Philadelphia Quakers Set Up Public School

Dateline: Philadelphia: 26 Jan. 1684 and 12 Feb 1698: They actually enacted laws to set up the public school of Philadelphia, with money. Girls could attend, and poor children could go for gratis. But was the school subsidized by tax payers?

The Provincial Council, the highest governing body in Pennsylvania, and Governor William Penn, who was visiting and setting up his new province and city, on the 26th day of the 10th month, 1683 (January 26, 1683 or 1684 by modern dating]), decided to educate children.

Modernized transcription begins:

The Governor and the Provincial Council, having taken into their serious consideration the great necessity there is of a school master [teacher] for the instruction and sober education of youth in the town of Philadelphia, sent for Enoch Flower, an inhabitant of the said town, who for twenty years past hath been exercised in that care and employment in England, to whom having communicated their minds, he embraced it upon these following terms: to learn to read English 4s [‘shillings] by the Quarter; to learn to read and write 6s by the Quarter, to learn to read, write and cast accounting 8s by the Quarter; for boarding a scholar [student], that is to say, diet, washing, lodging, and schooling, ten pounds for one whole year.

On the 17th of the 11th month, 1683 (Feb. 17, 1684), the Governor and Council proposed that “care be taken about the learning and instruction of youth, to wit: a School of Arts and Sciences.”

This is the first arrangement for Christian education in Philadelphia, according to the records. But it is not “public” in the modern sense of everyone paying taxes for kids to go to school, even if a single person has no kids.

Four shillings was affordable for the lower classes, but ten pounds for everything was expensive for back then. So a basic education should be considered “public,” but a well-rounded education should be considered “private.” Limited egalitarianism.

12 February 1698

Let’s transition to more planning.

“Meeting” is this context means the church parish or diocese (district).

William Markham was the Governor. This is a petition that Samuel Carpenter, Edward Shippen, Anthony Morris, James Fox, and David Lloyd, William Southby, and John Jones wrote up.

Modernized transcription begins:

To the Governor and Council of the Province of Pennsylvania and territories thereof, sitting at Philadelphia the tenth day of the 12th month, anno domini [A.D.] 1697-98 [10 Feb 1698]. The humble petition of Samuel Carpenter, Edward Shippen, Anthony Morris, James Fox, David Lloyd, William Southby, and John Jones, in behalf of themselves and the rest of the people called Quakers, who are members of the monthly meeting, held and kept at the new meeting house, lately [recently] built upon a piece of ground fronting High Street in Philadelphia aforesaid, obtained of the present Governor by the said people, sheweth [shows]:

That it has been and is much desired by MANY that a school be set up and upheld [maintained or sustained] in this town of Philadelphia, where poor children may be freely maintained, taught and educated in good literature, until they are apt and to be put [made] apprentices or capable to be masters [teachers] or ushers in the said school.

Transcription ends.

Here is the actual wording in this significant historical event in the New World.  It almost functions as a charter or at least an elaborate license to set it up.

Modernized transcription begins:

And forasmuch as by the laws and Constitution of this government, it is provided and enacted that the Governor and Council shall erect and order all public schools and encourage and reward the authors of the useful sciences and laudable inventions, in the said province and territories,


May it please the Governor and Council to ordain and establish that at the said town of Philadelphia a public school may be founded, where all children and servants, male and female, whose parents, guardians, and masters be willing to subject them to the rules and orders of the said school, shall from time to time, with the approbation of the overseers [executive board] thereof for the time being, be received or admitted, taught and instructed, the rich at reasonable rates, and the poor to be maintained [room and board] and schooled for nothing.

And to that end [purpose] a meet [suitable] and convenient house or houses, buildings and room, may be erected for the keeping of the said school and for the entertainment [housing or hospitality] and abode of such and so masters, ushers, mistresses and poor children, as by the order and direction of the said monthly meeting shall be limited and appointed from time to time.

And also, that the members of the aforesaid meeting for the time being may at their respective monthly meetings, from time to time, make choice of and admit such and so many persons as they shall think fit, to be overseers, masters [teachers], ushers, mistresses and poor children of the said school, and the same persons of any of them to remove and displace as often as the said meeting shall see occasion.

And that the overseers and school aforesaid may forever stand and be established and founded in name and in deed, a body politic and corporate, to have continuance forever, by the name of the overseers of the public school founded in Philadelphia at the request, costs and charges of the people of God called the Quakers.

And that they, the said overseers, may have perpetual succession and by that name they and their successors may forever have, hold, and enjoy all the lands tenements and chattels, and receive and take all gifts and legacies as shall be given, granted or devised for the use and maintenance of the said school and poor scholars [students] without any further or other license or authority from this government in that behalf, saving unto the chief proprietor his quitrents out of the said lands.

And that the said overseers by the same name shall and may, with the consent of the said meeting, have power and capacity to devise and grant, by writing, under their hands and common seal any of the said lands and tenements and to take and purchase any other lands, tenements, or hereditaments for the best use and advantage of the said school.

And to prescribe such rules and ordinances for the good order and government of the same schools and of the masters, ushers, mistresses and poor children successively and for their and every of their stipends and allowances, as to the members of the said monthly meeting for the time being or the major part of them shall seem moot, with the power to sue and be sued and to do, perform, and execute all and every lawful act and thing, good and profitable for the said school, in as full and ample manner as any other body politic or corporate, more perfectly founded and incorporated may do.

The Governor and Council do grant this petition as is desired.

Transcription ends.

The Quakers meeting together in Philadelphia petitioned or asked permission of the Governor and Council to set up the public school. They granted the Quakers’ request.

Minutes of the Provincial Council, vol. 1, 1683-1700 (Jo. Severns and Co. 1852) pp. 91, 93; 532-93.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s