Our History: Douglasville's First Schoolhouse
It's still standing after all these years. Every Now and Then is a column featuring a little piece of Douglas County history.
Editor's note: Lisa Cooper's newest work can be found at douglascountyhistory.blogspot.com.
Last week my topic was the lawsuit that birthed the location and name of our fair city and how it took two elections to finally settle the location of our county seat. During my research I stumbled over the fact that the very month and year Douglas County was birthed in October, 1870 our state legislature passed the Common School Act statewide.
Prior to 1870, the state allocated monies to academies in various counties. The academies were more like higher education institutions since they taught Latin, Greek, English literature and higher forms of mathematics. The students at the academies tended to be members of the wealthier families since tuition might be as much as $10 for the year, an exorbitant amount in those days. Poor rural children rarely entered a classroom. The Common School Act began to change that, but the change occurred slowly, and other forms of legislation had to be passed before large majorities of Georgia’s children were being educated.
As far back as 1818 money from land lotteries was invested in bank stock and interest was used to pay the tuition of indigent children for a period of three years. In order to get the tuition families had to claim pauper status. Times were different back then. Families shied away from a label like that, and many Georgia counties chose not to apply for monies since this early system made no provisions for elementary education. It wasn’t until the Common School Act was passed in 1870 that the system began to straighten out, but again progress was slow.
W.A. Candler, President of Emory University, gave a speech in 1889 where he stated, “how far [the common schools] fell short of reaching all the people, may be inferred from the fact that in 1840 when they reached the number of 176, they had an aggregate attendance of only 8,000 pupils, though the children of school age then in the state numbered not less than 85,000.”
Yes, there were children across the state not being served, but I’m so pleased to report that as early as our first year of legal existence the children of Douglasville were being served by a common school and the building is still standing today.
The first public school in Douglasville stands at the corner of Chicago Avenue and Strickland Street. Today the building is a private home. In 1870, the structure was built by the townspeople and bricks that were made right here in Douglas County covered the exterior of the building. Today the red bricks are covered with stucco and other changes to the structure include additional rooms, a second floor, and a porch.
There was no Board of Education in 1870. Common schools would be organized in various neighborhoods by the parents. Fannie Mae Davis’ history of Douglas County advises, “The parents of a community would acquire a site and construct, often by their own labor, a one-room schoolhouse. Parents routinely performed janitorial duties and maintained the building and grounds. As trustees of the school, they paid the teacher a salary based on a specified fee per child, per household. The ‘contract teacher’ often lived in the homes of students, spending a week at a time in each household. The benefits of this system were mutual–the teacher received free room; the host household had a periodic captive after-hours private tutor, and no one family had to carry the economic burden of another mouth to feed.”
Davis also publishes a handwritten list of school rules from 1870 she found written by Lambert, a teacher somewhere in Douglas County in 1870. She published the rules just as Lambert wrote them including spelling and grammatical errors evidencing the fact that teacher education requirements were far different than they are now.
Rules of School 1870
No laughing and talking in time of school
No rastling nor scuffing
No taging or throwing rocks
No climbing trees
No cursing nor swearing
No using by words
No lyeing in school
No telling tales out of school
No making fun of each other
No playing in the road to and from school
No fiting or quarreling
No student will be allowed to go out more than one time before recess and once after
No one is allowed to go out without my leaf
No play in the house nor on the benches
No playing about the [well?] Illegible
No student will be aloud to leave the play grown at Recreation without my leaf
No disputing about playing
I don’t want any student to go inside of any other enclosures in going to an from school without leaf
While educators today formulate their classroom rules and procedures a bit differently, it would seem that at the most basic level children haven’t changed that much since 1870. Most teachers today would recognize at least one scenario in their classroom that would fit Lambert’s rules.