Fannin County Museum of History


‚ÄčOne Main Street, Bonham, Texas

A System of Free Education for Texas

Bonham Daily Favorite, January 17, 1993

‚ÄčEven if the early settlers of Texas were somewhat slow in providing educational opportunities for their children, the republican government initiated a series of requirements for the establishment of a system of public education. The first constitution of the Republic established such as system as a duty of the Congress.

During the first administration of the Texas government a number of private schools were chartered but the most urgent concerns of those first legislators so dominated congressional action that little education legislation was enacted .

Only at the urging and determination of President Mirabeau B. Lamar, in his his administration, was congressional action steered towards the educational needs of the new republic. At Lamar's insistence the legislature worked to create a public school system raging from the elementary level to that of the university level.

Control of this system was delegated by law to each of the existant counties. To create funding to assist the county educational programs, each local government was given 17,712 acres of land , from the state domain, for support of the schools. Unfortunately at the time these grants were made, Texas land prices had taken a tumble and were so low that little revenue was generated by the sale of these lands. What funds that were available were generally awarded to those persons who had established private schools or academies.

The earliest record of such a school in Fannin County is found in the annals of the Texas Congress. Dr. Daniel Rowlett, in his term as Congressman from Fannin County, introduced a bill to charter Lexington University in Fannin County. Some accompanying information with the bill stated that the purpose of the school was for the education of Indian children. Undoubtedly the name Lexington was in reference the the community established by Rowlett on Red River. Nothing exists in either local or state records about the school. In fact, it is not even certain that the school actually began operations.

A previously discussed here, we are aware of schools at Fort Warren, Bonham, and in east central Fannin County on Bullard's Creek. There were certainly other schools in the county but nothing in county records give a clue as to how many or where they were located. Occasionally the county treasurer's report will list payments to individual's for "schools," but no specific information is recorded until the 1850's .

The Constitution of 1845, preparatory to Texas entering the Union, once again addressed in specific terms the problems of public education. The hallmark of this document was the establishment of a free school system for Texans. It was also required that the legislature provide not less than 1/10 of the annual revenue derived from taxes, as funding for the support of the free schools.

Once again the intention was plain but the action was slow. It was not until Governor Pease's administration in 1854 that education supporters were successful in acquiring, for education programs, two million dollars of the ten million dollar sale of Texas lands to the United States.

At the September 1858 term of the Fannin County Commissioners Court we find the first specific information concerning public education in the county. At that session, the reports of the teachers of "common schools for the fiscal year ending August 31," were examined. The records indicate that 40 schools were operating in the county.

After the passage of so many years, it is unclear as to the exact meaning of some of the columns in the report, however, some interesting information may be derived from them. One column refers to the number of days sent by "paying subscribers." Evidently those who could pay were assessed a fee. Another column indicates the number of days sent by "indigents." There is no count of the number of students and it appears that the "number of days" was a cumulative total of days plus the number of students.

There is a wide range in the amount of money allowed (evidently the annual salary) and the amount must have have been based upon the number of student hours. The low salary was $65.92 for both indigent and subscriber days paid to Alex Johnston (Bailey Inglish's son-in-law) for 607 indigent days and 680 subscriber days. The highest pay was to B.F. Fuller, $188.74 for 6,2914 subscriber days. No indigent days were listed. Fuller was headmaster of a number of schools in Fannin County before the Civil War.

Nothing indicates that the first schools were named or numbered. The only reference indicates that the schools were identified by the teacher's name. Locations are also difficult for there are no geographic descriptions. However, each school lists the names of two patrons. An examination of county records for the residences of these patrons give a rough indication as to the school's locales. Deed records of the time period often show acreage donated by individuals for the establishment of a school.

The first school listed in these 1858 records was J.E. Standifer's school. The two patrons were Wiley Hulsey and Robert Johnson. The 1850 census shows a J.E. Standerford, school teacher, residing with the S,W, Fitzgerald family, and a near neighbor to Robert Johnson, both families living about four miles west of Honey Grove. So this school was somewhere in that vicinity.

Of the 40 listed teacher's, thirty-nine are males. Only one female teacher was active in the county at that time, Malvina Braley. Miss Braley's patrons were P.W. Titus and T.B. McCraw were her patrons which places her school in the vicinity of McCraw's Chapel, southwest of Honey Grove

Thomas Ragsdale and R.A. Burney were both patrons of two schools, the S.E. Brownell school and B.F. Fuller's school. Brownell was later identified with the Bonham Female Institute and Fuller with a boy's school located in the same building with Constantine Lodge. Burney and Ragsdale were also members of the lodge and these records may indicate privately chartered schools in Bonham.

With the advent of the Civil War, control of schools by the county commissioners, and a proliferation of private schools, education in Fannin County seems to have been in a state of flux from the 1850's until the mid 1870's .

Demands for schools in a particular neighborhood lessened as school age children grew, married, and moved away. As the school age population shifted so did the schools. Where, at one time, schools might be located within two or three miles of each other, the distances some times stretched over wider areas. The results being, that to obtain a proper education, families sometimes found it necessary to board their school age children with other families for the duration of the school term.