The Year Was 1877: Public Schools Free for All?

Articles and ads from the Daily Fort Worth Standard of 1877 show what life was like in Cowtown 136 years ago. In 1877 Fort Worth had a population of about six thousand. Hard to believe today, but back then some voters opposed the idea of schools that are free to students (but supported by taxpayers).

On February 28 that year Fort Worth held an election to decide whether or not to establish free public schools that would be controlled by the city. Note that there was one polling place: the mayor’s office.

Fewer than one hundred people turned out to vote. This paragraph was the extent of the Standard’s coverage the day after the election. The newspaper gave more space to the recovery of John Peter Smith’s hotwired horse.

Voters did approve free public schools in the election. But opponents would legally challenge the 1877 election and two subsequent elections until finally in 1880 voters approved public schools, and they stayed approved.

Meanwhile children attended for-pay private schools. There were several, and a few advertised in the Standard. For example, W. T. Weaver ran a boys-only private school. Students could board with private families in order to enjoy “salutary home restraint.”

W. P. Wilson ran a girls-only private school at the Methodist church.

Out in progressive Mansfield the Reverend John Collier ran the Male and Female College offering grade school, prep, and college classes for both boys and girls. His school was probably known locally as “the party school.”

In the next four days we’ll study up on Fort Worth’s first public schools.

Tomorrow: Dear Old Golden Rule Days: The Ward Schools (Part 1)

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