Message Area
lblHidCurrentSponsorAdIndex =

  < Back to Table Of Contents  < Back to Topic: Who We Were, Where We've Been

article number 463
article date 07-07-2015
copyright 2015 by Author else SaltOfAmerica
Evolution of Our Education System. Example: Missouri 1900
by Walter Williams

From the 1904 book, The State of Missouri, an Autobiography. The book was commissioned for the Louisiana Purchase Exposition as a promotion by the State of Missouri.

* * *

MISSOURI has the largest permanent productive school fund of any State in the Union.

In the United States, in 1900, 13.4 million children attended school, or 17.5 per cent of the population. In Missouri in the same year, 600,000 children attended school, or 19.4 per cent of the population.

The school attendance for Missouri was above that for the United States at every age period.

From 5 to 7 years, the attendance in Missouri was 50.3 per cent, while in the United States it was 48.1 per cent.

From 10 to 14 years, the attendance in Missouri was 83.4 per cent, and in the United States only 79.8 per cent.

From 15 to 20 years, the attendance in Missouri was 31.2 per cent, while in the United States it was 26.8 per cent.

The effect of education upon illiteracy is shown by the census figures of three decades. Here again Missouri leads.
◘ In 1880 the percentage of illiterates in Missouri was 13.4, while in the United States it was 17.
◘ In 1890 it had fallen for the United States to 13.3 per cent, while in Missouri it had decreased to 9.1 per cent.
◘ In 1900 the percentage for the United States was 10.7, while in Missouri it had fallen to the very low percentage of 6.4.

The decrease in illiteracy in Missouri has been absolute as well as relative. The actual number of illiterates in 1880 was 209,000, while in 1900 there were only 153,000. During the same period the actual number of illiterates in the United States, outside of Missouri had increased.

Missouri has school property valued at $42.6 million. Nearly eleven million dollars are annually expended for schools.


There is a total enrollment in Missouri schools of 781,000 pupils, with 20,000 teachers.

There are in the State 283 public high schools, with 23,880 pupils; 9,119 rural and 623 city and town districts.

Over 25 per cent of the total amount spent for Missouri public schools comes from State taxation and interest on public funds. The Missouri school idea is a mean between entire local control and local taxation on the one hand, and large State control and State taxation upon the other.

The Missouri constitution requires that at least one-fourth of the State revenue be set apart for the public schools.

The legislature, however, has for years, set apart one-third for the purpose, not including amounts for the State University and normal schools. This is unexcelled by any other State in the Union.

Missouri expends in a single year for schools, public, private and denominational, $11 million. This is nearly ten per cent of the entire assessed valuation of the State. It is more than four times as much as is expended upon all the branches of the State government, legislative, judicial, and executive, excepting schools.

Missouri expends annually for schools more than the entire cost of the State governments of Iowa and Kansas, or of Illinois and Nebraska combined. The average rate of school tax is 57 cents on the $100 valuation.


The enumeration shows a grand total of 974,923 children of school age, 6 to 20 years;
◘ white—male, 471,522;
◘ white-female, 454,949;
TOTAL, 926,471;

◘ colored-male, 24,543;
◘ colored-female, 23,909;
TOTAL, 48,452.

The total permanent school funds, State school, seminary, county school, township school, and special district, aggregate $13 million. Private and church schools have an endowment of $9 million.

The school enrollment is 704,193; divided as follows:
White-male, 338,927;
White-female, 334,009;
TOTAL, 672,936.

Colored-male, 14,760;
Colored-female, 16,497;
TOTAL, 31,259.

There are 10,101 school houses for white children in Missouri, and 450 for colored children. The two races have separate schools.


The general average for teachers’ wages in the district schools is $308.52.

There are 350,000 volumes in the district school libraries of Missouri.

By the time Missouri came into the Union, educational sentiment had become quite general within her borders. The liberal grants of land from the Federal Government for educational purposes had the double effect of emphasizing the educational needs of the new country and of lightening the burdens of the people in meeting them.


The original constitution of the State. adopted in 1820, made provision for free schools and called the attention
of the legislature to the importance of a State University.

In the language of the revised constitution of 1865, “A general diffusion of knowledge and intelligence being essential to the preservation of the rights and liberties of the people, the General Assembly shall establish and maintain free schools for the gratuitous instruction of all persons in this State between the ages of 5 and 21 years.” The revision of 1875 Changed the period of free schooling to that between the ages of 6 and 20 years.

The early legislatures took up the important matter of providing free schools and following sessions have revised and added to existing laws.

With the decadence of the old sentiments which brought the private schools into existence the public school took on new life and power. Support came more cheerfully, better equipment resulted and teachers of higher qualifications were in demand.

A united pride in the public school and its willing support gave it a growth and popularity which few States have known. Within the last decade Missouri has perhaps invested a larger per cent of her wealth in public school property than has any other State in the same period.

This is especially true of the public high school. Only a generation ago the primary schools of this class which were respectably housed could he enumerated in numbers of one figure; to-day they are numbered by scores, and the growth in efficiency seems to have been commensurate with that of physical equipment.

As late as 1890 only 23 high schools were accredited by the State University, now 122 are so accredited—a growth of over 450 per cent—notwithstanding the requirements for such honor have been increased within the period. The popularity of the public high school, as marked by this increased equipment and greater scholarship, is well founded and will endure.

A much larger percentage of Missouri children are now in school, a larger percentage of the entire school enrollment are now in the public high school, and a larger percentage of the population are now in higher institutions of learning than at any previous time.

These facts need no comment further than the statement that they are the result of a growth in educational sentiment rather than merely an expression of our increased wealth.


The public school statistics of Missouri show these interesting figures:
◘ school districts—rural, 9,119;
◘ school districts—city and town, 623;
◘ teachers—rural, 10,393;
◘ teachers—city and town, 6,530;
◘ enumeration—rural, 482,284;
◘ enumeration—city and town, 492,639;
◘ enrollment—rural, 402,495;
◘ enrollment—city and town, 301,248;
◘ average length of term in days—rural, 126;
◘ average length of term in days—city and town, 171.

Three and three-fourths per cent of the pupils enrolled are in the high schools. The high school graduates numbered last year 7,143.


Early in the history of this State when there were no free schools of the secondary grade, the churches came to the front and provided academies which were the worthy forerunners of the present system of high schools. The academies did almost nothing with the higher branches of knowledge until the wonderful development of the public school system provided the high school for the field occupied by the academy.

To avoid competition with the free school and to meet a new demand, that for higher education, these academies took up the advanced work and more nearly occupied the sphere of the college.

The importance of these transitional institutions which came in our day of need and which have changed their sphere of activity from time to time as the varying needs of the community dictated, can not be overestimated. Founded by the churches, their faculties were composed of Christian men and women whose sterling worth was an important factor in fostering high character and noble ideals among our people.

The academy or college, as frequently called and sometimes properly, at once became the center of influence for culture in its community and as its students went out into the surrounding country to teach or preach or build homes, the culture of the college life went with them. As remarked by an observing citizen of the State: “One can easily detect the influence of the college life whenever he comes within fifty miles of one of these institutions.”

The product of these modest forerunners of the present high school and the modern college became the patrons and champions of our institutions of broader culture, thus bringing to this and future generations a rich heritage in consequence of the wisdom, self-sacrifice and earnest labors of the pioneers.

Many of these academies passed out of existence when the public high school came to occupy their sphere of activity. Others moved up to a higher plane and continue to serve an important purpose by giving an opportunity for higher work preparing for a University.

In these institutions many boys and girls who have graduated from the high school, but are yet young and immature, may pursue their college work near home and in an atmosphere more congenial to their present needs than that of a larger and higher institution.

Whatever may be said concerning the present need of the advanced academy and small college, all thoughtful people must acknowledge a debt of gratitude to them for the important service they rendered during the formative period of our public school system and of the State University.

In all the schools of Missouri are employed 20,166 teachers. Of these 16,923 are in the public schools, 185 in the State University and Normal schools, 90 in other State institutions, 1,417 in private colleges and academies, and 1,551 in parochial and other private elementary schools.


The number of pupils enrolled is 780,541, divided thus:
◘ public, elementary, and high schools, 704,193;
◘ State University and normal schools, 5,086;
◘ State institutions for defectives, 954;
◘ private colleges and academies, 22,072;
◘ parochial and other private elementary schools, 48,236.

The annual expenditure of $10,959,828 for Missouri schools is thus divided:
◘ public, elementary and high schools, $8,363,128;
◘ State institutions, University and normal schools, $680,000;
◘ State institutions for defectives, $274,000;
◘ private colleges and academies, $1,307,700;
◘ parochial and other private elementary schools, $335,000.

There is a school in easy reach of every child in Missouri.


The estimated value of school property is divided as follows:
◘ public, elementary and high schools, $23,339,117;
◘ State University and normals, $2,475,000;
◘ State institutions for defectives, $1,295,000;
◘ private colleges and academies, $11,531,000;
◘ parochial and other private elementary schools, $3,960,000;
TOTAL, $42,600,117.

Missouri’s first normal school was a private enterprise, founded by a man whose educational enthusiasm amounted almost to inspiration. The founder’s ambition was to prepare teachers in mind and spirit for the duty of teaching the youth of the land, a service which he regarded as sacred.

The nature of Doctor Joseph Baldwin’s work gave the community a high idea of the teacher’s calling. It turned the public thought from the school master to the school teacher—from the stern commander to the sympathetic leader.

Public sentiment rapidly crystallized in favor of making this useful school a State institution. The legislature responded to this desire in 1871, and also established the normal school at Warrensburg, dedicating both schools to the preparation of teachers for the public schools of the State.

In 1873 the legislature placed its seal of approval upon the State normal school by providing for one in the southeast district, locating it at Cape Girardeau. The attendance upon these schools has always shown public confidence in their usefulness.

About 3,000 prospective teachers are instructed in these schools annually. The faculties are composed of men and women of superior training and exceptional skill.


Missouri has looked well to the educational opportunities of the children of her colored people, and has provided, in
Lincoln Institute at Jefferson City, one of the best schools in the country for the preparation of colored teachers. The nature of the work of this normal school differs from that of the others only as the different needs and aptitude of the race seem to require.

The courses of instruction are broad, the management is liberal, and the faculty consists of the best colored educators the State can procure. Perhaps the most marked feature of this institution is its department of agriculture and manual industries, in which it takes high rank.


Separate schools in Missouri for white and colored children, supported by equal taxation, do not imply any less privilege for the children of the colored race. Indeed the colored children are, by statute, given advantage.

The white child has free tuition in the district of his residence, but must pay tuition if he goes to another district. The colored child, on the contrary, if the district in which he resides is too small to maintain a colored school, may go, at the expense of the taxpayers of the district, to school in any other district.

< Back to Top of Page