Maryland's public school system was officially born in 1865-during the
same time that the Civil War ended, President Abraham Lincoln was
assassinated, and Congress amended the Constitution to abolish slavery.
In an extract from the Proceedings and Acts of the Maryland General
Assembly in 1867 concerning education, the law states: "It shall be the
duty of all teachers, in schools of every grade, to impress upon the
minds of youth…the principles of piety and justice, loyalty and sacred
regard for truth, love of their country, humanity and benevolence,
sobriety, industry and chastity…."
With this law came the standardization of textbooks, rules and
regulations, and the appointment of school commissioners for each
county. These commissioners had the power to change boundaries for
school districts, build schoolhouses, hire teachers, disburse funds and
carry out state policies.
Prior to this time, wealthy landowners considered education a private
matter. That is why education was not addressed in the original Charter
of 1632 for the Maryland colony. However, communities opened schools
when they could afford to financially support them. Records in Charles
County show a tax on exported furs and skins that helped to pay
Some Southern Maryland areas were fortunate to have a wealthy landowner
nearby with a governess. Some of these landowners would allow the local
children to attend lessons for a barter of goods or work. In some
communities a well-educated neighbor would take in students for an
In 1723, the first attempt for free public schools was officially
started. They were very crude structures, no better than a large shed.
Teachers might be "convicts" from Europe, so named for their political
or religious beliefs, or out-of-favor royals. They brought with them the
best European education money could buy. From 1735-54 Maryland issued an
order that schoolmasters be licensed.
During these early years, churches would also rise to meet the need for
education. In Port Tobacco Parish in Charles County the Reverend Lemuel
Wilmer provided land and money to start a free public school "for 100
children living in the vicinity without regard to their sect, sex or
Legislators appropriated one high school per county in the 1865 law, and
these schools were to accommodate males and females. Studies included
English, sciences, Latin, Greek and math. At least one year of Latin was
required with an option for a second; one year of Greek was also an
option for students lucky enough to be able to stay in school that long.
Until the high schools were built, private academies received state
funding to accommodate the students seeking higher education, such as
the McDonough Institute in La Plata.
Maurice McDonough, a traveling salesman who settled in Charles County,
left money in a trust for free education upon his death in 1804. The
Maryland State Legislature incorporated the trust in 1807, and the
trustees decided to create McDonough Institute, which served as the only
high school in the county for years.
When a free public high school was finally built, McDonough Institute
was sold, but the seeds of Maurice McDonough have continued to be placed
into good ground by way of students seeking aid toward a college
The 1865 "one high school per county" law also opened the door for
African-American children to receive a free education, but only if the
taxes collected from African-American residents were sufficient to cover
the expenses. Even though the Emancipation Proclamation freed
African-Americans in 1863, segregation became the standard.
After graduating from the State Normal School, and before teachers were
allowed to teach in Maryland, they had to obtain a three-year
certificate that was issued by the state superintendent, or by the
president of the county board.
Regina Brown was appointed to a one-room African-American school in
Wallville, Calvert County, in 1931. "I was principal, teacher,
secretary, custodian and trouble-shooter," she said in a memoir written
in 1976, which was published by the Maryland Retired Teachers
"The room was about 15 feet by 15 feet with space for a dozen desks for
pupils. The smaller children sat three to a desk. On days of good
attendance the overflow sat on the floor in the aisle and used
flat-topped logs for desktops. Our supplies consisted of textbooks, a
register, one box of white chalk, a water pail and dipper and one corn
broom," recalled Brown.
"The customary airtight stove was the only source of heat," wrote Brown.
"Each morning as I took my two-mile walk to school, I was joined by
children as I passed their homes. We walked along together, the group
growing larger as we approached the schoolhouse. I knew my pupils
personally and was acquainted with their families and home lives."
The requirements for Maryland teachers in the 1860s-Caucasian or
African-American-were the same. Teachers were required to be single; to
attend to the students from 9 a.m. until about 4 p.m., or when the
classroom was clear of students and cleaned for the next day; to serve a
10-month term; and to provide for or prepare lunch for the entire class.
There was only one huge difference-the salary for African-Americans was
about half of their counterparts.
In 1937, the Maryland State Colored Teachers Association filed a
petition seeking a Writ of Mandamus to compel officials "to adopt and
establish salary schedules for teachers and principals in Calvert
County, without distinction as to race or color of teacher." Salaries
were equalized in 1939.
Elizabeth Brown said in her memoir written for the Retired Teachers
Association of Calvert County: "The case became a turning point of the
salary equalization fight in Maryland and what happened in Maryland
affected the entire South. I consider it an honor to have had the
opportunity to be a plaintiff and to be part of an event that resulted
in a positive change in the status of teachers in this state."
Regardless of race, most schools prior to 1900 started much the same
way. At 9 a.m. the students lined up from the first graders to the
eighth graders. Opening exercises began with a student reading
scripture, the class stating their Pledge of Allegiance, then singing a
song like My Country Tis of Thee or Maryland my Maryland. Older students
often helped students in the lower grades to ease the teacher's burden.
Class size would fluctuate with the seasons and the workload on the
nearby farms. The most popular recess games included baseball, or fox
and hounds. A student chosen to be the fox had to leave a trail of torn
paper pieces and the students would give chase.
For all schools an outhouse was a luxury. The students pitched in to get
their school functioning. Boys would clear the vines and weeds that grew
up during the summer to make a walkway to the local stream or well for
water. Girls would clean the windows, or sweep the floor.
"The one and two-room schoolhouse brought teacher and student in close
contact daily, which was a wonderful way to learn and participate in the
growing up of children and attempting to help them with their daily
problems. With no discipline problems, the children were ready to learn
and cooperate with each other toward the work of teaching and learning,"
wrote Pauline William Bennett, a Caucasian schoolteacher from 1912-1917
at Port Republic, Calvert County, in her memoir written for the Maryland
Retired Teachers Association.
"The community school bonded the neighborhood together with a singleness
of purpose that has been lost," wrote Jane G. Wheeler, a teacher at
Charles County's Sandyfield School, in her memoir written for the
Maryland Retired Teachers Association.
Southern Maryland's One- and Two-Room Schoolhouses
Port Republic School Number 7 was built in 1870 and closed in 1932. It
is located on the grounds of Christ Church on Broomes Island Road (Route
264). Period furnishings recreate the quaint era of education. The
school is open for tours on Sunday from June-August from 2-4 p.m., but
may change, so call ahead. Group and individual visits can be arranged
by calling Joan Gott at 410-326-0873, or Carol Khalily at 410-586-0161.
Free; donation box.
Wallville Colored One-Room Schoolhouse was built around the late 19th
century and used until 1934. It is located on Dares Beach Road, Prince
Frederick, next to Calvert Elementary School. The building should be
ready to tour in fall 2007. Reproduced furnishings were based on the
1930s era. The school is owned by the Board of Education and jointly
operated by the Friends of Old Wallville School, Inc. They are currently
looking for smaller implements, pencils, tablets and interpretive signs.
They would also like a docent training program and brochures. The group
is also working with the Calvert County school system to create a
curriculum for a history of teaching, African-American history and
education history. Call Harry Wedewer at 410-474-3868, or Kirsti Uunila
at 410-535-1600, ext. 2504. Free.
Port Tobacco One-Room Schoolhouse is located at 7215 Chapel Point Rd.,
Port Tobacco. The school is the original structure built in
approximately 1876. Originally a segregated Caucasian school, it became
an African-American school from 1924-1953. The school is now restored
and furnished with items from the early time period. Open from July
1-Aug. 31, Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday, from noon to 4 p.m. Call
301-934-6064 or 934-8836. Free.
McConchie One-Room African-American School was built in 1912 and used
until 1954. Then it became a home and later a commercial office. It was
moved to the Charles County Fairgrounds in the early 1990s and is open
for pre-arranged tours year round. It is furnished with typical desks
used at that time and includes books for early learning and advanced
education. Call Jim Arnold at 301-932-1234. Free.
St. Mary's County
The Little Red Schoolhouse, built about 1820 and once located in
Charlotte Hall, is now at the St. Clement's Island Museum. The
schoolhouse is available for tours during regular business hours of the
museum, which is open all year. Admission to the museum includes the
schoolhouse; $3 for adults, $2 for seniors or military, $1.50 for
children 5-18, and free for age five or under. Guided tour groups of 20
or more are $2 per person. The furnishings are not authentic but are
items that would have been from the period the school was in use. Call
Kim Cullins or Christina Clagett at 301-769-2222.
Drayden African-American One-Room Schoolhouse is in its original
location at 18287 Cherryfield Rd., Drayden. It was built with cast-off
from white schools sometime in the late 19th century and closed in 1944.
The exterior has been refurbished, but there are no interior furnishings
yet. Tours for 20 people or more costs $2 for adults and $1 for
students. School coordinators are currently looking for things that came
from the school, or photos and records of it. Chris Barbour is also
available for outreach program education to non-profits, schools and
community groups. Call Chris Barbour at 301-769-4723 or 301-769-2222.