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Schoolmaster's Empire: Race, Conquest, and the Centralization of Common Schooling in California, 1848–1879

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 January 2017

Matthew Gardner Kelly*
Affiliation:
Stanford University
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Abstract

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This article explores how education reformers in California pioneered forms of centralized educational governance between 1850 and 1879. Challenging previous scholarship that has attributed the success of this early educational state to reformer John Swett and New England migrants, this article situates the creation of common schools in California within the larger context of American state-building in the nineteenth-century West. While increased state authority over education was a goal for reformers across the nation, this article contends that California's early innovations in centralization reflected a regionally specific response to the dilemmas of governing a recently acquired territory distant from eastern centers of power. The precarious nature of elite attempts to convert California into an American place, reflected in perceived lawlessness, weak governmental authority, and racial anxiety, inspired forms of educational organization commonly associated with Progressive Era responses to industrialization, urbanization, and immigration. The desire to promote nineteenth-century American racial and governmental order in California, this article concludes, powerfully shaped the growth of public education in the state, influencing the organization of schooling in ways that suggest the importance of looking beyond the Northeast to understand the development of public education in the United States.

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Articles
Copyright
Copyright © 2016 History of Education Society 

References

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2 Most histories of the common school movement concentrate their analysis on the Northeast. See Cremin, Lawrence, The American Common School: An Historic Conception (New York: Teachers College Press, 1951); Katz, Michael B., The Irony of Early School Reform: Educational Innovation in Mid-Nineteenth Century Massachusetts (New York: Teachers College Press, 2001); Katz, Michael B., Reconstructing American Education (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1987); Kaestle, Carl, Pillars of the Republic: Common Schools and American Society, 1780–1860 (New York: Hill and Wang, 1983); and Reese, William, America's Public Schools: From the Common School to No Child Left Behind (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005). For two accounts that challenge the tendency for educational historians to focus exclusively on New England, see Newman, Joseph W., “Antebellum School Reform in the Port Cities of the Deep South,” in Southern Cities, Southern Schools: Public Education in the Urban South , ed. Plank, David N. and Ginsberg, Rick (New York: Greenwood Press, 1990), 17–36; and Tyack, , “The Kingdom of God and the Common School.”

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3 In the context of California, several historians invoke this logic by emphasizing the New England origins of the fourth superintendent of instruction in the state and attributing the development of education in California to his New England pedigree. See Cloud, Roy W., Education in California: Leaders, Organizations, and Accomplishments of the First Hundred Years (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1952), 39; Polos, Nicholas C., “A Yankee Patriot: John Swett, the Horace Mann of the Pacific,” History of Education Quarterly 4, no. 1 (March 1964): 17–32; and Starr, Kevin, Americans and the California Dream, 1850–1915 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1973), 87–88. Other histories emphasize the “New England” origins of early school promoters in general. See, for example, Hendrick, Irving G., California Education: A Brief History (San Francisco: Boyd & Fraser, 1980), 6. Both views are problematic, given the presence of numerous reformers from southern states and the opposition of some New England migrants to educational expansion.

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14 For histories of California education, most of which tend to perpetuate this view, see Carr, William G., John Swett: The Biography of an Educational Pioneer (Santa Ana, CA: Fine Arts Press, 1933); Ferrier, William W., Ninety Years of Education in California, 1846–1936: A Presentation of Educational Movements and Their Outcome in Education Today (Berkeley, CA: Sather Gate Book Shop, 1937); Johnson, Leighton H., Development of the Central State Agency for Public Education in California, 1849–1949 (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1952); Cloud, , Education in California; and Polos, Nicholas C., John Swett: California's Frontier Schoolmaster (Washington, DC: University Press of America, 1978). Hendrick, , Tyack, , James, , and Benavot, provide more sophisticated accounts that, nonetheless, elevate Swett above his predecessors and tend to dismiss continuities between early superintendents. See Hendrick, , California Education ; Hendrick, Irving G., “From Indifference to Imperative Duty: Educating Children in Early California,” California History 79, no. 2 (July 2000): 226–49; and Tyack, David, James, Thomas, and Benavot, Aaron, Law and the Shaping of Public Education, 1785–1954 (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1987), 87–107. The best histories of education in California have focused on gender and race. See, for example, Wollenberg, Charles M., All Deliberate Speed: Segregation and Exclusion in California Schools, 1855–1975 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976); Hendrick, Irving G., The Education of Non-Whites in California, 1849–1970 (San Francisco: R & E Research Associates, 1977); Low, Victor, The Unimpressible Race: A Century of Educational Struggle by the Chinese in San Francisco (San Francisco: East/West Publishing, 1982); and Weiler, Kathleen, Country Schoolwomen: Teaching in Rural California, 1850–1950 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1998). On the history of higher education in California, see Douglass, John A., The California Idea and American Higher Education (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2000).

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18 See, for example, Hendrick, , California Education, 616.

19 On the composition of the constitutional convention, see Harlow, , California Conquered, 339. For a discussion of the limited growth of common schooling in the antebellum South, see Kaestle, , Pillars of the Republic, 182–217.

20 Douglass, , The California Idea and American Higher Education, 23.

21 Report of the Debates in the Convention of California on the Formation of the State Constitution: in September and October 1849 (Washington, DC: J. T. Towers, 1850), 204.

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32 Ibid., 5. Simply by having the law printed and distributed, Marvin hoped to enhance the power of the legislature's enactment. He had learned from experience. The 1851 law had never been printed, making enforcement impossible.

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37 Almaguer, , Racial Fault Lines, 4574.

38 “Report of the Superintendent of Public Instruction,” JGM.

39 To support the expansion of schooling in the state, Marvin sought to incorporate parochial schools into the system by providing state funding to religious schools. Between 1853 and 1855, the state school law allowed religious schools to receive public school money. For more on this early aid to religious schools in California, see Goda, Paul, “The Historical Background of California's Constitutional Provisions Prohibiting Aid to Sectarian Schools,” California Historical Society Quarterly 46, no. 2 (June 1967): 149–71.

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41 Ferris, , Judge Marvin, 88.

42 Ibid., 102.

43 Fifth Annual Report of the Superintendent of Public Instruction of the State of California (Sacramento, CA: James Allen, State Printer, 1856), 3.

44 Fourth Annual Report of the Superintendent of Public Instruction of the State of California (Sacramento, CA: B. B. Redding, State Printer, 1855), 4.

45 Fifth Annual Report, 8.

46 “Shall Negroes Go to School?” The Nevada Journal [Nevada City, CA], 6 April 1855, 2.

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48 Ibid.

49 Ibid.

50 Ibid.

51 Ibid.

52 Ibid.

53 The 1855 school law also outlawed aid to religious schools, which would have prevented Californio and Mexican children from receiving public support for instruction in Spanish. In 1855, the legislature also overturned the requirement that all laws be published in Spanish. For a discussion of the revised 1855 school law and its implications for Latino communities in Southern California, see MacDonald, Victoria-Maria, Latino Education in the United States: A Narrated History from 1513–2000 (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), 6366.

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54 “Shall Negroes Go to School?”

55 Before 1855, instruction in Santa Barbara was only available in Spanish. After the passage of the 1855 law, two Anglo school commissioners joined forces with the editors of the Santa Barbara Gazette to advocate English-language instruction in the public schools. While an English-only school was created in 1855, instruction in Spanish remained available. For financial reasons, the English and Spanish classes were combined, and many Anglo families removed their children from the public schools until English instruction was again offered in 1858. See Camarillo, Albert, Chicanos in a Changing Society: From Mexican Pueblos to American Barrios in Santa Barbara and Southern California, 1848–1930 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1979), 1718.

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56 For the controversies surrounding English instruction in American public schools in Los Angeles, see Pitt, Leonard, The Decline of the Californios: A Social History of the Spanish-Speaking Californians, 1846–1890 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1970), 224–28.

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62 Planning to migrate north to Washington Territory, Paul Hubbs declined renomination at the next Democratic Party Convention. In his place, delegates nominated former San Francisco city controller and southerner Andrew Jackson Moulder. While Democratic control of state government was challenged the previous year when the Know-Nothing Party assumed power over the governorship and legislative assembly, Moulder was victorious in the 1856 election. “Democratic State Convention Third Day,” Sacramento Daily Union, 12 September 1856, 2. For more on the California Know-Nothing Party, see Johnson, David Alan, Founding the Far West: California, Oregon, and Nevada, 1840–1890 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992), 199–202.

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64 “The Public Schools and Colored Children.”

65 Johnson, , Founding the Far West, 201.

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73 Seventh Annual Report of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (Sacramento, CA: John O'Meara, State Printer, 1859), 10.

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75 Ibid.

76 “Negroes in the Public Schools,” San Francisco Daily Globe, 10 February 1858, 2.

77 Ibid.

78 “Colored Children in Public Schools,” Daily Alta California, 20 February 1858, 1.

79 “The Public Schools and Colored Children.”

80 Eighth Annual Report, 14

81 Ibid., 1415.

82 Ibid., 15.

83 Diggers was a slur Americans used to describe California's indigenous peoples. Eighth Annual Report, 14.

84 “The Public Schools and Colored Children.”

85 Eighth Annual Report, 14.

86 Ibid., 8.

87 Ibid.

88 Ibid.

89 Moulder, , Commentaries on the School Law, 9.

90 Ibid.

91 Ibid., 10.

92 Eighth Annual Report, 4.

93 Moulder, , Commentaries on the School Law, 64.

94 Ibid., 10.

95 “School Matters,” clipping from scrapbook vol. 4, n.d., n.p., Andrew Jackson Moulder Papers MSS C-B 526 (hereafter AMP), Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.

96 Moulder, , Commentaries on the School Law, 65.

97 Eighth Annual Report, 11.

98 Ninth Annual Report of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (Sacramento, CA: Charles T. Botts, State Printer, 1860), 6.

99 Tenth Annual Report of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (Sacramento, CA: Charles T. Botts, State Printer, 1861), 9.

100 Seventh Annual Report, 8.

101 Eleventh Annual Report of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (Sacramento, CA: Benjamin P. Avery, State Printer, 1862), 24.

102 Ibid., 25.

103 Ibid.

104 “The Trials and Tribulations of a School Officer-No. 3,” clipping from vol. 4, n.d., n.p., AMP.

105 For several examples, see Benicia School Board Records, BANC MSS C-A 147, box 1, folders 6–9.

106 Cloud, , Education in California, 39. Moulder would later serve on the Board of Regents for the University of California and as superintendent of San Francisco schools.

107 Polos, , “A Yankee Patriot,” 21.

108 “Have Negroes Been Taught and Classed on Terms of Equality in a Public School Under the Charge of Mr. John Swett,” n.d., portfolio, Research Materials Related to John Swett MSS 84/176 c, Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.

109 “Statement of John Swett,” Sacramento Daily Union, 20 September 1862, 3.

110 Quoted in Polos, “A Yankee Patriot,” 21.

111 Clipping from Rincon School Scrapbook, p. 9, n.d., carton 2, JSP.

112 “Normal Classes for Teachers,” clipping from Collection of Prose Scrapbook, n.d., p. 26, carton 2, JSP.

113 Ibid.

114 Ibid.

115 First Biennial Report of the Superintendent of Public Instruction of the State of California, for the School Years 1864 and 1865 (Sacramento, CA: O. M. Clayes, State Printer, 1866), 272.

116 Ibid., 57.

117 Ibid.

118 At the conclusion of the conflict, Swett claimed that he had “looked after both sides impartially.” Quoted in Polos, “A Yankee Patriot,” 24.

119 Union Party, California, Proceedings of the Union State Convention, held at Sacramento on the 17th and 18th Days of June, 1862 (San Francisco: Eastman and Godfrey Printers, 1862), 16.

120 Tyack, et al., Law and the Shaping of Public Education, 93.

121 “Public Instruction in California,” American Journal of Education 16 (December 1866): 634.

122 Department of Public Instruction, Revised School Law: Approved March 24, 1866 (Sacramento, CA: O. M. Clayes, State Printer, 1866), 48.

123 Tyack, et al. Law and the Shaping of Public Education, 93.

124 Cloud, , Education in California, 255.

125 Ibid., 42.

126 Quoted in Montgomery, Zachary, The Poison Fountain: or, Anti-Parental Education: Essays on the School Question From a Parental and Non-Sectarian Standpoint (San Francisco: published by the author, 1878), 15.

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128 Revised School Law, 18.

129 Ward v. Flood , 48 Cal. 36 (1874)

130 Quoted in Montgomery, , The Poison Fountain, 141.

131 Bottoms, , An Aristocracy of Color, 112.

132 Nevertheless, legislators managed to pass a compulsory school law in 1874. For a discussion of the law's passage and its limited effectiveness, see Tyack, et al., “Law and State School Policy”; “Annual Address of Superintendent Fitzgerald, State Teachers' Institute, Nov. 7, 1871,” The California Teacher 9 (December 1871): 162.

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134 Burns, John F., introduction to Taming the Elephant, 13.

135 Hendrick, , California Education, 19.

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