Subtopic : Education, Arts, and Letters: Professionalizing Education
Themes: Social Relations, Arts
Effective and comprehensive public-school education was not achieved in Oregon until the early twentieth century. High schools were established on a district-by-district basis from 1880 until 1901, when the state legislature mandated that all districts should provide high school education. Oregon was little different from other states with similar geographic and demographic profiles: vast distances, lack of transportation, insufficient funding, run-down school buildings, abbreviated school terms, and inadequate and shoddy equipment. There were also questions about low salaries, the absence of uniform instructional materials, and common standards for teacher certification. There were also matters of equity—providing children in rich and poor districts with the same quality of education—and there were no standards for employment, with district superintendents making most of the hires.
Teachers’ organizations and educational institutes led the move to establish professional certification standards, higher salaries, better textbooks, and improved teaching methods. Although the state legislature established the office of state Superintendent of Public Instruction and a state Board of Education in 1872, local districts did little to improve the livelihoods of low-paid teachers. On one occasion, the Oregon Teachers’ Monthly urged its membership to organize unions to push the issue of improved salaries. Teachers’ groups were also involved in shifting high school curricula from emphasizing the classics and factual data to more nuanced courses in history, trigonometry, physics, and the practical sciences.
Even with the growth and expansion of publicly supported high schools in the late nineteenth century, Oregon’s private academies and parochial schools continued to flourish. Portland residents supported Roman Catholic, Protestant, Hebrew, and German schools to provide religious or language instruction to students. The Portland Academy and Female Seminary, originally established in 1854 as a Methodist institution, was a striking success story when it reopened in 1889 as the Portland Academy.
The Academy provided an advanced curriculum for the children of Portland’s elite, eventually offering courses equivalent to the first two years of college instruction. Historian E. Kimbark MacColl lists the academy as one of the limited number of social and cultural opportunities in Portland’s early life. Patterned after private schools in the East, the Academy proudly boasted that wealth and status were the pathway to success. The school flourished until improvements in Portland’s public high schools began to siphon students away during World War I.
During the nineteenth century, Oregon’s denominational academies and colleges were obstacles to the establishment of tax-supported institutions of higher learning. Even the distinguished Judge Matthew P. Deady initially opposed publicly supported colleges because of competition from private educational establishments. It was not until the 1870s that the legislature appropriated funds to establish a state university in Eugene. With contributions from local benefactors, the city began construction of the University of Oregon’s first building, named Deady Hall after the judge who served as chairman of its board of regents. With a limited student enrollment, the university opened for business in the fall of 1876.
Oregon State University’s institutional lineage can be traced to Methodist Episcopal-supported Corvallis College, first incorporated in 1858. When the church relinquished control in 1885, the school became Oregon Agricultural College, the state's official land-grant institution.
Western Oregon University in Monmouth has a similar story, beginning in 1855 as Bethel Institute operated by the Disciples of Christ north of Rickreall. The institution merged with Christian College in 1864 to become Monmouth University and then became a publicly supported teacher-training academy, Oregon State Normal School, in 1883.
© William G. Robbins, 2002
Themes: Social Relations,Arts
Regions: Willamette Valley,Portland Metropolitan Area
Author: William G. Robbins
Teachers’ organizations and educational institutes took the lead in establishing professional standards and reliable teaching methods. The state established its first university in 1871 with funds appropriated by the legislature and with contributions from local benefactors.
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