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Cartwright, Carol Lohry; Shaffer, Scott; Waller, Randal / City on the Rock River : chapters in Janesville's history

8. Education,   pp. 147-164

Page 147

Carol Lohry Cartwright
uring the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the citizens of Janesville
established a comprehensive public school system along with a strong private,
parochial school system. The earliest of the city's public schools began around 1840,
and by 1900, the city had a large primary school system and a progressive high school program.
Several parochial schools had been established by this time, and parochial education
flourished during the early twentieth century. Most of Janesville's historic school buildings are
no longer extant, including most of the historic public primary school buildings and two of the
historic high school buildings. But most of Janesville's twentieth-century schools are extant,
and they are important resources that show the development of a modem educational system in
the city.
The citizens of Janesville also supported other educational institutions during the city's
history. These institutions include an excellent free public library, a vocational-technical
school, and a two-year branch campus of the University of Wisconsin. These educational
institutions, along with the community's elementary and high schools, have given Janesville a
broad range of educational services throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Primary Education, Public
The first "public" schools in America were usually only partially funded by the public. The
remainder of their funding came from subscriptions, fees, or supplies and services provided to
the school or teacher. The first national school-organization law was passed in 1841, but most
schools were locally controlled by teachers and/or local school boards. In the 1840s, a
movement to establish entirely free public education took hold. Led by Horace Mann of
Massachusetts, this movement was strong in antebellum New England. When New Englanders
began coming to Wisconsin in the 1830s, they brought the idea with them. The Wisconsin
Constitution of 1848 contained a provision for the establishment of free, universal education to
be supported by state funding and local taxes. But this idea was not well-implemented, and
Wisconsin's early schools were often poorly equipped, ungraded, and poorly attended. During
the late nineteenth century, and especially during the twentieth century, new state and local
laws in Wisconsin promoted increased attendance, graded schools, better qualified teachers,
and eventually large, consolidated school districts. (Wyatt 1986: vol. 3, Education, 2-1-2-10)
One of Janesville's early settlers, Hiram Brown, established the city's first public school in
1839. Brown held school classes in a log cabin (not extant) near the Monterey Bridge in what is
now the southwestern part of the city. In 1840, another rudimentary schoolhouse was built near
Main and Milwaukee streets (not extant). In 1842, the census reported only 75 schoolchildren in
the village, but by 1845, the number had grown to 273. In response to this student increase, in
1844, two brick schoolhouses were built in 1844 on the east and west sides of the Rock River,
where residential neighborhoods were developing. The student population continued to grow
rapidly during the late 1840s, and by 1853, there were 1,600 students in the city (including
children enrolled in private schools). (Cadman 1959: 6, Butterfield 1879:550)
Janesville experienced an economic boom during the 1850s, and the growth of public education
reflected the community's population growth. By the mid-1850s there were seven or eight
public elementary schools in the city, serving 858 public schoolchildren. Strictly locally
controlled, each school was also its own school district operated by its own board of trustees

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