History of education in Chicago

History of education in Chicago covers the schools of the city since the 1830s. It includes all levels as well as public, private and parochial schools. For the recent history since the 1970s see Chicago Public Schools

Public schools

Children returning to class following a fire drill at a Chicago elementary school, 1973. Photo by John H. White.

According to John L. Rury, the first small private schools were established as Chicago began to expand in the late 1830s. Eliza Chappell was probably the city's first public school teacher, but most teachers were young men from New England. All the schools were makeshift with rudimentary facilities that served only a fraction of the city's children. As late as the 1860s one teacher would supervise classes numbering a hundred or more, with his students ranging in age from 4 to 17. Schoolhouses were adapted from existing structures. When Chicago received its charter in 1837, volunteer examiners were appointed to oversee the schools, but funding remained meager. In 1845, an inspector reported schools housed in temporary quarters, crowded, poorly equipped, and foul-smelling. The first public school building was erected in 1845 and ridiculed as “Miltimore's Folly,” after a teacher who had suggested its necessity. In 1848, Mayor James Hutchinson Woodworth argued the urgent need for a better public school system. The city council agreed. The mayor's plea reflected his experience as a former teacher, and was designed to attract productive citizens. By 1850, less than a fifth of eligible children were enrolled in public schools. Larger numbers attended private and parochial schools, but thousands did not enroll at all, particularly older children. Public school classes remained large, often conducted in poorly maintained rooms and with inadequate materials. Parents who could afford better education usually hired private tutors.[1] Chicago's population expanded with tens of thousands of new arrivals annually from the East and from Europe. In 1835 the state legislature authorized a public school system with taxpayer financing, and the city's 1837 charter strengthened the scaffolding. Chicago rapidly opened public elementary schools, for grades 1-8. By 1848 there were 8 teachers and 818 students. John Clark Dore, a Boston teacher and principal, became Chicago's first school superintendent in 1854, when there were 34 teachers and 3,000 students. When he resigned in 1856, enrollment had doubled to 6,100, 46 new instructors had been hired, and four new schools (including the first high school) had been constructed.[2] Annual salaries were $500 for men and $250 for women. To save money the schools began hiring young women who wanted to teach before they married and had to resign. To train the teachers the city established "normal school" programs—a two-year course for graduates of 8th grade. The handful of new 4-year high schools also offered 2-year normal curricula.[3] Typical was Ella Flagg Young; her family arrived in 1858 from Buffalo, New York. In 1860, at age 15, she entered the Chicago Normal School, graduating in 1862, she taught for three years as an elementary teacher. Instead of marriage she embarked on a career in administration. In 1865 she was appointed director of the small pre-collegiate "practice school" newly opened at Scammon School.[4]

Progressive education


Francis Wayland Parker (1837–1902), John Dewey (1859–1952), Ella Flagg Young (1845–1918), Jane Addams (1860–1935) and William Wirt (1874–1938) were five of the nation's most influential educational theorists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Each was based in Chicago around 1900 and influenced many disciples there. They played decisive roles in shaping what was known as Progressive Education in Chicago.[5] Thanks to them Chicago played a central role in defining the educational ambitions of the Progressive Movement nationwide.[6]

Parker studied in Germany and became a superintendent in Massachusetts where he developed his Quincy Method, which eliminated harsh discipline and de-emphasized rote memorization, replacing them with elements of progressive education, such as group activities, the teaching of the arts and sciences, and informal methods of instruction. He rejected tests, grading and ranking systems. As principal of the Cook County Normal School in Chicago (1883–99) he experimented with ways to expand and develop his curriculum. For example, reading, spelling, and writing were merged into a new subject called "communication." Art and physical education were added to the curriculum. He taught science through the study of nature. In 1899, Parker founded and served as principal (1899–1901) for a private experimental school, the Chicago Institute, which became the School of Education of the University of Chicago in 1901.[7]

John Dewey ranged widely over the main topics of philosophy, but he returned again and again to the nature of education in an ideal society, and that was his main concern during his years in Chicago (1894–1904) at the University of Chicago .[8] He worked there with Ella Flagg Young and founded the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, where his disciples tested his ideas in actual classrooms.[9]

Ella Flagg Young was superintendent of Chicago Public Schools. 1909–1915, where she operationalized Dewey's progressivism. She was the first woman to head a large city school system—it had 290,000 enrolled students and owned property worth $50,000,000. Her salary of $10,000 was the highest any woman had received in a government job in the U.S. She also served as the first woman president of the National Education Association. She was a professor of education at the University of Chicago (1899–1905); became principal of the Chicago Normal School (1905–1909); she served on the Illinois State Board of Education from 1888 to 1913. She published extensively on Deweyite themes.[10]

William Wirt, the superintendent in nearby Gary, Indiana, won national acclaim for his Gary Plan. It set up a two platoon system so that twice as many students could use the same facilities, which were expanded to include shops, labs, auditoriums and playgrounds. Wirt learned Dewey's ideas while he was in graduate school in Chicago and tried to put them in action. Dewey and other educators highly praised the experiment, while business admired the cost efficiency. Labor union objections were overruled and in the 1920s Chicago was using the platoon system in some schools.[11]

Chicago-style educational theorizing influenced intellectuals across the nation, but it was less convincing to school superintendents and school board members who had to make daily decisions about the shape and budget of schooling. They paid more attention to business oriented progressivism, which emphasized administrative efficiency as measured by low taxes. As sociologists discovered, "In the struggle between quantitative administrative efficiency and qualitative educational goals...th big guns are all on the side of ...the former."[12] On the other hand, in elite private schools with high tuitions, satisfaction of the wealthy parents is decisive, and the intellectuals like Dewey prevailed.[13]

Catholic parochial schools


Almost half the Chicago population was Catholic by the 1920s. Many children—perhaps half—attended public schools. The risk of exposure to Protestant proslytizing was minimal since over a third of the public school teachers were Catholics, along with almost as many principals. The parishes built their own schools, using sisters (who had taken vows of poverty) as inexpensive teachers. German and Polish parents appreciated that the schools taught most classes in their own language. Cardinal George Mundelein (archbishop 1915-1939) centralized control of the parish schools in his own hands. His building committee decided where new schools would be located, while his school board standardized curricula, textbooks, teacher training, testing, and educational policy. Simultaneously he gained a voice in city hall, and Catholic William J. Bogan became Superintendent of public schools.[14]

Depression and war, 1929–1945


The Great Depression in the United States hit Chicago hard. Unemployment reached 25% in 1932, and city revenues plunged. Teachers were paid in script (notes the city promised to redeem) which rapidly lost value. By February 1933, public school teachers had been unpaid for eight months. New Deal programs helped the unemployed, the WPA built 30 new schools at no cost to the city, and the NYA operated its own high schools. The New Deal built many new school facilities, but did not directly fund the public schools. Programs were cut (especially the new junior college system), teachers and staff were laid off, salary scales were cut. Fewer students dropped out because they could not find jobs.[15][16]

In 1937, the city was hit by a polio outbreak which resulted in the Chicago Board of Health ordering schools to be closed during what was supposed to be the start of the school year. The school closure wound up lasting three weeks. Superintendent William Johnson and assistant superintendent Minnie Fallon managed to provide the instruction to the city's elementary school students by providing at-home distance education through radio broadcasts.[17][18] This was the first large-scale implementation of radio broadcasting for distance education.[19]

See also



  1. ^ John L. Rury, "Schools and Education" in Encyclopedia of Chicago (2004).
  2. ^ Mary J. Herrick, The Chicago Schools (1971) pp 21-54.
  3. ^ Bessie Louise Pierce, A History of Chicago. Vol. 1, The Beginning of a City, 1673–1848 (1937) pp. 268–285.
  4. ^ Joan K. Smith, "Ella Flagg Young and the Chicago Schools, 1905-1915."
  5. ^ Arthur Zilversmit, "Progressive Education" in Encyclopedia of Chicago (2004) pp. 648-649; online
  6. ^ Each is discussed in Lawrence A. Cremin, The transformation of the school: progressivism in American education, 1876-1957 (1964) online
  7. ^ Franklin Parker, "Francis Wayland Parker, 1837‐1902." Paedagogica Historica 1.1 (1961): 120-133.
  8. ^ Robert B. Westbrook, John Dewey and American democracy (Cornell UP, 1991) pp. 167–192.
  9. ^ Ellen Condliffe Lagemann, . "Experimenting with education: John Dewey and Ella Flagg Young at the University of Chicago." American Journal of Education 104.3 (1996): 171-185.
  10. ^ Joan K. Smith, "Progressive School Administration Ella Flagg Young and the Chicago Schools, 1905-1915". Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society (1980) 73#1: 27–44.
  11. ^ Herrick, 148-151.
  12. ^ Robert S. Lynd, and Helen M. Lynd, Middletown in transition: A study in cultural conflicts (1937) p. 241.
  13. ^ David B. Tyack, The one best system: A history of American urban education (1974), p. 197.
  14. ^ James W. Sanders, The education of an urban minority: Catholics in Chicago, 1833-1965 (Oxford UP, 1977) pp. 126-136, 147-160.
  15. ^ Roger Biles, "New Deal" in Encyclopedia of Chicago(2004) online
  16. ^ Herrick, pp. 187–230.
  17. ^ Strauss, Valerie; Hines, Michael. "Perspective | In Chicago, schools closed during a 1937 polio epidemic and kids learned from home — over the radio". Washington Post. Retrieved 16 August 2021.
  18. ^ "Delay Opening on Orders of Health Board. Chicago Tribune. 9.1.1937". www.newspapers.com. Chicago Tribune. 1 September 1937. Retrieved 16 August 2021.
  19. ^ Foss, Katherine A. (5 October 2020). "Remote learning isn't new: Radio instruction in the 1937 polio epidemic". The Conversation. Retrieved 16 August 2021.

Further reading

  • Beck, John M. “The Public Schools and the Chicago Newspapers: 1890-1920.” School Review 62#5 1954, pp. 288–95. online
  • Burbank, Lyman B. “Chicago Public Schools and the Depression Years of 1928-1937.” Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society 64#4 1971, pp. 365–81. online
  • Carl, Jim. " 'Good Politics Is Good Government': The Troubling History of Mayoral Control of the Public Schools in Twentieth‐Century Chicago." American Journal of Education 115#2, 2009, pp. 305–36. online
  • Gutowski, Thomas Walter. "THE HIGH SCHOOL AS AN ADOLESCENT-RAISING INSTITUTION: AN INNER HISTORY OF CHICAGO PUBLIC SECONDARY EDUCATION, 1856-1940" (PhD dissertation, University of Chicago, 1978; ProQuest Dissertations Publishing,  1978. T-26947).
  • Herrick, Mary J. The Chicago schools: a social and political history (1971) online the major scholarly history.
  • Hogan, David. Class and Reform: School and Society in Chicago, 1880–1930 (1985). online
  • Hogan, David. "Education and the making of the Chicago working class, 1880–1930." History of Education Quarterly 18.3 (1978): 227–270.
  • Krueger, Stacey. "Fighting and Building for Liberatory Education: A Conjunctural Analysis of Chicago's Alternative Schools" (PhD dissertation, University of Illinois at Chicago, 2022).
  • Lyons, John F. Teachers and reform: Chicago public education, 1929-1970 (U of Illinois Press, 2008); focus on Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) excerpt
  • McManis, John T. Ella Flagg Young and a half-century of the Chicago public schools (1916) online
  • Peterson, Paul E. School politics Chicago style (U of Chicago Press, 1976) online, a major scholarly study of 1970s.
  • Rury, John L. “Race, Space, and the Politics of Chicago’s Public Schools: Benjamin Willis and the Tragedy of Urban Education.” History of Education Quarterly 39#2 1999, pp. 117–42. online
  • Sanders, James W. The education of an urban minority: Catholics in Chicago, 1833-1965 (Oxford UP, 1977) online
  • Shipps, Dorothy. “Updating Tradition: The Institutional Underpinnings of Modern Mayoral Control in Chicago’s Public Schools.” in When Mayors Take Charge: School Governance in the City, edited by Joseph P. Viteritti, (Brookings Institution Press, 2009), pp. 117–47. online
  • Stack, Sam F. "Progressivism, John Dewey, and the University of Chicago Laboratory School: Building Democratic Community." in Change and Continuity in American Colleges and Universities (Routledge, 2020) pp. 74–96.
  • Torre, Marisa de la and Julia Gwynne. "When Schools Close: Effects on Displaced Students in Chicago Public Schools." University of Chicago Consortium on School Research. October 2009. Information page.
  • Tyack, David B. The one best system: A history of American urban education (Harvard UP, 1974) online
  • Wrigley, Julia. Class Politics and Public Schools: Chicago, 1900–1950 (Rutgers UP, 1982) online

Segregation, race and minorities

  • Dennis, Ashley D. " 'The Intellectual Emancipation of the Negro': Madeline Morgan and the Mandatory Black History Curriculum in Chicago during World War II." History of Education Quarterly 62.2 (2022): 136–160.
  • Danns, Dionne. "CHICAGO HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS' MOVEMENT FOR QUALITY PUBLIC EDUCATION, 1966-1971" (PDF). Journal of African American History: 138–150.
  • Hayes, Worth Kamili. Schools of Our Own: Chicago's Golden Age of Black Private Education (Northwestern University Press, 2019) online.
  • Jackson, Shawn L. "An Historical Analysis of the Chicago Public Schools Desegregation Consent Decree (1980 – 2006): Establishing Its Relationship with the Brown v. Board Case of 1954 and the Implications of Its Implementation on Educational Leadership" (PhD dissertation. Loyola University, 2010). online
  • Jankov, Pavlyn, and Carol Caref. "Segregation and inequality in Chicago Public Schools, transformed and intensified under corporate education reform." Education Policy Analysis Archives 25 (2017): 56-56. online
  • Perez, Mario Rios. "The color of youth: Mexicans and the power of schooling in Chicago, 1917–1939" (PhD dissertation, U of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2012). online
  • Peterson, Paul E. The Politics of School Reform, 1870-1940 (1985), covers Chicago, Atlanta and San Francisco, with emphasis on ethnicity and race.
  • Stromberg, Paul. Anti-Unionism and the Chicago Teachers Union (PhD Dissertation, Loyola University Chicago, 2021) online.
  • Todd-Breland, Elizabeth. A political education: Black politics and education reform in Chicago since the 1960s (UNC Press, 2018) online.

Parochial and independent schools

  • Sanders, James W. The education of an urban minority: Catholics in Chicago, 1833-1965 (Oxford UP, 1977) online
  • Skerrett, Ellen. "Catholic School System" Encyclopedia of Chicago (2004) online
  • Walch, Timothy. "The Catholic press and the campaign for parish schools: Chicago and Milwaukee, 1850-1885." U.S. Catholic Historian 3.4 (1984): 254–272. online
  • Walch, Timothy. Parish School: American Catholic Parochial Education from Colonial Times to the Present (2nd ed. 2016).

Higher education

  • Boyer, John W. The University of Chicago A History (U of Chicago Press, 2015) online
  • Dalton, Jon C. "Community service and spirituality: Integrating faith, service, and social justice at DePaul University." Journal of College and Character 8.1 (2007). online
  • Diner, Steven. A City and Its Universities: Public Policy in Chicago, 1892–1919 (1980). online
  • Goodspeed, Thomas Wakefield. A History of the University of Chicago, founded by John D. Rockefeller: the first quarter-century (1916) online
  • Kearney, Edmund W., and Maynard E. Moore. A History: Chicago State University, 1867–1979 (1979).
  • Laub, Martin H. A Hallmark of Leadership: The Presidents of Loyola University of Chicago (1994).
  • Weil, Rolf. Through These Portals: From Immigrant to University President (1991). on Roosevelt University

Online reports and studies


Primary sources

  • Bickford, Charles W. “Visiting Chicago Schools.—(I).” The Journal of Education, vol. 55, no. 21, 1902, pp. 327–28. online, a six-part series
    • “Visiting Chicago Schools.—(II).” The Journal of Education, vol. 55, no. 22, 1902, p. 344. online
  • Clark, Hannah Belle. The public schools of Chicago, a sociological study (1897) online
  • Counts, George S. School and Society in Chicago (1928) online
  • "Free Public Schools of Chicago" Eclectic Journal of Education and Literary Review (January 15, 1851). 2#20 online
  • Havighurst, Robert J. The public schools of Chicago: a survey for the Board of Education of the City of Chicago (1964). online
  • Henry, Nelson B. “Financial Support and Administration of the Chicago Public Schools.” The Elementary School Journal 32#7 1932, pp. 495–503. online
  • Strayer, George D. et al. Report of the Survey of the Schools of Chicago, Illinois (5 vols, Teachers College, Columbia University, 1932)
  • Thompson, George J., et al. “Chicago Schools in the Eyes of the Committee of the Federation of Labor.” The Journal of Education, vol. 55, no. 15, 1902, pp. 231–43. online
  • White, Robert. “The Extra-Curriculum in the Public High Schools of Chicago.” The School Review 34#2 1937, pp. 112–22. online