Foundations and Assessment of Education/Edition 1/Foundations Table of Contents/Chapter 3/3.2.2

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Education in the 19th Century[edit]

by Keenan Buchanan

Learning Target: The reader will learn about major changes in thought during the 19th century.


The 19th century was a time of dramatic change. Beginning in the late 1700's and continuing throughout the 1800's was the Industrial Revolution, which brought about a completely new way of life. There was the invention of the steam engine, industrialization, capitalism, and many more that changed the life of the working class for the worse. There was even the advent of the middle class throughout Europe. With this stronger sense of a division of labor came Karl Marx and his socialist ideals.


The 19th century was a period of some advancement for minorities, namely Women and African Americans. In 1848 a Woman's Rights Convention was held in Seneca Falls, NY. There were a string of revolutions across Europe at this time. These revolutions could have inspired women to fight harder for their own rights. It was at this convention that women pushed the Declaration of Sentiments and fought for a right to higher education. At this time it was still believed that women were inferior to men and were not capable of being intellectual creatures or that higher education would ruin them and make them unsuitable mothers or wives. In fact, most men were strongly opposed to the idea of women in college. But, by the end of the Civil War (1861-1865) women were beginning to attend college. This does not mean that a large population of women attended college, in 1870 approximately .7% of the female population went to college. That number increased to 2.8% in 1900 and 7.6% in 1920. Nevertheless, these were still strides towards eventual equality.

13th Amendment[edit]

Passed on January 31, 1865 the 13th Amendment abolished slavery in the United States. Although it took another one hundred years to gain full rights as citizens, in practice as well as laws. It was still the first step in the direction of toleration and unity. Women were beginning to get educated and join the work force, and blacks were technically free. Most of the education blacks received came from themselves and the efforts of other blacks. After the Civil War there were Jim Crow laws. Which are essentially a series of laws, in the South, used to keep blacks oppressed. Jim Crow laws made Southern schools segregated and stuck around until the 1960's. In 1896 the case of Plessy v. Ferguson went to the Supreme Court and reinforced the Jim Crow laws with the ruling of separate but equal accommodations for blacks. These separate services for blacks were always separate but very rarely were they equal.

General Education[edit]

In the United States, the 19th century marks the beginning of the "Common School Period", due to the shift of education from private to public. It took until the 1840's for an organized education system to take hold. In Massachusetts and Connecticut Horace Mann and Henry Barnard helped to create school systems for their respective states. They worked to get a free public school education paid for by the public, which we currently use today. They established compulsory school attendance laws and made public schools accountable to local school boards and the state government.From 1785-1787 the Northwest Ordinance was passed, which sold land in Michigan for $1 an acre to raise money for schools. One of the first laws passed towards public education.


The 19th century also brought about a change in the outlook on life and a contributions to sociology. With the industrialization of the modern world, the introduction of capitalism, and an increasing division of labor, Karl Marx based his class theory. Marx claimed that the history of the world was the history of class struggle. And that there would be a revolution of the working class where they rise up and basically bring the world to socialism, distributing the wealth equally. Most modern sociologists do not agree with Karl Marx's theories, but he contributed nonetheless. His theory was disproved during World War 1 where he anticipated the working class would band together. But Europe was in the grip of extreme nationalism, and everybody strongly supported their nation. Communism has its roots in Karl Marx's theories in his book, "The Communist Manifesto."


In 1859 the most revolutionary idea of the time was published by Charles Darwin in his book "On The Origin of Species." Through his travels, most notably to the Galapagos Islands, he put together evidence to support the theory of evolution. Today evolution is agreed to be true by most people, even the Pope acknowledges evolution and the age of the earth. In Darwin's travels he noticed that animals of the same species would have different qualities, enabling them to survive in their particular environment. For example the finches on the Galapagos Islands varied in size, beak size or shape, or any other characteristics that helped them survive. And he correctly assumed that the variations already existed, nature just enabled the ones with the best variations to survive. This was a very big deal, and Darwin's evidence in support of evolution really shook the world.

Later his theory of survival of the fittest took a horrible turn for the worst. A British philosopher by the name of Herbert Spencer turned the survival of the fittest towards society and developed Social Darwinism. Which claimed that survival of the fittest applied the human society and those that were poor and suffering simply were not meant to survive. Used to defend unequal distribution of wealth and power in Europe. It was also used to support European imperialism, which was very aggressive around this point in history.. Europe had colonies all over the world including North America, India, China, and numerous African nations( subsequently throwing the whole continent out of whack.


The 19th century was time of dramatic change. The Industrial Revolution completely changing the face of society. The development of the middle class and overpopulated dirty cities. The decreased standard of living for factory workers led to Karl Marx and his "Communist Manifesto." Over in America school was beginning to become public instead of private, even for women who were beginning to attend college. The civil war, which brought advancements of its own, and America joining their European counterparts and abolishing slavery. Close to the same time Charles Darwin completely changed the way the world thought by proving evolution and outraging whites who now had a connection to the blacks of Africa. And the development of Social Darwinism to continue the rule of the rich, white populations.


  1. 1)What court case had a ruling of separate but equal and was later ruled unconstitutional?

A)Plessy v. Ferguson B)Marbury v. Madison C)Roe v. Wade D)Dred Scott v. John F.A Sandford

  1. 2)Where did the first organized public school systems begin to take place?

A)Connecticut B)Virginia C)Massachusetts D) A and C

  1. 3)According to Karl Marx the history of the world was the history of what?

A)good vs. evil B)a cycle C)Class Struggle D)human advancement

  1. 4)Approximately what percentage of women were enrolled in some form of higher education by 1920?

A).7% B)7.6% C)20% D)5%


"The Industrial Revolution." History Channel. A&E Television Networks. <>.

Levine, Rhonda F. Social Class and Stratification. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 1998.

Lowe, Maggie. "Early College Woman: Determined to be Educated." Northnet. American Association of University Women. <>.

O'neil, Dennis. "Darwin and Natural Selection." Early Theories of Evolution. 08 Jan. 2009. Palomar College. <>.

Paine, Shannon. "19th Century Education." The History of Education in America. <>.


1)A 2)D 3)C 4)B

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