The Archivist's Bulldog

Vol. 12 No. 17, Newsletter of the Maryland State Archives, September 28, 1998

by Pat Melville

The reorganization and decentralization of the state education system did not alter the format or type of content of the annual reports. They continue to provide detailed information about schools, teachers, students, and funds. Over time new components are added as the system changes to encompass the development of grades (lst grade, 2nd grade, etc.), expansion of high schools, and consolidation of rural schools.

Regardless of the changes within the education area funding, remained a predominant theme. The needs of the local school systems always seemed to be greater than the means to meet them. Collectively in 1871, for example, local school officials spent less on construction of school buildings than the previous year because funds were being exhausted before the end of the year. In fact, many school systems borrowed money to pay teachers and then faced the subsequent burden of paying interest out of future funds. Other school commissioners, despite a law specifying that schools be open ten months a year, closed them early or opened them late.

On December 31, 1869, the St. Mary's County school commissioners faced a debt of $5,115.21 and no funds to meet it. Teachers were issued interest bearing certificates of indebtedness, payable when levied and collected by the county commissioners. The school commissioners requested $8,000 from the county commissioners to cover the debt and expenses for the rest of the school year. The county deemed the requisition unaffordable and levied only an amount to take care of the existing debt, thus leaving the school commissioners no choice but to continue operating in a deficit mode.

In the 1875 annual report the state Board of Education noted the construction of seventy-nine new schools, many of them built on credit. It recommended a separate appropriation for this activity. "It would seem to be the wisest plan to acknowledge candidly that we cannot have a school system without school houses, and to make specific provisions for building them." In 1879 the Baltimore County school commissioners described several newly constructed schoolhouses, one of which replaced a frame structure originally built as a corn crib. Not yet scheduled for replacement was a school housed "in a narrow frame shanty, built by the Northern Central Railroad Co. for a tool house."

In an effort to increase funding for colored schools the General Assembly in 1872 appropriated $50,000 out of general funds. Proceeds from the public school tax were devoted exclusively to white schools. This funding formula continued until 1878 when the appropriation for colored schools was taken out of the public school tax, thus theoritically lessening the funds available for white schools. The actual decrease was insubstantial because for many years the state had failed to collect all the school taxes, and thus could not distribute all the moneys due each jurisdiction. In 1878 the local school boards sued the state Comptroller of the Treasury to obtain the distribution of state school taxes that had been collected but applied to other purposes. The plaintiffs won their case, but never actually received any money for their efforts.

Baltimore City and the county school systems received funds from the state, one set for white schools and the other for colored schools. Each also obtained moneys from the local government through the local school tax. The school commissioners tried to anticipate income from this source, and often borrowed money to meet current expenses with the expectation of receiving sufficient tax funds. Tax collection was often irregular, and sometimes the county commissioners delayed payments to the school commissioners. In 1879 the Anne Arundel County school commmissioners tried to discharge the debt load by reducing the salaries of the teachers and shortening the school year. In 1882 the Frederick County school officials delayed opening schools until November 1. From Carroll County in 1887 came the following statement: "It is idle and ridiculous to boast that we have the lowest tax rate in the state, when at the same time we are obliged to close the schools to get funds for building and furnishing necessary schoolhouses."

Changes in tax collection procedures helped alleviate some financial constraints. Several counties replaced district tax collectors with a county treasurer in order to enhance efficiency and promptness. Eventually the local school commissioners paid off their debts and could budget their funds more systematically.

Other matters addressed in the annual reports included teachers, academies and high schools, and attendance. In order to maintain quality instruction state law required the certification of teachers. Due to insufficient applicants and low salaries some district school trustees awarded temporary certificates in order to fill teaching positions. In 1875 the county school commissioners were asked to comment on the appointment of teachers by the district trustees. Most felt that teachers were hired on the basis of merit. Others noted preferences for relatives or friends of the trustees, and advocated placement of this duty with the school commissioners.

The establishment of high schools in Maryland was a gradual process dependent upon resources and interest. In 1871 there was a public high school in Talbot County. Three graded schools in Worcester County contained high school departments. A few private academies, although not subject to the county school commissioners, functioned as the high schools for other localities. Throughout this time period the academies continued to receive annual donations from the state. Charlotte Hall Academy served St. Mary's and Charles counties, Cambridge Male Academy served Dorchester County, and the Preparatory Department of St. John's College in Annapolis served Anne Arundel County.

In general the state school officials opposed the public donations to private academies, unless they were serving a truly public purpose. In 1875 the state board suggested the abolition of most academies or a stipulation that they become an extension of the local school system, in essence a high school. The annual report of 1907, when about thirty-five high schools existed in the state, contained a similar observation. "The amount now appropriated to the old academies may be used as a nucleus for a high school fund, and this could be supplemented from other sources until it becomes adequate to profice necessary facilities to make our high schools equal to the demands which are being made upon them."

The local school commissioners supplied a variety of statistics, including total and average student attendance and number of days schools were open. In 1882-1883 many schools were closed for long periods of time because of the prevalence of contagious diseases, mostly smallpox and measles. The counties mentioning this factor included Harford, Kent, Queen Anne's, Somerset, St. Mary's, Talbot, and Washington. In Easton the janitor and his family lived in the basement of the high school, and were ill with smallpox for almost two weeks before this fact was discovered and the affected individuals removed from the building. Surprisingly only a few students became sick after this long exposure.

School officials expressed concern about providing educational opportunities for all school age children in the state. Maryland was one of the last states to enact a compulsory attendance law. The first one was passed in 1901, but applied only to Allegany County and Baltimore City. Only in 1916 was the law extended statewide. Attendance in the colored schools was more erratic than in the white schools because public funds were insufficient. Many colored schools were open only half the school year. Some parents pooled personal funds in order to continue paying the teacher for a longer period of time. In 1915 Anne Arundel County colored schools were open only four months. In fact, ten counties spent less on their colored schools than the amount received from the state for that purpose.

Legislation substantially revising the law on education in 1916 addressed many of the concerns expressed in the annual reports throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Sources: (1) Board of State School Commissioners (Annual Report) House and Senate Documents 1872 V [MSA PD1044, MdHR 812672]; (2) State Board of Education (Annual Report) House and Senate Documents 1876 E [MSA PD1097, MdHR 812726]; (3) State Board of Education (Annual Report) 1879 [MSA E10420, MdHR 784197]; (4) State Board of Education (Annual Report) House and Senate Documents 1884 M [MSA PD1372, MdHR 812812]; (5) State Board of Education (Annual Report) House and Senate Documents 1888 [MSA PD1390; MdHR 812830]; (6) State Board of Education (Annual Report) 1891, 25th [MSA E10425, MdHR 784202]; (7) State Board of Education (Annual Report) 1895, 29th [MSA E10426, MdHR 784203]; (8) State Board of Education (Annual Report) 1907, 41st [MSA R10436, MdHR 784214]; (9) State Board of Education (Annual Report) 1911, 45th [MSA E10440, MdHR 784218]; (10) State Board of Education (Annual Report) 1915, 49th [MSA E10444, MdHR 784222].

by Kevin Swanson


(Minutes) 1881-1995 [MSA T2948]
(Ordinances) 1885-1960 [MSA T2949]


(Criminal Docket) 1040, State vs. Schowgurow, 1964 [MSA T2955]


(Civil Papers) 1984-1996 [MSA T2664]
(Criminal Papers) 1987-1988 [MSA T2663]
(Paternity Papers) 1971-1997 [MSA T2173]


(Bastardy Information Docket) 1949-1986 [MSA T2939]
(Birth Record) 1865-1879 [MSA T2938]
(Declaration of Intention) 1907-1928 [MSA T129]
(Election Returns) 1930-1972 [MSA T153]
(Equity Papers) 1992 [MSA T158]
(Equity Record) 1815-1969 [MSA T2936]
(Judicial Record) 1866-1969 [MSA T2937]
(Minutes) 1975-1987 [MSA T126]
(Miscellaneous Papers) 1905-1979 [MSA T189]
(Naturalization Record) 1905-1930 [MSA T2688]
(Road Record) 1828 [MSA T2940]
(Test Book) 1974-1990 [MSA T2202]
(Traders Licenses) 1991-1993 [MSA T2941]


(Deposit Record) 1919-1929 [MSA T89]
(Estate Docket) 1879-1891 [MSA T91]
(Fee Book) 1926-1934 [MSA T1835]
(Guardian Docket) 1912-1983 [MSA T2951]
(Ledger) 1928-1995 [MSA T2950]
(Minutes) 1972-1982 [MSA T2952]
(Trial Docket) 1961-1983 [MSA T119]


(Court Papers) 1964 [MSA T2658]


(Equity Papers) 1982-1987 [MSA T409]


(Land Records) 1887-1963 [MSA T2944]
(Land Records, Grantee Index) 1966-1972 [MSA T2945]
(Land Records, Grantor Index) 1966-1972 [MSA T2946]
(Plat Book) 1947-1986 [MSA T2947]


(Estate Papers) 1986-1996 [MSA T2351]

Founded 1987

Edward C. Papenfuse, State Archivist
Patricia V. Melville, Editor
Mimi Calver, Assistant Editor
Lynne MacAdam, Production Editor
Rita Molter, Circulation

The Maryland State Archives is an independent agency in the Office of Governor Parris N. Glendening and is advised by the Hall of Records Commission. The Chairman of the Hall of Records Commission is the Honorable Robert Mack Bell, Chief Judge of the Maryland Court of Appeals.

The Archivists' Bulldog is issued bi-monthly to publicize records collections, finding aids, and other activities of the Archives and its staff. Subscription cost is $25 per year, and the proceeds go to the State Archives Fund. To subscribe, please send your name, address, and remittance to: the Maryland State Archives, 350 Rowe Boulevard, Annapolis, Maryland 21401-1686. Phone: MD toll free: (800) 235 4045; or (410) 260-6400. FAX: (410) 974 3895. E-mail: The Editor welcomes editorial comments and contributions from the public.

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