Brooklyn's School System 1898
 

 
Its Interesting Past History and Its Present Condition

Impartial history has long since recorded in bold words the important claims of the Dutch, the first settlers on Manhattan island, in the up-building of the colony which today ranks proudly as the Empire State of the Union, both in population and material resources and so general has recognition of their work become that iteration of it in detail becomes needless here. The sturdy Dutch stock to the present time yields an influence upon our modern life and manners too strong to be measured and too constant to escape our admiration. Dutch honesty of purpose, repose of life and clear vision have become proverbial and it is just these sterling characteristics that have won for old Father Knickerbocker's descendants the honored place which they hold in the universal regard.

But it is in a new light that attention in this article is directed toward the Dutch settlers. To them belongs indisputably the proud distinction of having established the first free public schools within the present territory of the United States. Education was with the pioneers of New York and Brooklyn secondary only to religion. In this they stand side by side with the Puritan fore-fathers, but the historical facts sustain the Dutch as the primary movers for absolutely free schools. With the Puritans conditions may have stood different, however, for years after the Dutch had opened free public schools the Puritan pupils of their schools were burdened with some portion of their cost.

For the establishment of free public education in Brooklyn as early as 1661 the old archives go to show that certain primitive citizens of the territory were taxed the sum of 150 guilders, about $20, in our day. This formidable sum being secured by levy was found insufficient to the need and Governor Stuyvesant accordingly directed the appropriation of 50 guilders additional from the government treasury. On the 4th of July in that year was inaugurated the first school in Brooklyn territory, Carl Debevoise, a recent emigrant from Holland, of Huguenot extraction, being appointed to the office of school master. The whole amount levied, together with a free dwelling, was fixed as his salary, a sum small enough for the manifold services he was bound by his contract to render. These were, as is recorded in a document still in existence, to which are appended the signatures of the schout and schepens, the official dignitaries, who, with the minister, were the school trustees of the day, to act as court messenger, to serve summonses, conduct the services of the church, to lead the choir on Sundays, ring the bell for public worship, dig the graves, take charge of the school and perform "such other occasional services as the very worthy and ponderous schout and the dignified and exacting schepens should invent for his worriment."

Our modern school masters are often heard in hard complaint over their lot. What would they have done in Carl Debevoise's place?

But these do not complete the catalogue of the first master's duties. When Dominie Selyus returned to Holand to the school-master fell the burden of his duty. By solemn vote of the authorities, he was authorized to read prayers in the church on Sunday and a sermon in Dutch by some orthodox spiritual guide.

Carl Debevoise's school was held scarcely a hundred yards from the present hall of the Board of Education, supposedly in the octgon church which stood in the highway near the intersection of Fulton and Bridge streets. This school in Brooklyn Church flourished and the following year the second school in the present, city was established in the Boswyck Church, on the site still occupied by a religious body, near the intersection of North Second street and Bushwick lane. Bushwick colony had been founded in (16?0), only two years before, but when Governor Peter Stuyvesant hobbled over there from New Amsterdam during the year he found a settlement containing over twenty families, with as many houses, and the forthwith erected the territory into a burgh, which he christened Boswyck. In 1855, upon the consolidation of Bushwick with Brooklyn, the Board of Education found the old district school of colonial days still kept on the same site and almost surrounded by houses whose foundations and walls were constructed in the same period.

Boudwyn Mauont was first schoolmaster of Boswyck school. His salary was fixed at 400 guilders per annum, payable in Indian wampum. In addition he was allowed a house and firewood free of cost. Mauont, after due examination as to his theological and scholastic fitness was installed as clerk and schoolmaster of the burgh. The whipping post stood near the school house door and doubtless the master was called upon to inflict decreed castigation upon offenders, while his pupils gazed, profiting by the example of evil doers. it is recorded that one John van Leyden expiated, in 1684, the offense of an unbridled tongue in front of the school house by being compelled to carry in his mouth, while bound, a horse's bridle and a bundle of eight rods secured under his arm, while covering his breast was a label proclaiming, "John van Leyden is a writer of lampoons, false accuser, and a defamer of magistrates." This school, in later years, has, as Public School No. 23, expanded into wide and constant usefulness.

The third school to be established in old Brooklyn was organized in Bedford village at the junction of Clove, Cripplebush and Jamaica lanes. It was opened in 1663 and continued until the forties of the present century, when it was displaced by what is now Public School No. 3. One of its masters, John Vandervoort, is recorded as having presided over it for a period of almost sixty years, the only interregnum in his tuition occurring when he was incarcerated for a time in a dungeon by the British invaders. Many stirring events took place in the vicinity of this old school during revolutionary days and the ground is rich in associations. Major Andre spent much time nearby and it was trod repeatedly by England's Hessian mercenaries.

Upon the overthrow of the Dutch dynasty in New Amsterdam and Brooklyn by the English the free school system met a similar fate. It is to the discredit of the English that they abolished the long existing free schools and forced a return to the other system.

Many years elapsed between the establishment of Bedford School and the next in chronological order. Near the period of the revolution the fourth school, now Public School No. 4, was opened on the north side of the Wallabout Creek on land owned by the late General Jeremiah Johnson. The present building is in Classon avenue, removed from its original site. Evidence is in existence in plenty to show that this school passed through revolutionary days. South Brooklyn lays indisputable claim to the fifth school established in the present city. It was opened shortly after the revolution in a log house which stood on the Bergen farm lane, west of the junction of Third avenue and Forty-fourth street. A well established claim is advanced that this school was the first organized under the state laws in the city. There is existing evidence that as early as 1810 the district had elected trustees who assumed control of the school under the act passed in 1805.

From 1758 up to the commencement of the present century both the Dutch and the English languages were taught in all these schools, while this double tuition was continued much later in those of Gowanus and Bushwick. In the latter Dutch was still taught in 1830. It is, moreover, a somewhat significant fact that all of these early schools were established in Dutch neighborhoods and were almost entirely under Dutch influence and patronage.

It is surprising to us and almost incredible that Brooklyn's development should have come so slowly despite the early establishment of these various centers of settlement. But Brooklyn is a very modern city as compared with new York, notwithstanding the fact that both communities were settled near the same period. New York's first mayor held office in 1665, while the first of Brooklyn's mayors was chosen only in 1834. Before that it had been part of New York City. At the time of its erection into a separate city the population was less than 25,000. This did not include Bushwick or Williamsburgh, however.

As early as 1795 the legislature of the state appropriated $50,000 a year, during five years, for the encouragement of education, and in 1805 was established the common school fund. The privileges of this act were neglected by Brooklyn, however, until 1813, when school trustees were elected in District No. 1. Three years later the sum of $2,000 was levied in this district, which included the whole village, for the establishment of a school at Kirk's printing office in Adams street, near Sands. The law's unpopularity was made heartily manifest, however, only three days before the day appointed for the opening of the school. The angry citizens arose and retired the trustees who had pushed the plan through. Their successors carried out the measures ordered though and the school opened on time, 552 children being recorded as i n attendance out of a total school population, including all children between the ages of 5 and 15 years, of less than 1,000. The first principal was Judge John Dikeman, who lived to see the school population increase from less than 1,000 to 87,000, and the daily attendance from 73 to more than 62,000. The population of Brooklyn within the same period rose from a paltry $25,000 to upward of a half million. The name of the late Grahams H. Palley is inseparably connected with the development of Brooklyn's school system and its omission would be a grave lapse. To Mr. Palley more than any other man is due the establishment of separate primary schools. The plan was first tried in Williamsburgh and proved conclusively its effectiveness and necessity. Mr. Palley, who was a member of the Williamsburgh Board of Education, gave liberally of his private means and for years maintained almost wholly the pioneer primary schools. Upon the consolidation of the two cities his plan became a permanent part of the educational system.

The school system of Brooklyn entered a new period of development in the year 1843, upon the change from the old district system to that of government by a Board of Education. The act effecting this notable change was passed by the Legislature March 23, 1843. By it the Common Council was empowered to appoint two or more suitable persons to represent each of the school districts, which then numbered ten. The first Board of Education was organized with twenty-eight members, including the Mayor and the County Superintendent. In 1850 the law was changed and the membership of the board fixed at 33, who were to be residents of the city selected so that one at least should reside in each school district. They were nominated and elected by the Common Council alone, the Mayor having no voice in their selection. Consolidation between Brooklyn and Williamsburgh and the Town of Bushwick brought another change in the constitution of the board. The act of 1854 provided for a board of forty-five members, thirteen of whom should reside in the new territory, called the Eastern District. Still the Mayor had no power in their selection and it was not until 1862 that the Legislature vested in the Mayor the power of appointment. It enacted than that between the first days of February and March of 1862 and each succeeding year the Mayor should nominate and a majority of all the members of the Common Council should confirm persons to fill vacancies. The membership was subsequently divided, so that appointees should hold office for three years, one-third retiring yearly.

On the organization of the board in 1855 J.W. Bulkley was elected to the office of city superintendent, which position he held for upward of twenty years, being re-elected each succeeding year.

The Board of Education today is in all essentials the board of which we have been speaking. it has large powers in its hands and uniformly exercises them with prudence and wisdom. The number remains the same as it was forty years ago and is still held in that high public regard that has distinguished it since its foundation. It exercises exclusive control over its finances and its working employees and the educational welfare of the community is placed unreservedly in its hands subject only tot he restraint imposed by an enlightened and keen public opinion. The board's headquarters and the executive offices of the department are, as for many years past, at 131 Livingston street. its membership at present is constituted as follows.

         MEMBERS                                     TERM EXPIRES                                 MEMBERS                       TERM EXPIRES

Frank L. Babbott
Ira Leo Bamberger
J.F. Bendernagel
Robert A. Black
James B. Bouck
Thomas Cacciola
Chas. N. Chadwick
Miss L.M. Chapman
George P. Clark
John J. Colgan
Edward L. Collier
John Y. Culyer
Horace E. Dresser
Carl A. Evertz
George II. Fisher
George Freifeld
Nelson J. Gates
George D. Hamlin
John Harrigan
A.S. Higgins
Franklin W. Hooper
Mrs. M.E. Jacobs
Ditmas Jewell
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Adolph Kiendl
James J. Kirwin
William J. Lynch
Henry W. Maxwell
H.C. McLean
John McNamee
Geo. E. Nostrand
Miss E.H. P erry
Mrs. E.F. Pettengill
Elwin S. Piper
Mrs. J.M. Powell
Chas. E. Robertson
Geo. W. Schaedle
Henry P. Schmidt
Sam'l R. Scottron
J. Edw. Swanstrom
John R. Thompson
James Weir, jr.
John J. Williams
Geo. H. Woodworth
James Wright
Richard Young
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The officers and salaries for the past year were as follows: J. Edward Swanstrom, president; Charles A. Buttrick, vice president; George G. Brown, secretary, $5,000; James H. Tully, assistant secretary, $3,500; William H. Maxwell, superintendent of public instruction, $6,000; Edward G. Ward and John H. Walsh, associate superintendents, $4,500; Albert S. Caswell, director of music, $3,500; W.S. Goodnough, supervisor of drawing, $3,000; Jessie H. Bancroft, director of physical culture, $1,800; J.W. Naughton, superintendent of buildings, $5,000; Frank A. Reagan, assistant superintendent of buildings, $2,500; W.F. Cunningham, chief engineer, $4,250; W.F. Cunningham, chief engineer, $4,250; Emerson W. Keyes, superintendent's secretary, $3,000; Parker P. Simmons, superintendent of book room, $3,000. Mr. Keyes died recently and was replaced by Charles Pitts.

The Board of Education has under its control throughout the city 114 grammar, intermediate and primary schools, a training school for teachers, a high school for boys, a high school for girls, the Erasmus hall High School, a manual training school and a truant school. In all these schools, on October 31, 1896, the Superintendent of Public Instruction reported the number of sittings as 127,568, register 127,571 amd teacjers 2.359. In the high schools, training schools and truant schools there were 4,317 sittings, 4,108 pupils and 161 teachers.

Beside the above mentioned schools, the board conducted a number of evening schools and an evening high school, in which boys and girls, adults and foreigners learning English, were given instruction. In these the enrollment was 7,223 and the attendance 2,785, or 52.4 percent. In addition, there were on December 31, 1895, in orphan asylums and industrial schools receiving public moneys, 1,466 scholars and 77 teachers.

The annual appropriation for schools in Brooklyn for 1896 was $2,986,261.15, of which $2,735,000 was paid by the city and $421,998.15 by the state. The appropriation for the present year is $3,155,000, of which sum $2,000,000 is set aside for teachers' salaries, $120,000 for text books and the remainder for miscellaneous expenditures. The value of school property is $9,000,000. Grammar school principals are paid $2,500 to $3,000; intermediate, $1,800 to $2,500; primary, $1,500 to $1,800, and heads of departments, $1,000 to $1,250.

The presidents of the Board of Education in Brooklyn since it's organization have been:

Name
Cyrus P. Smith
Dr. J. Sullivan Thorne
E.J. Whitlock
Daniel Maujer
Tunios G. Bergen
Robert Payne
Joseph C. Hendrix
James B. Bouck
J. Edward Swanstrom
Period of Service
1855-1868
1868-1870
1870-1881
1881-1882
1882-1886
1886-1887
1887-1893
1893-1894
1894-1897

The superintendents of public instruction in Brooklyn to date have been:

Name
John W. Bulkley
Thomas W. Field
Calvin Patterson
William B. Maxwell
Period of Service
1855-1873
1873-1881
1882-1887
1887-1897

Under the new charter Brooklyn's system will remain distinct, while she will share also in the general school representation of the city. Five members of the city Board of Education are to be chosen by the Brooklyn Borough board above named, w hile the borough chairman ex-officio is a member of the city board. This board is intended to be representative of the school system of the city as a whole and will have general supervision of school moneys and administration. Under its general control will be an annual fund of at least $9,000,000, and school property valued at over $20,000,000.

 

Website: The History Box.com
Article Name: Brooklyn's School System 1898
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina

Source:

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle January 2, 1898
Time & Date Stamp: