Around Adams County
We thank Author Mrs. Elsie Darrah Morey of Gettysburg, Pa. for graciously permitting us to abstract the material below for the web site from her book: The Pleasant Grove School — “Mud College”
It was a long struggle to establish free public education in Pennsylvania, primarily due to opposition from the many religious and ethic groups in the Commonwealth over the methods selected to provide for the schools, as well as the rational for the concept. Language, cultural differences, and religious beliefs were a central part of this opposition.
In the 1700s, education of children was a private matter, accomplished mainly through religious schools or private academies. In most cases, the schools were open only for a few months in the winter. The quality of the teaching was haphazard as many of the schoolmasters were hard to keep, had other occupations, and there was little done to qualify or train teachers.
Pennsylvania’s first constitution in 1776 committed the state to a system of public education – the responsibility for this was given to the Legislature – which it did not exercise. The constitution of 1790 went further, declaring that the poor should be afforded a free education. It did not define a timetable for this to be accomplished.
By 1809, a system called the “Pauper Schools” was put in place. The Legislative act required each county to use public tax monies to pay the tuition to local schools for each child from 5 to 12 years old. Citizens unable to pay their tax share towards this had to prove it and declare themselves as paupers. Resentment to this system, from all sides grew over the years. Many groups still held that secular educations should be done along with religious instruction. Concensus slowly grew statewide for the need for a better system of elementary education supported by public tax monies.
In 1834, the legislature, acting on the recommendations of Governor George Wolf, passed “An Act to Establish a General System of Education by Common School”. The act stipulated a special statewide election be held on Sept. 19, 1834, in each township, borough, and ward to establish a school district with a board in each municipality, with the school districts empowered to levy local school taxes to support the schools. The act, however, let the adoption of common schools be voluntary in each district. Those districts that established common schools would become eligible for state appropriations to help support the school systems.
A bitter fight ensured in the state and the legislature over this act, with the Senate passing a bill to repeal the act. Thaddeus Stevens came to the rescue with his speech in the House in support of the bill, swaying the opposition to reverse themselves, and the Act was saved and enacted.
Opposition from local groups impeded the implementation of the new system across the state for years. In 1848, the legislature found it necessary to pass another act to guarantee public education throughout Pennsylvania. Yet, again, the act did not require all the districts to accept and implement the common schools system. Another 20 years were to pass before all the school districts were in compliance with the 1848 Act.
Adams County local municipality school districts with common schools were established during the years of 1834-1843. The schools were generally set up in the middle of a number of farms to be served; the schools were usually 1 to 2 miles apart; as local populations increased, additional schools were built. Often the school sites were donated by a local farmer or landowner- often their name was given to the school. By the time Adams County eliminated the municipalities school districts and consolidated them into a few large area school districts with newer and larger schools, there had been about 150 one room schools in operation in the county-some operating into the 1950s. The number of school districts was reduced from seventeen to six.