 The impact of the Industrial Revolution led to an increase in cities and urban population, and a general Connecticut population increase of 73% from 1840 through 1870.17 Management problems would be eased by making the town the major authority in local educational matters. Towns were to select a group of three, six, or nine men to serve as a board of education. The board would hire teachers, buy land, build buildings, and generally see that schools were kept in good order.

Financial problems were quite difficult to solve. Barnard was not an advocate of tuition-free schools, but he did feel a need for a general state funding of educational needs. The state subsidized only a small portion of a school district’s expenses, the rest of it being made up from the tuition charged the parents. People who did not send their children to public schools did not have to contribute to their upkeep. The law on this (known as the rate-bill) stated:.

Whenever the expenses of keeping a common school by a teacher duly qualified, shall exceed the amount of monies appropriated by law to defray the expenses of such school, the committee in such district for the time being, may examine, adjust, and allow all bills of expense incurred for the support of said school, and assess the same upon the parents, guardians, and masters of such children as attended the same, according to the number and time sent by each.18

Barnard advocated a state property tax to support the common schools and new high schools. However, Connecticut citizens never appreciated the idea of a tax. They held that the government had no right to tax one man to educate the child of another.19 Barnard was even threatened with physical violence for proposing the tax. However, he still believed in:

. . . making property, whether it represented children or not, chargeable with their support. This is the cardinal idea of the free school system, and with the aid now furnished from the school fund which is appropriated for the equal benefit of all people, this charge cannot be considered burdensome.20

Opposition declined as people realized that the school graduates were going on to become community leaders and respectable neighbors.21 By 1854 a Property tax required each town to Provide an annual sum of one cent for every dollar as school support.22 The rate-bills were abolished in 1867, by which time even free high schools existed in Branford, Bristol, Colchester, East Hartford, Hartford, New Haven, Middletown, New London, Norwich, Stamford, Torrington, Waterbury, and Windham.

Henry Barnard was also interested in improving education by establishing a system of public high schools. While Connecticut already had many fine academies, there were no public high schools before the 1840s. In 1841, the city of Middletown removed all students (age nine through sixteen) from the district schools and enrolled them into what was to be the state’s first public high school. In 1847 Hartford also established a high school and its basic program was to be a model for the other school districts. Course offerings were divided into three programs: the Classical Course which served as a preparation for college, the English Course which gave a practical four-year curriculum, and the Partial Course which could be completed in two years and was tailored to those students who wished to begin work early. This program was generally followed by high schools that opened in other towns. New Haven established Hillhouse High School in 1859.23 It had two programs: a regular course of general study, and a college preparatory course stressing Latin and arithmetic. By 1861, New Haven was offering courses in: Trigonometry, Navigation, Literature, Reading, Spelling and Defining, French, German, Latin, Greek, Rhetoric, Logic, Mental and Moral Philosophy, History, Political Philosophy, the Constitution, Physical Geography, Natural Philosophy, Chemistry, Astronomy, Philosophy, Botany, Geology, and Mensuration (study of measurement).

Course work was rigid, with few electives. This was especially true in the Classical or College Preparatory courses which required studies of Latin grammar, Caesar, Cicero, Virgil, the Iliad, Phaedrus, and Ovid.24 It would be a mistake to equate public schools at this time with an open enrollment policy. Most cities required a stringent entrance exam to demonstrate that the pupil was:.

. . . able to read fluently, and spell correctly, to bear a thorough examination in arithmetic, as far as percentage, to show a good knowledge of the elements of grammar, to be acquainted with the general geography of the world, and the history of the United States, and to be able to write in a legible fair hand.25

Further, some school districts required the student to give evidence that he was of good moral character.26

It would be wrong to imagine the high schools as almost monastic in life-style. By the 1870s student activities were organized along the lines of literary, social, and athletic clubs. Hartford Public High School had developed a Shakespearean association, and Waterbury had a debate club (which like others was open only to the male students). School newspapers appeared, carrying out the basic functions that their descendants do today. The first was the Excelsior at Hartford, others were:.

Hartford: Rivulet, The Effort, and High School Chanticleer

New Britain: The Bud of Genius

Middletown: Scholar’s Experiment, The Experiment

Waterbury: The Souvenir

Bridgeport: The School Bell

Baseball was becoming a popular sport and many schools had clubs. Since there were no organized athletic programs, schools played against non-academic clubs as well as other schools. Below is the box-score from the Waterbury American of a game played 5 June, 1874:

Waterbury H.S. Outs Runs Enterprise Club Outs Runs
Phelan, 3rd 1 3 Riley, c. 5 0
Bronson, s.s. 4 2 J. Barlow, cf. 5 0
Casey, c. 3 3 Tuttle, 2nd 1 3
Colley, 1st 2 3 G. Barlow, s.s. 3 1
Dickinson, lf. 4 1 Daines, p. 2 2
Haves, cf. 3 2 Kane, rf. 3 0
White, 2nd 4 1 W. Barlow, 1st 3 0
Beach, rf 3 1 Grant, lf. 1 3
Gains, p. 3 2 McGonan, 3rd 4 0
TOTAL 27 18 TOTAL 27 9
High school enrollment grew rapidly especially after 1872 by which time almost all public high schools were tuition free. By the turn of the century there were approximately seventy-seven four-year high schools within the state. It is interesting to note that many high schools did not issue diplomas at first. This idea, and the ceremonies associated with it, seems to have developed from the collegiate practice.

While Connecticut education underwent many changes in the 19th century, certain aspects remained virtually unchanged. Discipline was often maintained by physical violence. One student recalled:

I had an imperfect lesson in Olney’s Geography, and (the teacher) impressed the truth on my hand in scarlet lines that made me talk pretty hard when outside the building 28 A dunce block was often kept in order to isolate and humiliate imperfect students.

Education was not considered a female necessity. Women were often instructed at home in the “genteel arts” of sewing, cooking, and child-raising. Any woman who wished a more formal education would have to seek it at one of the private girls’ academies such as Grove Hall in New Haven.29 It was not until 1899, when the modern compulsory attendance law was passed ordering all students between the ages of seven and sixteen to be in school, that the majority of school-age girls could be found in public schools.30 Many schools had separate departments of study for male and female students. There were fewer high school courses required of females for graduation and they had a smaller field of electives (see Appendix VII).

The waves of immigration beginning in the late 19th century affected the schools as well. Many city schools were too small to house the increase in new students. Language was a major obstacle to most foreign students, and many were labeled “stupid” when they could not follow a lesson. The immigrants tended to stick together by nationality, and their local school districts reflected this. Rather than blending into the American culture many of these students, living in ethnic clusters, were kept separate.


(1) In 1839 Henry Barnard found the school buildings in poor repair (see Appendix V for more details). Have your class prepare a report of their school as if they were on Barnard’s commission. They may comment on the merit of class size, arrangements made for use of the auditorium, where would they locate lockers and rest-rooms. How is the lighting, air, and safety of the school?
(2) Have your class take the 1854 entrance exam found in Appendix VI. What did they think of it? How did they do? Have them discuss the ability of students past and present, and why are they different. How many of them would have been allowed to attend high school, and what could they have done otherwise?
(3) You may use the recollections of Julia Cowles and Samuel Goodrich in the Appendix to give your students insight into student life in the 19th century. What do they tell about the people and the schools? You may have students write their own recollections. What fiction or non-fiction works concerning life in school can the class find in their library?

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3. The 2Oth Century

OBJECTIVES: Students will learn how Connecticut schools reacted and adapted to the social changes of the modern era. They will learn how schools had to become more functional to meet the vast new demands of the students’ needs in a changing world. They will also be given insight into how public money is obtained for education.

SUMMATION: The 2Oth century continued to bring changes to education. One very evident improvement was in the construction of the schools themselves. Attention was paid to concepts of proper lighting, as well as the importance of providing heat and fresh air.1 As more and more multi-level buildings appeared; fire safety programs became important. Also, a pattern for school stair construction was developed recommending that: 1) stairs be away from the main walls, 2) stairs be located at both ends of buildings and arranged so that students on the upper floors may travel without interfering with the lessons of the lower floors, 3) no open rails, 4) landings be well supported, 5) stairs to be properly lit, of fire-proof material, and at least four feet wide.2 This is not to imply that a renaissance began in all school construction. A 1930s survey in Bridgeport found many of the schools “very poor,” and the student need but look around his own town to find some examples of schools requiring serious repair.

World War I and the large percentage of immigrants living in Connecticut led to changes in the school curriculum. New importance was given to courses in civics, social studies, and homemaking. During the war years many districts established summer programs which stressed the merits of individual sacrifice and citizenship.3 A program of “Americanization” was developed whereby foreigners would be taught to read and write English and study American customs and ideals.4 In order to pass these subjects the immigrant was expected to complete certain activities. These were:.

Speaking: building a vocabulary
conversational forms
correction of errors
Reading: blackboard work
mimeographed or printed sheets
familiar signs
car advertisement signs
text books
Writing: copy work
filling in blanks
seat work
In addition, the post-WWI foreigner had to learn Arithmetic, Physical Exercise, Memory Work, Civics & Patriotism, Geography, and History. The State Board of Education distributed bulletins for teachers describing the administering and grading of the course work. The state also lent financial assistance to these programs as well as to programs of vocational instruction and health training.5 Although these programs advanced education in the state it has been argued that they also demonstrated how the prevailing distrust and fear of foreigners was transplanted into the educational system. This can be seen in the fact that the stated purpose of these programs was to maintain a pure American community as well as teach “obedience” to the newcomers.

Much of the material taught in these Americanization programs was one-sided. Materials often reflected chauvinistic patriotism rather than historical accuracy. This is illustrated in the section of study on the history of World War I:

July 1914, was a sad month for all civilized people of this earth, for it was then that Germany found a pretext for starting out on the road to World Conquest. For years, Germany had been looking forward to “the Day.” Now she was ready and “the Day” had arrived.

For nearly three years, President Wilson succeeded in holding the United States neutral, but during this time, Germany had been sinking boats with Americans on board. She had her agents within the United States plotting and planning destruction of factories, bridges, and railways. She had caused intense horror within the people of America by her cruelties in the conduct of the war. More and more autocracy appeared to be pitted against democracy. Neutrality was no longer possible. April 6, 1917, found America lined up on the side of political freedom.6

It was during this era that a period of confusion began over the concept and control of the schools. The Connecticut Revision Act of 1918 had confirmed the right of each individual town to control and manage its schools.7 This meant that while schools enjoyed the privilege of local authority, there was no directional leadership or overall organization. A board of examiners headed by the superintendent controlled virtually all aspects of a district’s schools.8 On the high-school level a split developed over the purpose of the schools. One faction advocated the 1919 Cardinal Principals of Secondary Education which stressed such programs as health, fundamental studies, family life, and civic responsibility. They were opposed by the supporters of the 1899 Commission on College Entrance Requirements which sought to standardize secondary school curriculum with its primary aim being college preparation.

The Depression and Second World War saw Connecticut schools dealing not only with traditional education but attempting to cope also with the effects changing social, economic, and military conditions had upon the students. The war years brought not only a shortage of male teachers, but also the use of schools as registration areas for many ration and other emergency programs.9 The schools’ health programs took on new importance as physical education was regarded as just as valuable against the enemy as other forms of education. Physical testing was carried out by the school nurse, who also examined students’ susceptibility to disease. This was especially important since childhood diseases were prevalent. In 1943, 41% of the high school students in West Haven showed some form of positive reaction when tested for tuberculosis.10 Monthly physical achievement tests and inspections continued to be given in the post-war years.11

A 1950 Governor’s Fact-Finding Commission on Education found serious deficiencies in Connecticut’s educational system. It was officially held that the teaching process itself was being handicapped by bureaucratic restrictions.12 Also, administrators were too engrossed with the business aspect of the schools. Citizens were again becoming critical of education and felt that there was a need to stress fundamentals. These included useful vocabulary, common math skills, and social studies.13 Actually people were so preoccupied with the growth of the state that rapid educational changes had gone unnoticed. In order to continue to produce informed citizens, the educational system had to adapt to the times. More funds had to be given to education. The State Department of Education began to prepare curriculum bulletins to help guide teachers in the instruction of many subjects. The students were offered an increased program of extracurricular activities as well as “Family Courses” such as food and nutrition, and child care.14

The increase in school-age population during the 1950s resulted in the need for more teachers and construction of many new schools.15 Most of the new schools were designed on the single floor idea. This was in contrast to the multi-level schools built earlier. The new schools were basically boxlike in appearance with an abundance of windows. This provided better lighting and ventilation, as well as fostering a more pleasant environment. Rooms were designed with an eye to better acoustics and heating. Hallways were constructed to make movement easier and less of an interruption to other classes. Also, covered walkways were provided so that students could pass outdoors on their way to other areas of the school. Most buildings had large gymnasiums and rooms for special area courses. By the end of the decade of the 1950s there were 954 schools in the state serving 460,132 students under the guidance of 17,240 teachers.16

By the 1950s Connecticut’s native Yankee population had been reduced to one-eighth of the total residents. Programs had to be developed which were more relevant to the lifestyle of the Italians, Poles, Irish, Russians, Germans, and French-Canadians which mow made the dominant school-age population.17 Education had to become more practical. The old concept of producing well-informed Americans who were ready for the future had to be made applicable to these people. It became important to widen curriculum with an aim to improved vocational preparation. When students were placed in different programs it was important to avoid grouping them by national stereotypes. A program which would provide equal education for diverse interests and needs was developed. In addition to the required courses, classes were offered in woodworking, home mechanics, mechanical drawing, printing, home management, cooking, and sewing. It was believed:

. . . that pupils would be far more anxious to stay in high school if they could be made to feel that their total education program adds up to something worth while . . . 18

The next decades continued the pattern of educational change in the state. Life became more complex as the state experienced more industrial, urban, and technical growth. New styles of instruction, such as team-teaching, were used in the attempt to improve the students’ learning rate.19 Project goals were developed to help produce higher standards of instruction. Their aim was to foster basic literacy in students, improve vocational training relevant to the job market, and develop various other activities to help the student.20 Yearly tests of academic skills were administered to improve educational programs by determining areas of weak performance.21 In order to graduate from most systems students were required to pass a specified number of hours in English, Math, Social Studies, Science, Physical Education, and electives.22 Even students under an expulsion were offered alternate education.23 In order to supervise the complex new systems of instruction administration itself became more complex. New management systems had to be developed to help organize the growing educational system.24

By the mid-seventies there were about 660,190 students enrolled in Connecticut schools, but the enrollment on the elementary level showed a marked decline.25 Yet by 1977 Connecticut had 860 elementary schools; the counties with the largest number were New Haven (221) and Hartford (207); the smallest number, Windham (26).26 Class size in the state’s public schools average 17.8 students per class, below the national average of 19.8.27

One statistic that climbed over the years related to Connecticut’s minorities. In 1976 there were 93,907 minority school children (blacks numbering 62,188; Hispanics 28,397; and Indian/Asian 3,322).28 This, figure continues to climb today and in the state’s largest cities (Bridgeport Hartford New Haven Stamford and Waterbury) “minority” youngsters are the majority of the students. Various attempts have been made to produce some sort of racial balance. Hartford had planned the development of schools,” . . . What would be racially balanced by transporting students by bus.”29 The busing controversy produced few concrete results at the time, and in many areas led to a large exodus of whites to private or suburban schools. Many of the minority communities showed little faith in educational changes. Some felt that the curriculum did not meet the needs of their children’s life-style. Others believed that changes took too long to affect area problems; and when they are developed they are financially handicapped.30

Now more than ever the financing of public education is an object of concern. The major sources of money for the state’s schools are: local taxes, state grants, federal grants, and public borrowing.31 Connecticut’s elementary and secondary schools receive 73.5% of their money from local support.32 In other areas of the country the state government supplies a large amount of funds for education; this is not true in our state. Since expenses rose from $109,356,344 in 1956 to $876,894,878 in 1976 the state has had to assume a greater share in paying for education.33 Since most of a school district’s funds came from local support, it became clear in the 1970s that richer towns would be able to provide a better educational system for their children. It was realized that a student’s education, “ . . . is at least partially determined by geographic accident.”34

This principle was attacked in the famous Horton vs. Meskill case of 1976. Some citizens of Canton argued that the system of paying for public schools was unconstitutional since tax payers in property-poor towns paid a higher tax for education than those in property-rich areas. These rich towns not only could provide a wider range of educational programs, but they received more state subsidies since they spent more on special programs.35 Simply stated, the citizens of Canton wanted the state to equalize education by giving more aid to property-poor towns. The court ruled in 1977 that the state’s way of paying for schools was not adequate.36 The criteria used to evaluate the quality of educational systems are: size of classes; training, experience, and background of teaching staff; materials, books and supplies used; school philosophy and objectives; type of local control; test scores; student performance; course offerings; and extracurricular activities.37


1) Have your class study the 1917 West Haven High School curriculum in Appendix X. How do they compare it to their own curriculum in areas of: difficulty, workability, and relevance: Why do they think these courses were offered? Why do they think their courses are offered?
2) Why do your students think Americanization programs were started? Do they feel the program was too difficult in its expectation (use the material in this section and Appendix XI)? Have them find out if any of their older relatives went through these exams. How were they administered? What were they like? What sort of picture of America did they convey to the test-taker?
3) Using the town library have the class make a study of their town before and after the 1960s. They should be able to find state documents in the reference area concerning number of students, number of schools, and types of programs offered. You may want them to compare their town to others, or at other time periods.
4) Discuss how current financial problems affect your school. What changes do these bring about in curriculum and extracurricular activities? Using Appendix XIII compare your city’s expenses to others. On what do you feel money should be spent? On what might you cut back?

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Connecticut’s educational system has gone through a long process of growth and change. A student need but look around to see that the process still continues. The influences upon the system, and its influence upon Connecticut life will be determined by social, political, and economic factors. Students should realize that they themselves are directly involved within this ever-changing educational system. The connecting link in the various educational styles of Connecticut’s history has been the attempt to provide the best instruction suitable to the time. This should always be regarded as the main concern in any new developments related to the educational process.

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(figure available in print form)

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APPENDIX II Description of an Early New England School

The building is of stone, 60 feet in length, by 40 in breadth; and two stories high, exclusive of a basement story. Each of these is divided into several apartments for different classes, recitation, &c. A part of the basement story is used as a wood room. Above the second story is a garret, which, in the warm season, is sometimes occupied by the pupils, both for study and recitation. A small cupula is furnished with a bell to summon the school together. There are several out-houses in the rear of the establishment, enclosed by a wall; and the yard, which is about four rods square, is separated into two portions, for each of the two sexes. These yards are the only play grounds allowed them; but from their size and other obvious reasons, are not well adapted to the purpose. Within these walls is a well of good water, furnished with a pump, and other conveniences.

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APPENDIX III from The Diaries of Julia Cowles*

Saturday (30 June 1797). Went to school, told History, sewed some. Miss Sally says that I have been a pretty good girl this week. I have not been offended this week. I have helped Aunt Lewis almost every day this week.

Thursday (6 July, 1797). I do not recollect any History that we read today, only that there was one Punic War fought between the Romans and Carthagenians.

Monday (25 June, 1799). Attended school, took one lesson on my music, copied of my extracts from Lecture, wrote a composition, attended to Grammar, Geography, and Reading. Evening, walked up to the Grove with the ladies.

Wednesday (9 August, 1799). I attended school, recited my lesson, attended to Geography and Grammar, reading and writing. I am going to begin a letter to Cousin Horace this afternoon.

*Julia Cowles was born at Farmington, Connecticut on 18 October, 1785. She studied at Miss Pierce’s school, and her diary reveals daily life of a young Connecticut school girl. She died 21 May, 1805 (?), probably of consumption.

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The school being organized, we were all seated upon benches, made of what were called slabs-that is, boards having the exterior or rounded part of the log on one side: as they were useless for other purposes, these were converted into school-benches, the rounded part down. They had each four supports, consisting of straddling wooden legs, set into augurholes. Our own legs swayed in the air, for they were too short to touch the floor. Oh, what an awe fell over me, when we were all seated and silence reigned around:

The children were called up, one by one, to Aunt Delight, who sat on a low chair, and required each, as a preliminary, to make his manners, consisting of a small sudden nod or jerk of the head. She then placed the spelling-book—which was Dilworth’s—before the pupil, and with a buck-handled penknife pointed, one by one, to the letters of the alphabet, saying, “What’s that?”

I looked upon these operations with intense curiosity and no small respect, until my own turn came. I went up to the schoolmistress with some emotion, and when she said rather spitefully, as I thought, “Make your obeisance:” my little intellects all fled away, and I did nothing. Having waited a second, gazing at me with indignation, she laid her hand on the top of my head, and gave it a jerk which made my teeth chash. I believe I bit my tongue a little; at all events, my sense of dignity was offended, and when she pointed to A, and asked what it was, it swam before me dim and hazy, and as big as a full moon. She repeated the question, but I was doggedly silent. Again, a third time, she said, “What’s that?” I replied: “Why don’t you tell me what it is? I didn’t come here to learn you your letters:”

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APPENDIX V H. Barnard’s Description of Connecticut Schools (from his 1839 Report to the Board of Commissioners of Common Schools

In 104 districts which I have visited in New London County, there are 31 school houses which may be considered as being in very good repair, and 73 of which are more or less out of repair. Among them there are but 7 which are constructed in such a manner as to be comfortable and convenient. In 3 the scholars all face the teacher, and in 6 or 7 others, they sit so as to face the center of the room. In the others the desks are confined to the walls on three sides of the room, and have seats in front of them. By this arrangement the larger scholars sit with their backs to the teacher, except while engaged in reading and spelling. In the first position they have no support at all for the back, and in the latter the edge of the desk is all that is afforded. The younger scholars are seated in the center of the room on low seats, which in 80 districts are provided with backs. In the remaining 24 districts, these seats have no backs. In 8 districts 2 rooms are occupied by the school, and in 96 districts only one room. The rooms used, will average about 20 feet square, and 8 feet in height. In 75 districts close stoves are used for warming the houses, and in 23, stoves and fire places, and in 6, fire places alone. In none of these houses has any provision been made for ventilation. In 4, the windows let down from the top, and 2 have green blinds. In 39 districts the windows are furnished with outside shutters.

In no case is a scraper, or a mat for the feet provided. In 100 districts they have no play ground except the highway, or the land of individuals. In about 40 districts a few shade trees may be found within 20 or 30 rods of the school house. 89 houses stand in the highway, in all or in part. One district has provided globes for the use of the school, and made arrangements for procuring philosophical and chemical apparatus. 29 districts have black boards, and 3 have some maps, and 1, a clock. All are destitute of a library, thermometer, and recitation rooms. In country districts the entry serves as a wood room, and place for hats and cloaks. In country towns from 30 to 50 scholars are usually crowded into a room calculated for only 20 or 25.

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APPENDIX VI - Entrance Exam for Hartford High School (1850)

(figure available in print form)

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APPENDIX VII Courses of Study Leading to a Diploma from Middletown City High School (1848)

FEMALE DEPT.: Reading Ancient & Modern History
Writing Natural Philosophy
Spelling Composition
Definitions Arithmetic
Geography Grammar
Together with at least four of the following optional studies:

Algebra Physiology
Geometry Rhetoric
Astronomy Mental Philosophy
Botany Drawing
MALE DEPT.: Reading Grammar
Writing Ancient & Modern History
Spelling Natural Philosophy
Definitions Composition
Arithmetic Declamation (speech recited from memory)
Geography Book Keeping
Together with at least four of the following optional studies:

Algebra Physiology
Geometry Rhetoric
Astronomy Mental Philosophy
Surveying Latin
Chemistry Drawing

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APPENDIX VIII Early Connecticut High Schools

High School Date of First First
Opening Graduates Diplomas
Middletown 1840 1848 1848
Hartford 1847 1848 1853
New London (boys) 1856 1856 . . . .*
New London (girls) 1855 1859 1859
New Britain 1850 1858 1867
New Haven 1859 . . . . 1870
Natchaug 1865 1871 1873
Rockville 1870 1873 . . . .
Danielson 1871 1875 . . . .
Waterbury 1851 . . . .1879
*indicates no exact date recorded

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(figure available in print form)

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APPENDIX X Subjects Offered in the Three Study Programs at West Haven High School (1917)

General Study College Preparatory Scientific
1st Year

English English English
Latin* Latin Latin
Algebra Algebra Algebra
Ancient History* Ancient History Ancient History
Physical Geography*

2nd Year

English English English
Caesar or German* Caesar Caesar or German 1
Geometry Geometry Geometry
Medieval & Modern German 1 Algebra

Botany & Zoology* Algebra Botany & Zoology
Junior Year

English English English
Cicero or German 2* Cicero Cicero or German 2
French 1 or German 1* German 2 French 1 or German 1
English History* Advanced Algebra & Advanced Algebra &
Physics Geometry Geometry
French 1 English History
Senior Year

English English English
Virgil* Virgil French 2, German 2, or
German 3
French 2 or German 3 Solid Geometry &
German 3* Trigonometry
Book-Keeping* French 2 Chemistry
U.S. History & Civics*


*indicates an elective

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APPENDIX XI Subjects to be Studied for History & Government of the United States Section of 1919 Americanization Program

Period of Discovery (and parts played by various European nations)

Colonization (Life in the Colonies, Colonial Wars, Government)

Declaration of Independence & Constitution

Origins of Government from 1788

Territorial Growth of the United States

Monroe Doctrine and Its Meaning

Mexican War

Slavery Question

Civil War



War with Spain

The World War

American Newspapers & Periodicals

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APPENDIX XII 1937 Appraisal of Hartford Schools

In these buildings most of the principles according to which school buildings should be erected are violated, and yet 1,700 children are enrolled here. The natural and artificial lighting standards were ignored. Service facilities were placed without regard to the comfort of the children. Unsafe stairways were installed, basement rooms were used for educational purposes, and play opportunity in large measure was unprovided for. The Board of Education should set up standards for future sites and future buildings and should insist upon close adherence thereto.

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APPENDIX XIII State-wide School Expenses

Listed below are the items on which money is spend for education. There is also a map showing how much each town in the state spent on education (for each student); as reported by the Connecticut Public Expenditure Council (1976).

EXPENSES: Regular Instructional Programs
Special Instruction
Board of Education & Principal Services Support Services
Public Services
Instructional Staff Services
(figure available in print form)

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(figure available in print form)

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1. Colonial Era
1. A.E. Van Dusen, Connecticut (N.Y.: Random House, 1961), p. 66.
2. C. Hoadly and J. Trumbul, ed., Public Records of the Colony on Connecticut, 15 vols. (Hartford, Conn.: 1850-1890), vol. 1, p. 554.
3. R.F. Butts and L.A. Cremin, History of Education in American Culture (N.W.: Holt, Rinehart, & Winston, 1963), p. 19.
4. L.A. Cremin, American Education: The Colonial Experience, 1607-1783 (N.Y.: Harper & Row, 1970), p. 182.
5. L.S. Mills, The Story of Connecticut (N.Y.: Scribners Sons, 1932), p. 369.
6. A.R. Mead, The Development of Free Schools in the United States (Columbia Univ.: Bureau of Pub., 1918), p. 8.
7. Mills, p. 375.
II. The 19th Century
1. H. Barnard, History of the Legislature of Connecticut Respecting Common Schools, Down to 1838 (Hartford, Conn.:.
Conn. State Lib., 1853), p. 102.
2. Mead, P. 18.
3. Van Dusen, p. 348.
4. H.G. Walker, Development of State Support and Control of Education in Connecticut (Hartford, Conn: State Board of Education, 1926), p. 25.
5. Barnard, History of the Legislature of Connecticut . . . p. 154.
6. Butts & Cremin, p. 238.
7. Van Dusen, p. 348.
8. H. Barnard, School Architecture (N.Y.: Barnes & Co., 1848), p. 28.
9. Ibid., p. 26.
10. L.A. Cremin, The Transformation of the Schools (N.Y.: Vintage Books, 1961), p. 8.
11. J.S. Brubacher, ed. Henry Barnard on Education (N.Y.:. McGraw-Hill Book Co. Inc., 1931), p. 10.
12. Undated letter from H. Barnard.
13. Conn. Board of Commissioners of Common Schools, Annual Report. 1839, p. 42-45.
14. Connecticut Common School Journal vol. 1, (March, 1939), p. 103.
15. Brubacher, P. 181.
16. H. Barnard, History & Progress of Education (N.Y.:Burr, 1960), p. 280.
17. Mead, p. 11.
18. Brubacher, p. 32.
19. O.B. Griffin, Evolution of the Connecticut School System (Columbia Univ.: Bureau of Pub., 1928), p. 149.
20. Conn. Board of Commissioners of Common Schools, Annual Report, 1842, p. 25.
21. N.G. Osborn, gen. ed., History of Connecticut 5 vols. (N.Y.: States History Co., 1925), vol. 5: History of Education in Connecticut from 1818-1925 by C.L. Ames, p. 183.
22. Ibid., p. 182.
23. B.C. Steiner, History of Education in Connecticut (Wash. D.C.:. Govt. Printing Office, 1893), p. 56.
24. Van Dusen, p. 350.
25. S. Hertzler, Rise of Public High Schools in Connecticut (Balt.: Warwick & York Inc., 1930), p. 52.
26. Ibid.
27. W.E. Buckley and R.K. Morris, Foundations of Educational Leadership: Connecticut Develops a Public School System (Stamford, Conn.: Assoc. of Retired Teachers of Conn., Inc., 1976), p. 72.
28. E S Gilman, “An Ancient School-Dame,” Connecticut Magazine vol. 5, no. 9, Sept. 1899, p. 474.
29. Steiner, p. 65.
30. Walker, P. 56.
III. 20th Century
1. W.D. Seymour, Heating Ventilation, & Lighting of School Buildings (London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1939), p. 9.
2. W.R. Briggs, Modern American School Buildings (K.Y.: Wiley & Sons, 1899), p. 115.
3. D.C Allen, Three Centuries of North Haven School History (Winsted Conn.: Dowd Printing Co., 1956), p. 136.
4. Osborn, p. 209.
5. Ibid., p. 228.
6. State Board of Education, Information Regarding Nationalization, 1919, p. 44.
7. Revision Act of 1918 sec. 979.
8. Walker, p. 55.
9. Report of the Superintendent of Schools (West Haven, Conn.: 1946), p. 23.
10. Ibid., p. 28.
11. Report of the Superintendent of Schools (West Haven, Conn.: 1946), p. 23.
12. Van Dusen, p. 351.
13. Conn. Report Comm. Series, Do Citizens & Education Mix? 1951, p. 72.
14. Conn. State Dept. of Education, Redirection, Reorganization, & Retooling of Secondary Education (Bulletin 37, 1944), p. 43.
15. K. Fuller, G. Spooner, & H. Welte, Connecticut’s Need for New Teachers (New Britain, Conn.: Teachers College of Conn., 1952), p. 2.
16. Van Dusen, p . 353.
17. Butts & Cremin, p. 567.
18. F.M. Hechinger, An Adventure in Education: Connecticut Points the Way (N.Y.: Macmillan, 1956), p. 179.
19. Conn. State Dept. of Education, Dynamics of Educational Change in the Sixties 1963, p. 22.
20. Conn. State Board of Education, Preliminary Goals Statement 1974, p. 10.
21. League of Women Voters, Education in Our City (New Haven, Conn.: By the Author, 1980), p. 17.
22. Letter to all administrators, from J. Onofrio, Asst. Superintendent of Schools, West Haven, Conn., 19 November 1979.
23. Conn. State Dept. of Education, Legal Rights & Responsibilities of Students in Conn. Public Schools 1976, p. 26.
24. R.W. Tyler, Perspectives on American Education (Chicago; Science Research Associates Inc., 1976), p. 23.
25. Conn. State Dept. of Education, School Enrollment in Connecticut (Bulletin 427, 1974), p. 19.
26. Conn. Educational Association, How Conn. Ranks, Nationally & Regionally, Among Bordering States 1975, p. 7.
27. Conn. Educational Association, Class Size of Elementary Schools in Connecticut 1977, p. 2.
28. Conn. State Board of Education, Digest of Educational Statistics 1976, p. 142.
29. D. M. Roth, Connecticut: A Bicentennial History (N.Y.: Norton & Co., 1979), p. 211.
30. Conn. Council on Education, A Study of Urban School Needs in the Five Largest Cities in Connecticut 1969, p. 84.
31. C.S. Benson, Economics of Public Education (Boston: Houghton-Mifflin Co., 1961), p. 252.
32. Connecticut Educational Association, How Connecticut Ranks . . . p. 16.
33. Conn. Public Expenditure Council, Connecticut Municipal Budgets, 1980-91 1981, p. 2.
34. Conn. State Board of Education, Preliminary Goals Statement 1974, p. 2.
35. D.H. Dowling, “Connecticut Reports” vol. 172, Sept. 1976 April 1977, p. 634.
36. Ibid., p. 649.
37. Ibid., p. 634.

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Due to space limitation, I have listed only the most informative books. Other references may be found in the endnotes for each section of the unit.

Barnard, H. School Architecture. N.Y.: Barnes & Co., 1848.

—————. History of the Legislature of Connecticut Respecting Common Schools, Down to 1836. Hartford, Conn: Conn. State Lib., 1853.

—————. History & Progress of Education. N.Y.: Barnes & Burr, 1860. All the works by Barnard make for dull, and in some ways difficult reading. However, these are probably the best primary sources to use for this study.

Briggs, W.R. Modern American School Buildings. N.Y.: Wiley & Sons, 1899. Good description of how 19th century schools appeared.

Brubacher, J.S. ed. Henry Barnard on Education. N.Y.: McGraw-Hill Book Co. Inc., 1931. Well organized account of the reformer’s life; esp. helpful in its treatment of Barnard’s writings.

Buckley, W.E. and Morris, R.K. Foundations of Educational Leadership: Conn. Develops a Public School System. Stamford, Conn.: Assoc. of Retired Teachers of Conn. Inc., 1976. Brief but clear account of what schools, mainly high schools, were designed for.

Butts, R.F. and Cremin, L.A. History of Education in American Culture. N.Y.: Holt, Rinehart, & Winston, 1963. Accurate account of education’s functions and changes in American history.

Cremin, L.A. The Transformation of the School. N.Y.: Vintage Books, 1961. Good discussion of educational changes & the reasons for them.

—————. American Education: The Colonial Experience, 1607-1783. N.Y.: Harper & Row, 1970. Uses style of History of Education in American Culture, but more detailed and dealing with a specific area.

Engelhardt, N. and Strayer, G. School Building Problems; Columbia Univ.: Bureau of Pub., 1927. Good way to study inside workings of school design.

Goodrich, S. Recollections of a Lifetime. N.Y.: Miller, Orton, & Mulligan, 1862. A native of Conn., Goodrich was a politician and author of children’s books. His recollections give us a good view of student life in the 19th century.

Griffin O.B. Evolution of the Connecticut School System. Columbia Univ.: Bureau of Pub., 1928. Excellent overview of education up to the 20th century.

Hechinger, F.M. An Adventure in Education: Conn. Points the Way. N.Y.: Macmillan, 1956. Good discussion of the many changes and problems in the state’s educational history.

Hertzler, S. Rise of the Public High School in Connecticut. Balt.: Warwick & York Inc., 1930. Fine discussion of the subject with good primary references.

Hilton, G. and Wheeler, R.G. Barkhamsted Heritage. Canton, Conn.: Lithographics, lnc., 1975. Regional bicentennial study containing many old photos of schools.

Hoadly, C. and Trumbul, J. ed. Public Records of the Colony of Connecticut. 15 Vols. Hartford, Conn.: 1850-1890. Vol. 1. A must for serious research on the colonial era.

Mead, A.R. The Development of Free Schools in the United States. Columbia Univ.: Bureau of Pub., 1918. Covers many changes in education, with a full section on Connecticut.

Mills, L.S. The Story of Connecticut. N.Y.: Scribners Sons, 1932. Old account of Conn. history which was often used as class text.

Moseley, L.H. Diaries of Julia Cowles. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1931. Provides insight into ideas of Conn. school girl in the 19th century.

Osborn, N.G. gen. ed. History of Connecticut. 5 Vols. N.Y.: States History Co., 1925. Vol. 5: History of Education in Connecticut from 1818-1925 by C.L. Ames. Writing is rather boring, but information is very useful.

Steiner, B.C. History of Education in Connecticut. Wash. D.C.: Govt. Printing Office, 1893. Tied into general history of the state, this work concentrates on the 19th century.

Van Dusen, A.E. Connecticut. N.Y.: Random House, 1961. Considered the history of Conn.. However, I fault his placement of one general footnote at the end of a paragraph instead of at each citation.

Walker, H.G. Development of State Support & Control of Education in Connecticut. Hartford, Conn.: State Board of Ed., 1926. Excellent dissertation showing conflicts over changes in state education.

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