The Archivist's Bulldog

Vol. 12 No. 9, Newsletter of the Maryland State Archives, May 11, 1998

[From Piety, Chastity and Love of Country: Education in Maryland to 1916, by Margaret Lynne Browne and Patricia M. Vanorny (Maryland State Archives, 1984)]

Discounting the abortive 1825 law, the Constitution of 1864 was the first legal enactment for a uniform system of public schools in Maryland. That Constitution mandated that the General Assembly establish an educational program at its 1865 session. The resulting legislation instituted a highly centralized state educational system. A State Board of Education supervised all colleges and schools receiving state funds, selected uniform series of textbooks, adopted comprehensive rules and regulatins, and appointed school commissioners for each county. The State Superintendent of Public Instruction, as administrative officer of the state board, supervised execution of state policies and regulations, which included an annual inspection of every school in the state.

All powers regarding schools previously vested in various county officials were transferred to a board of school commissioners in each county. These county boards changed boundaries of school districts, built schoolhouses, hired school teachers, disbursed funds, and carried out state policies. The board positions were held by prominent men who earned salaries ranging from $700 to $1,200 annually. The president of the county board functioned essentially as county superintendent of schools.

A number of provisions of the 1865 law pertained to teachers. Legally no teacher could be hired unless he or she had a certificate issued by the state superintendent or by the president of the county board. The county certificates had a three year duration and were obtained upon graduation from the State Normal School and annual attendence at a six-day teachers' institute. Teachers taught seven subjects and were required "to impress upon the minds of youth...the principles of piety and justice, loyalty and sacred regard for truth, love of their country, humanity and benevolence, sobriety, industry, and chastity."

The 1865 law finally recognized the right of black children to a free public education, but only if the taxes collected from black county residents were sufficient to support a segregated school.

The 1865 statute provided for one high school in each county, in which both males and females were to study English, sciences, Latin, Greek, and math. State donations previously made to the academies, plus any private donations, would constitute the annual appropriation for a high school fund. Academies would continue to receive state donations until the high schools were built. Only Cecil, Talbot, and Worcester counties managed to found new high schools. In most other jurisdictions the old academies served as high schools. Another unique feature of the law was the establishment of a State Normal School for educating teachers of both sexes.

The 1865 public school law was a good beginning. During the 1866-67 school year, more than 71,000 children attended 1,279 schools and an average of $8.74 was spent on each student. Clearly, the emphasis was on uniformity and centralization. Although the law was successful in many respects, opposition to the extreme centralization of the educational system came from many quarters. Schools already in existence had been for years almost entirely under local control. Baltimore City had a well organized system of schools dating back to 1826. Thus, resistance to the new law was especially strong from this urban center. Baltimore City sought exemption from the law and refused to be brought into the centralized state system. The city school system did not adopt the prescribed textbook series until compelled to do so by a Court of Appeals decision, did not require teaching certificates, and charged tuition in the public schools, all clear violations of the state law.

Some Marylanders feared that members of the state board, all of whom held high political positions, might endeavor to advance partisan instead of educational interests. Other criticisms were leveled at the textbook purchasing practices, the expense of running the whole system, and the school fund disbribution formula. Many of the wealthier counties paid a larger share into the fund than they received. All these problems led in 1867 to a reevaluation of the educational system.

The Constitution of 1867 and the subsequent 1868 law decentralized many aspects of the state school system. The offices of State Superintendent of Public Instruction and State Board of Education were abolished and general supervisory responsibilities at the state level were assigned to the principal of the State Normal School, who acted only on a parttime basis. Some centralization was restored in 1870 when the General Assembly established the Board of State School Commissioners to oversee public education programs, advise the county boards, grant teachers' certificates, and compile statistics for annual reports. In 1872 the name of this agency was changed to the State Board of Education. A 1900 law established the office of Superintendent of Public Education, but the position was largely titular.

The 1868 statute vested considerable power in the county boards of school commissioners. Depending upon the law applicable in a particular county, the commissioners were either elected by the voters or appointed by county commissioners, circuit court judges, or the governor.

The responsibilities of the county school commissioners remained substantially the same as those held by their predecessors, except that they possessed greater authority to set local policy. They executed state plans and provided for the construction, remodeling, and closing of all schools. The commissioners disbursed state and county funds for the operation of the school systems, and reported to the state board on schools, pupils, curricula, and expenditures. They could also change the boundaries of school districts, investigate charges against teachers, and annul teachers' certificates. To act as secretary, treasurer, and administrative officer of each county board, the school commissioners appointed a county examiner, who also had authority to issue teachers' certificates. In 1904 this office became the county superintendent of public education.

The 1868 law reestablished a system of school district trustees, similar to that in effect prior to 1865. The trustees maintained and managed the schoolhouses, employed teachers, and advised the school commissioners of needs for new or remodeled school buildings.

The curriculum as set forth in the 1868 sttute included orthography, reading, writing, English grammer, geography, mathematics, U.S. history, U.S. and Maryland constitutions, and good behavior. Electives included algebra, bookkeeping, philosophy, music, drawing, physiology, health, and domestic economy. Prescribed class sizes remained the same - one teacher for every sixty children. If a school numbered over sixty, an assistant teacher would be hired, with an additional assistant being hired for each additional forty children. As under the earlier law, schools for black children were established with school taxes paid by black residents of the county. This practice was not changed until an 1872 law required every board of county school commissioners to establish at least one public school in each election district for black children regardless of the source of the taxes.

The importance of the 1868 law lay with its decentralization of the school system and restoration of the right of local self-government in school affairs. The citizens now had a voice in the management of their own schools. The academies and other endowed schools retained the rights they had prior to 1864. In order to benefit from further state aid, many academies voluntarily came under the control of the school commissioners, in most cases becoming the county high school. With minor changes, the public education system established in 1868 survived until the second decade of the twentieth century, when another major revision was deemed necessary.

In 1916 the General Assembly revised the state law governing public education. The name of the county agency responsible for educational matters was changed to the board of education, and these county boards were given greater discretionary authority. The law also provided for a State Department of Education. The state board determined policy, interpreted and enforced school laws, and appointed the State Superintendent of Schools, while the state department administered the state school system.

Under the 1916 act, the governor appointed the members of the county boards of education. These boards assumed all the powers and duties formerly held by the school commissioners, plus additional responsibilities for the development and operation of schools in each county. In addition to fulfilling state requirements, each county board set its own education policies, allocated state and county funds, employed teachers and other personnel, determined the location and mode of construction of schools, and appointed a county superintendent of schools, subject to approval by the state superintendent. As secretary, treasurer, and administrative officer of the county board, the county superintendent executed state and county programs by making recommendations concerning school construction and employment of teachers and principals, assigning school personnel, preparing statistical reports, and maintaining records of students, teachers, and the county board.

The 1916 statute retained the trustees for school districts. The trustees' role as custodians of local schoolhouses and as an advisory body to the county board diminished substantially as school consolidation programs in the mid-twentienty century brought about more populous school districts in which one-room schoolhouses were replaced by larger facilities offering a more varied curriculum.

The statute of 1916, with later amendments, established a minimum statewide program of education including courses of study, length of the school year, and certification of teachers. Every Maryland child was required to attend school and achieve a certain minimum competency. Blacks, too, were required to have their children educated, but the separate status of blacks was perpetuated in the mandate for segregated facilities.

With the 1916 law, Maryland finally and fully recognized the value of education and the essential role of state and local government in providing public education for all its citizens. This law, and the plan of education it outlined, proved fundamentally sound. Although it has been often amended, it remains today the basic statutory authority for Maryland's educational system.

by Robert Barnes

Simon Jonas Martenet, mapmaker and surveyor, was born 13 April 1832, and died in Baltimore on 6 November 1892, at the age of 60. He was a son of Simon Jonas Martenet, a native of Switzerland, who came to Baltimore when his son Simon was almost four. He became a naturalized citizen, and he may be the "John Martnelk" who died at age 40 of bilious fever, and was buried at German Lutheran Church Cemetery the week ending 28 December 1835 (Baltimore City Deaths and Burials, 1834-1840, by Henry C. Peden, Jr. FLP, 1996). City directories for 1835 show that a "Joseph" Martenet lived on French Street opposite Exeter, and Catherine Martenet, possibly his widow, was listed in the directories a few years later, at the same address.

Young Simon went to work after school hours at an early age, and learned the business of a surveyor and civil engineer. By 1867 he had published an atlas and a large map of Maryland that was so accurate that the General Assembly provided copies for all the public schools in the state. His maps and atlases at the State Arcbives span the years 1858 to 1886.

Simon J. Martenet was married in August 1853 to Philena Fussell, daughter of Jacob Fussell, a Quaker. She died in 1894. Like another well known couple of the 19th century, Simon and Philena had nine children including: Jefferson, a civil engineer who died at the age of 30; Simon J., a businessman in the insurance field, who married Matilda, daughter of August Henry Lange; William H., a veterinary surgeon; Clarissa F.; and J. Fussell, M.D., one-time President of the Medical and Chirurgical Society of Maryland, who was born 10 July 1858. He married first, Cynthia, daughter of Henry Lange, in 1880. She died two years later, and Dr. Martenet married second, Ella R. Reed, M.D., of Arlington, VA. She was a graduate of Women's Medical College, evidently one of the few women doctors in 19th century Maryland and Virginia.

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 Louis L. Goldstein, Comptroller, and the Vice Chairman is the Honorable Robert M. 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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