First One Founded in 1818
EARLY SCHOOLS OF MONTGOMERY
Montgomery's keen interest in education was manifest in th early history of the city. There were many private institutions prior to 1854 when the General Assembly of Alabama provided for free schools. A noteworthy fact in Alabama's first educational project is that history emphacizes the outstanding qualities of the teachers and their influence in the community rather than the intrinsic value of the school buildings and equipment.
Dr.Samuel Patterson, the first teacher in Montgomery,opened a school in 1818 when he realized that he could not support himself practicing medicine and that there was a greater demand for a teacher than for a doctor. The next year Neil Blue, besides being in charge of the County Jail, "taught the youth of both sexes." The third teacher in the city was Jonathan Mayhew, who opened a school in 1821. In 1823 there were two more teachers - Andrew G. Mays and Comelius Buck. An incident recorded about the latter indicates a prevailing attitude of the times.
On learning that General LaFayette was to visit Montgomery, Mr. Buck organized a temporary military company among his male scholars; however, since the General arrived on the Sabbath, Mr. Buck did not allow his students to take part in the reception because he felt that a military turn-out would violate the sanctity of the day.
The Milton Academy was opened in 1828 in the Masonic Hall on Commerce Street with E. D. Washburn as principal. It is interesting to note that a lottery had been authorized by the Legislature of Alabama to raise funds for this Academy.
In 1831 there was the beginning of an improvement in educational advantages. James Lyon, a highly educated Englishman, opened a school on the corner of Commerce and Tallapoosa Streets and two years later Peter Maher, a dublin University graduate, came to Montgomery to teach after he had been educated for Clerical Orders in the Catholic Church. The historian Blue relates that "his estimable and accomplished wife taught a High School for girls and young ladies."
At about this time A. S. Vigus, alumnus of one of the New England universities, built a brick school house named Franklin Istitute on Columbus Street between Perry and Court. Here, besides teaching, Mr. Vigus fostered scientific interest. He kept a cabinet of minerals, conducted experiments for his students and delivered free lectures.
Montgomery Academy was opened in 1841 by Enoch Childs, a graduate of Yale. He was principal for about six years and was assisted by his wife and his sister. This Academy, on the corner of Montgomery and Moulton Streets, was later used as the public free school building.
The curriculum of early days is described in "The Catalogue and Circular of the Montgomery Female Institute 1846-47", which includes the statement by the principal, Reverend J. A. Pelot, that "no exertion ... will be spared to render... (the) school equal to expectations of an enlightened community." Among his teachers were a professor for French, Spanish, and Italian languages and one for vocal and instrumental music.
A Mr. Pfister practiced the entire school twice a week in singing without any additional charge. The young ladies also studied reading and orthography,epistolary writing, geography with map drawing, mental philosophy, and elocution.
Thomas M. Owen reports in his "Annals of Alabama" tbat a high degree of intellectual cultivation existed among the preachers of the time. Outstanding proof of his comment is recorded in the statement, "Reverend A. A Lipscomb delivered the first lecture before the Montgomery Lyceum Association. Subject, "American Minds." Reverend Lipscomb was a well educated Methodist minister who in 1849, founded the Metropolitan Female lnstitute. In the catalog of l849-50, which lists him as principal with eight teachers, he reminded the patrons that the school had no rich endowments, no public resources, and that the burden of the investment in property and fixtures rested on the principal. Board, including washing, fuel,and light, for nine months was $130.00; tuition ranged from $12.50 to$30.00; and extra charges included music at a fee of $45.00 a year; drawing and painting, $28.50.
The catalog states, "The Aim of the Institution is to form an intelligent and elevated character in its pupil ... The course of study is so arranged as to cultivate the art of expressing the mind, as well as to habits of acquisition." There were 164 students from Montgomery and six neighboring counties and one young lady from Columbus, Mississippi. They studied Town's Analysis, Abercrombie's Intellectual Phdosophy, Newman's Rhetoric, GovemmentoftheUnitedStates, Brocklesby's Meteorology, Classical Geography, Biblical Evidences, Paradise Lost and Lord's Lectures.
The pupils wrote themes daily. The success of their compositions is noted in the Alabama Journal of August 6,1850. "The young Metropolite ... name of a neat monthly sheet edited by the Young Ladies of the Metropolitan Institute (is) under the supervision of Rev. Lipscomb. The number for August which is the initial number, (is) filled mostly by the literary contributions of the Young Ladies. The present number is full of spice and sprightlines of gentle words and kind encouragement and we bespeak for it a welcome into every family." Although the Metropolitan Female Institute was destroyed by fire, Reverend Lipscomb continued his work in the educational field. He accepted the presidency of Tuskegee Female Institute and then later became the first Chancellor of the University of Georgia. He was not only an educator but a writer too. His frequent contributions to Harper's Magazine and other periodicals werc on religious, ethical and educational subjects.
Another minister, Rev. J. W. Mear, also operated a school. His advertisement of October l4, 1854, for Mear's English and French Institute stated that he was assisted by five teachers. He stressed the importance of Latin to a polite education and said Music would be taught as a science as well as an art. He felt that the formation of character was the aim of education; that the passions should be restrained; obedience to parents, deference to authority, subjugation of will emphasized; and that reason and religion should control in everything.
These private institutions are the foundations of the present school system in Montgomery. The coluninist "Istechulee" writes in the September 2, 1900, issue of the Montgomery Advertiser regarding some early schools that he attended, "... the idea seemed to prevail that any kind of house which would keep off rain was good enough for school purposes ... the ground was leveled and covered with pine straw. Our books were few and simple ... if each child had a different kind of book to read from it made no difference as there was not reading in classes ... some ofthe best statesmen Alabama has ever had received all their school education under just such circumstances..."
This statement and the other records testify that then, as now, the strength of the schools lay not in the value of physical equipment but in the ability and inspiration of the teachers.
Published in the Alabama School Journal, Vol. 71, No. 6, February, 1954, this article was written by Mrs. Margaret Blake Kirkpatrick, a student at Huntingdon College. Mrs. Kirkpatrick used source material on file at the Montgomery City-County Public Library and A1abama Department of Archives and History. Reprinted courtesy of the Alabama Education Association.
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