1902 Encyclopedia > New York City > Education. Libraries. Periodical Press.

New York City
(Part 5)




Education. Libraries. Periodical Press.

Education. – The Dutch West India Company, which settled the island of Manhattan , was bound by its charter to provide school-masters as well as ministers for its colonists. The company consequently maintained schools from the beginning, and private schools were also soon established and drew pupils even from other colonies. When the colony passed into the possession of England, the schools of the city still continued in the hands of the Dutch Church and ministers, and were supported by them, receiving little or no aid from the Government. At a later period, the desire of the new rulers to hasten the substitution of the English for the Dutch language in the colony led to an attempt by the colonial Government to reserve to itself the appointment of the schoolmasters, but it was not successful. Down to the middle of the 17th century the bulk of the population remained Dutch, and the support and control of the schools remained with the Dutch church. The only outward sign of the growth of English influence during this period was the establishment of the still existing trinity school, in 1710, in connection with the Anglican Church. About the middle of the century the tide of English emigration, which has never since ceased, began to flow in, and English influence in educational matters began to gain the ascendancy. In 1754 King’s College, afterwards Columbia College, was established, and, after a short struggle to preserve it from denominational control, became distinctively an Anglican institution. Before the Revolution the English language had practically carried the day, and taken possession of the schools, colleges, and churches; but the political troubles which preceded the outbreak of the war, and the occupation of the city by the royal army during the war, closed them all, and for nearly ten years suspended all educational progress.

It was not until over ten years after the revolution that the State legislature took any steps for the establishment of a system of popular education in the State at large. But within three years after the peace the beginnings were made in New York in the form which has made the educational history of the city so peculiar, namely, as a charitable organization. In 1785 the Manumission Society established free schools for the poor colored children of the city, and they were continued under the same auspices until 1794. A Quaker society, known as the "Female Association for the Relief of the Poor," in the manner opened a school for white girls in 1802, and the organization extended its operations and continued them until 1846. It was the means of suggesting the formation in 1805 of the association known as the "Free School Society," and afterwards as the "Public School Society," which has played so important a part in the education in New York. These were both charitable societies, and at first only sought to provide for children unconnected with the churches of various denominations, all of which maintained schools of their own. Of the Free School Society the mayor, recorder, aldermen, and assistant aldermen were made ex-officio members, and membership was open to all citizens offering contributions to the funds. This society was in 1826 converted into a still larger and more powerful one with a new charter, called the Public School Society, which continued to have charge of popular education in the city until 1853. it was supported in part by voluntary contributions, in part by subscriptions from those who desired to share in its management, and in a small degree by a contribution from the school fund of the State. For fifty years it may be sad to have done all that was done for popular education in New York city, and its existence caused the exemption of the city for nearly thirty years from the operation of the common-school system established in the rest of the State, under which the schools were managed by trustees elected by the voters of each school district. During its existence 600,000 children passed through its schools, and it expended every year a large and increasing revenue, and when dissolved turned over $600,000 to the city. It gradually became plain, however, that the work of popular education in a large city was too great to be carried on by a charitable association, however able or energetic. In 1842 New York was brought under the system prevailing in the rest of the State, but the Public School Society was permitted to continue its existence and retain control of its own schools. It was found, after a few years’ trial, that the society could not flourish in competition with the official organization, and in 1853 it was voluntary dissolved, and its schools and property handed over to the city authorities, by whom the work of popular education has ever since been carried on.

The municipal board of education was at first composed of representatives elected by the different wards, but in 1864 the city was divided into school districts of equal school population, each of which sends three commissioners to the board. The ward schools were left in the control of elected trustees subject only to a somewhat ill-defined power of supervision at the hands of a central board. This was found to work so badly, owing to the low character of many of the elected trustees, that in 1873 the whole system was reorganized. The power of appointing the twenty-one commissioners of the board of education, and three inspectors for each of the eight school districts, was given to the mayor, and to the commissioners the power of appointing five school trustees for each ward. The commissioners and inspectors hold office for three years, and trustees for five. As an outgrowth of the common-school system there is a normal college for the education of teachers, with a model school connected with it, and also the college of the city of New York, which began in 1848 as a free academy for the advanced pupils who had left the common schools. It was empowered to grant degrees in 1854, and was formally converted into a university in 1866.

The total number of scholars attending the city schools in 1882 was 289,917, and the number of professor and teachers employed was 2544. an Act providing for compulsory education was passed by the legislature in 1874, and came into operation in the city in 1875. it compels every person in the control or charge of any children between the ages of eight and fourteen to cause them to attend some public or private school at least fourteen weeks in each year, eight weeks of which are to be consecutive, or the pupils are to be instructed regularly at home at least fourteen weeks in each year in spelling, reading, writing, English grammar, and arithmetic. The law is enforced in the city by the city superintendent, who has twelve assistants known as "agents of truancy."

The schools, colleges, and other institutions not connected officially with the Government are very numerous, beginning with Columbia Colleges, founded in 1754, and now the oldest university in the State, and the richest in the United States. Though not formally denominational, it is managed chiefly by members of the Protestant Episcopal Church. It has well-equipped law, medical, and mining schools, besides its academic department, a library of about 20,000 volumes, and a rapidly growing income from advance of its property in the city. There are also several denominational colleges belonging to Catholics, which offer a full course from the primary to the most advanced stage; and two theological seminaries, one the Protestant Episcopal, and the other the Union Theological Seminary, belonging to the Presbyterians. The endowment of the non-sectarian University of the City of New York is small, so that it makes but little figure in the educational field. There are also numerous medical colleges, and a large number of private schools frequently by children of the wealthier classes.

Libraries. – The principal public libraries are the Astor Library, the Mercantile Library, and the New York Society Library, which have been described in LIBRARIES, vol. xiv. pp. 535. 536.

Periodical Press. – There is probably nothing in which New York more nearly occupies the place of a metropolis than in the position of its periodical press towards that of the rest of the country. See NEWSPAPERS, supra, p. 434. The modern American newspaper may indeed be said to have originated in New York, which is naturally the chief center for foreign news, as well the chief financial and commercial center, and the chief entrepot of foreign goods. In fact, as early as 1840 it had become plain that any one proposing to address the whole country through the press could address it more effectively from New York than from any other point. As population has spread and other cities have grown in wealth and numbers, New York newspapers have of course lost more or less of their early superiority, but they are still more widely read than any others, and absorb more of whatever journalistic talent there may be in the country. In the field of literary and artistic and musical criticism they are exposed to but little competition from any quarter. The periodical literature of the city is now very large; there is hardly an interest or shade of opinion, religious or political, which does not possess a New York organ, as the subjoined table will show: -

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