Give Now

Moment of Indiana History

Advocating For Better Schools

in 1840, 1 in every 10 white citizens in Indiana above the age of 21 could neither read nor write, an illiteracy rate matching that of Mississippi.

the interior of a mid-nineteenth-century schoolhouse

Photo: Dave Tabler

Education in Indiana in the middle of the nineteenth century was hit-or-miss.

In October 1846, an unknown editor printed the second edition of The Common School Advocate, a short-lived Indiana publication dedicated to inspiring Hoosiers to support the cause of quality public education for all children.

Today, Indiana’s schoolchildren are taught according to standards established for each grade and each subject; their teachers must be properly degreed and qualified to teach their subjects.

In the mid-nineteenth century, many pupils received an education of questionable quality from a wide variety of instructors. The author of the Advocate recommended following the example of neighboring states including Ohio and Illinois, who had set standards for their teachers, and he charged that in Indiana “if a teacher can teach spelling in words of two syllables, and has a good character, a certificate can be obtained, and the public money appropriated for his services.” The result was “the wretched and beggarly preparation of a vast amount of our children for the great purposes of life that are before them.”

The Common School Advocate also recommended that citizens be willing to pay respectable wages to teachers and not aim to hire the candidate willing to work for the lowest wages; and that parents take an active interest in their children’s schools: “In order to keep up a good school, you must visit it, you must watch over it, encourage it by your counsel.”

The author ended with a sobering statistic: in 1840, 1 in every 10 white citizens in Indiana above the age of 21 could neither read nor write, pairing the Hoosier state with Mississippi in its failure to educate all of its residents.

Source: “The Earliest Indiana School Journal,” Indiana Magazine of History vol. 6 (September 1910)

A Moment of Indiana History is a production of WFIU Public Radio in partnership with the Indiana Public Broadcasting Stations. Research support comes from Indiana Magazine of History published by the Indiana University Department of History.

Stay Connected

What is RSS? RSS makes it possible to subscribe to a website's updates instead of visiting it by delivering new posts to your RSS reader automatically. Choose to receive some or all of the updates from Moment of Indiana History:

Support For Indiana Public Media Comes From

About Moment of Indiana History

Search Moment of Indiana History

WFIU is on Twitter