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.

public schools tax 1880The Dallas Daily Herald reported that voters had overwhelmingly approved a school tax of one-half percent.

public schools 1880 confirmedBut the 1880 school tax election, too, was challenged—and declared valid, according to the St. Paul Daily Globe.

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.

W. F. Mister ran the private Fort Worth High School to educate students “of all grades from the primary to collegiate” “of both sexes.” His school was probably known locally as “the party school.”

(Mister would later be professor of mathematics at Polytechnic College.)

Here’s the first of four parts on the early history of Fort Worth’s ward schools:

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

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