Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Monday, June 19, 2017

A Little About the History of the Pelham School System During the Mid-1850s

Piecing together a history of the early years of the Pelham school system has proved maddeningly difficult.  I have written on the topic before.  See:

Thu., Jan. 28, 2016:  The Early Development of Pelham Schools in the Late 18th and Early 19th Centuries.

Mon., Apr. 07, 2014:  History of A Few of the Earliest Public Schools in the Town of Pelham.

By the 1856-57 school year, the long-running battle between Pelham mainlanders and City Islanders may have extended to the Pelham school system.  Unlike the single Pelham school district of today, in 1857 Pelham had two school districts.  School District No. 1 covered the students of the mainland and, quite frankly, seems to have been a total mess.  School District No. 2 covered the students of City Island and appears to have been well run.  There may, however, have been a sneakier (and arguably more sinister) motive for two school districts as noted below.

During the 1856-57 school year, the Pelham Board of Education that governed the mainland students in School District No. 1 included William Samuel Coffey, James Hinman, William Dally, and John M. Lockwood.  The Pelham Board of Education that governed the City Island students in School District No. 2 included Samuel Lippencott and Thomas Jenning.

The 1856-57 school year was a time of momentous change in the way schools were funded in New York.  In the years leading up to 1856, New York law provided that each year one-third of the sum of $600,000 plus "all other school monies" would be divided equally among all school districts regardless of the number of children educated in each district.  This was known as the "one-third apportionment."  This meant that a district with ten students received exactly the same sum as a district with one thousand students.  Moreover, the fact that each district received the same sum may explain why the Town of Pelham had two school districts at the time -- to receive twice the money.

In 1856, New York enacted a new school-funding law that entirely changed the calculus.  In addition to changing the way school taxes were raised, the new law recognized the same "one-third apportionment" but distributed the shares to school districts in an entirely different fashion.  Each district received a single "part" of the one-third apportionment for every qualified teacher who taught for six months during the year.  Thus, for example, if a district had two qualified teachers who taught during an entire six-month school year, the district would receive two parts of the "one-third apportionment."  If a district, for example, had two teachers who split the school year with each teaching three months of a six-month school year, the district would receive one part of the apportionment, and so on.

During the 1856-57 school year, Pelham's mainland School District No. 1 had no teacher.  The position was denoted by the School Commissioner of the Second Assembly District (Westchester County) as "Vacant."  Pelham's City Island School District No. 2 had a single teacher named John H. Brooks.  Thus, it seems likely that before the change in law, the Town of Pelham was receiving two parts of the one-third apportionment (each equal to every part received by every other school district) but, after the change in law, likely received only a single part, thus placing a greater burden on Pelham taxpayers to fund their local school located on City Island.

This inference seems to be borne out by a host of considerations.  First, in addition to the mainland having no teacher, the annual report submitted by the Board of Education for Pelham's mainland School District No. 1 as required by law was deemed by the School Commissioner to be "very deficient in statements."  Indeed, according to the Commissioner, rather than answering the required questions in their report, the School Board members simply stated that "their school is a free school governed by a board of education, and [that they] cannot therefore [respond] to all those questions."  In contrast, the annual report submitted for Pelham's City Island School District No. 2 was deemed "satisfactory and explicit."  Those responsible for mainland School District No. 1 clearly did not want to reveal much about their district. . . .

Second, Pelham seems to have been so upset with the School Commissioner in 1857 that during his bid for reelection in November of that year, the entire town (with the exception of a single voter) voted to replace him.  Samuel U. Berrian was the School Commissioner of the Second Assembly District during the 1856-57 school year.  He supported the State's bid to change the way schools were funded in New York.  He was defeated in the November election that year and, thus, was succeeded by William G. Weston.  The Town of Pelham voted 46 to 1 to replace Berrian with Weston.  In short, it seems likely that a monumental issue -- such as a substantial reduction in school funding provided by the State -- turned the entire voting population of Pelham against School Commissioner Berrian who had supported the change in funding.

As an aside, City Island teacher John H. Brooks who taught on City Island during the 1856-57 school year likely was the third teacher to oversee the tiny little City Island school house built in about 1838.  The first teacher at that school was Rachel S. Fordham who had taught students in her home for a number of years during the 1830s but who began teaching in the school when it opened.  The woman who may have been the second teacher at the school was Mary A. Tooker.  She began teaching at the school after it was enlarged in 1847.  

John H. Brooks may have been the third.  In 1854, a notice appeared in The New York Herald published in New York City that read:

"WANTED -- A MALE TEACHER, TO TAKE CHARGE of a school on City Island.  Address A. Pendleton, 81 Catherine street."

Source:  WANTED -- A MALE TEACHER, TO TAKE CHARGE [Advertisement], The New York Herald, Oct. 28, 1854, Morning Edition, No. 6638, p. 5, col. 5.  

Though it seems far from certain, it seems likely that John H. Brooks was the "male teacher" hired to take charge of the tiny school on City Island in response to this notice.  If so, that means he likely was hired in late 1854 or early 1855, a short time before he was named as the teacher on City Island during the 1856-57 school year.  Interestingly, in a column written by School Commissioner Weston in early 1858, City Island teacher John H. Brooks was denoted as an instructor who had not been properly licensed by the School Commissioner and was not instructing "under license from the State Normal School, former County or Town Superintendents, or (in the 'Union Free Schools') the Boards of Education."  It was suggested, though it has not been established, that Brooks was teaching "independently of license" as School Commissioner Weston put it.   

Undated Photograph of the One-Room Schoolhouse
Built in About 1838 in City Island on Land Now Thought
To Be the Current Playground of Public School 175 Located
at 200 City Island Avenue, City Island, The Bronx, NY,
10464.  NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

*          *          *          *          *

"WANTED -- A MALE TEACHER, TO TAKE CHARGE of a school on City Island.  Address A. Pendleton, 81 Catherine street."

Source:  WANTED -- A MALE TEACHER, TO TAKE CHARGE [Advertisement], The New York Herald, Oct. 28, 1854, Morning Edition, No. 6638, p. 5, col. 5.  

"SCHOOL COMMISSIONER'S DEPARTMENT, 2d District, Westchester County.

This Commissioner has, on several previous occasions, called public attention to the effect of the important change made in the late school law, by one of the acts of Legislature of 1856, in relation to the mode of apportioning the one-third part of the public moneys among the districts of the State.  The Superintendent of Public Instruction, in his recent excellent 'Circular' to the Trustees of the school districts, thus perspicuously presents the subject to which we have alluded.

'Under the old law, one third of the whole sum of $600,000, and of all other school moneys, was divided equally among all the districts, regardless of the number of children to be educated.  A district containing only ten children, between the ages of four and twenty-one, received just as much of the one-third so distributed as one having fifty, or a hundred, or a thousand children between the same ages.  To remedy in part this inequality and injustice, some large villages and cities had obtained the passage of special acts, by which every seventy-five children should be enumerated as one district. *     *     *  The new law, while graduating the state tax according to the valuation, and thereby decreasing the local or district taxation, has also established a uniform and more just rule of distribution.  Each district is to receive one part in the one-third apportionment, according to the number of teachers employed for six months or over.  The employment of a qualified teacher for six months, or two teachers, each for three different months, will entitle a district, however destitute of property or children, to one part.  A district in which the trustees employ teachers, each for the requisite and the same period, will have two parts.'

'In order,' says the Code, 'to entitle a district to the benefit of this provision of the law, it will be necessary to show a strict compliance with the prescribed conditions.  *     *     *  The statement of the report must be based upon these facts or they must be made to appear by an affidavit of the trustees transmitted to the department before the time of making the apportionment, viz:  1, That two or more teachers, each of whom possessed a legal certificate of qualification during the whole period which the trustees estimate as a part of the six months, have been actually employed in instructing the district school, at the same time, for the period of six months or over.  2, It must affirmatively appear that no one of the teachers referred to in the statement was a pupil, employed as a monitor or otherwise, during any portion of the period in which he is enumerated as a teacher.'

We have been thus express in copying the language above, as we find that several of the districts seem to be cherishing the hope, that they are this year to receive double 'district quotas,' in consequence of their having had two teachers employed at one time in their schools, for the supposed length of time in each particular case.  But if we take into consideration the exceedingly imperfect character of the Trustees' Reports of 1856, their vagueness and ambiguity of statement in relation to the teachers employed and their time of service, and the entire absence in those reports of any reliable statements establishing a claim to additional quotas, we cannot see on what ground the hope above mentioned is entertained.
***  We regret to be obliged to say to the Trustees of our districts, that up to the present writing, we have not received from the Department their copies of the Code of Public Instruction.  The Superintendent's Circular to Trustees, which we are forwarding to those officers, will explain the cause of the delay in delivering the Code.  Directly on our receiving the books, we will deposit the same with the Supervisors of the towns, from whom the trustees of the districts entitled to the work will receive their copies.

(19) Rept. of Sch. Dist. No. 1 Pelham, signed Wm. Sam'l. Coffey, James Hinman, Wm. Dally, John M. Lockwood, Bd. of Educ. -- Rept. very deficient in statements. -- The Trustees say in their Report, that their school is a free school governed by a board of education, and [that they] cannot therefore [respond] to all those questions' [propounded in the blank.]

(20) Rept. of Sch. Dist. No. 2 Pelham, (City Island school,) signed Sam'l Lippencott, Thomas Jenning. -- Rept. satisfactory and explicit:  duly filed.  (Rec'd -- with precd. rept. -- from Town Clk. of E. Chester.) . . ."

Source:  SCHOOL COMMISSIONER'S DEPARTMENT, 2d District, Westchester County -- THE DISTRICT QUOTA, Eastern State Journal [White Plains, NY], Feb. 6, 1857, Vol. XII, No. 39, p. 3, col. 1.  

"SCHOOL COMMISSIONER'S DEPARTMENT, 2d District Westchester County.

We have thought that we should be rendering an acceptable service to teachers and others, by presenting, in these columns, a carefully prepared TABULAR EXHIBIT of the names and designations of all the school districts in this 2D DISTRICT OF WESTCHESTER COUNTY, with the names of the TEACHERS at present engaged in the schools.  In some few cases we are unable to state names; and in others, our Table may need some revision, as teachers in several of the schools are known to b e about to change their employ.  It is our purpose to produce this article again, with amendments, in the course of a few weeks hence; and those teachers who may have any alterations of the Table to suggest, will please to inform this Commissioner of the name, and he will make the requisite alterations.

It is often satisfactory -- sometimes also desirable or necessary -- to trace out those of our teachers who, by change of abode, or other circumstances, have got 'lost sight of' by their friends.  Not unfrequently [sic] the desire arises, in school districts, to renew acquaintance and conexion [sic] with worthy teachers who, in past time, left a 'good report' behind them, and whose return to former positions would be a mutual benefit to teacher and district.

We have designated by the asterisk [*] those teachers who are instructing under this Commissioner's LICENSE, in full form; and by the obelisk [ƚ] lthose who are temporarily instructing by special arrangement and permit of the Commissioner.  It will be understood, that all names not thus marked, are those of teachers who are instructing under license from the State Normal School, former County or Town Superintendents, or (in the 'Union Free Schools') the Boards of Education.  A few of the teachers, it is intimated, are teaching independently of license! . . . . 

PELHAM -- Two School Districts.

Sch. of Dist. No. 1             Teachers.
No. 1 ................................(Vacant)
No. 2, City Island..............JOHN H. BROOKS. . . .

The foregoing Table, with such corrections as may be needed, will appear again in some successive issue of this paper.  Teachers will please to inform this Commissioner, if they discover any statement made that may require amendment.

School Commissioner.}"

Source:  SCHOOL COMMISSIONER'S DEPARTMENT, 2d District Westchester County -- SCHOOL DISTRICTS AND TEACHERS, Eastern State Journal [White Plains, NY], Mar. 20, 1857, Vol. XII, No. 45, p. 3, col. 1.  


-- We regret the defeat of SAMUEL U. BERRIAN for School Commissioner in this District.  No more capable, assiduous, and faithful School Commissioner can be found, in the whole State, than Mr. Berrian, and intelligent men and friends of popular education in the District expected him to be elected.  His defeat will be a much greater loss to the schools than to himself.  We trust the successful candidate, Mr. Weston, will endeavor to discharge the duties of the office as diligently and as thoroughly as has Mr. Berrian.

Mr. Berrian is capable of filling the office of State Superintendent of Common Schools, and we trust to see him hereafter elevated to that position."

Source:  SCHOOL COMMISSIONER IN THIS DISTRICT, Eastern State Journal [White Plains, NY], Nov. 6, 1857, Vol. XIII, No. 26, p. 2, col. 2.  

"TO THE TRUSTEES AND TEACHERS OF COMMON SCHOOLS IN THE SECOND ASSEMBLY DISTRICT. -- The undersigned would respectfully call the attention of Trustees of Common Schools who are about engaging Teachers, and also of all Teachers who have not procured their certificates of qualification, to the provisions of the Common School Law, according to which no Teacher is considered legally qualified to teach in any Common School in this State, unless he has obtained from the proper authority the certificate of qualification prescribed by law.  The undersigned would also hereby give notice, that he may be found at his residence, half a mile south of the village of Tarrytown, in the town of Greenburgh, every Saturday, for the purpose of examining Teachers, and granting certificates.  A new supply of the Code of Public Instruction for gratuitous distribution, has been sent to all the towns in this District except two or three, which will be supplied as soon as possible.  Any Trustee who may wish a copy, can obtain one by calling upon the Town Supervisor.

The Post Office address of the undersigned is Tarrytown, and not Greenburgh.

WM. G WESTON, School Commissioner, 2d Assembly District, Westchester County."

Source:  TO THE TRUSTEES AND TEACHERS OF COMMON SCHOOLS IN THE SECOND ASSEMBLY DISTRICT [Notice], Eastern State Journal [White Plains, NY] Jan. 15, 1858, Vol. XIII, No. 36, p. 3, col. 4.

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