19th Century Schools in the United States: The Common School

During the 19th century, education in American was beginning to take root. As the nation matured there was a corresponding growth in providing education to the people.

One type of school that was not only a type of school but a movement was the common school. The idea of everyone having access education to was at one time radical in the United States. As such, understanding the characteristics of the common school movement provides insights into US education.


The common school was developed in 1826 in Massachusetts, which required every town to have a school. Other states copied Massachusetts’ idea and the common school began to spread. Horace Mann was the main catalyst in spreading the common school idea.

Mann developed support for the common school by adjusting his message to his audience. For businesses, common schools would provide an educated workforce. For workers, common schools would provide for social mobility. In other words, Mann was making the claim that the common school would solve everyone’s problems in one way or the other. Catering to the needs of his audience was a brilliant strategy in encouraging the acceptance of universal education.

Soon the common school moved out west to the frontier where students were receiving the basics of education. Despite the rapid growth of the common school, it was not without problems.

Characteristics of Common Schools

Common schools varied from state to state. In general, the schools taught any child from age 6 to 15. With such a wide range of ages, teachers had to prepare multiple lessons in a day. There were also challenges with maintenance as the schools were in perpetual disrepair. Add to this the challenge of keeping the school warm in the winter and cool in the summer and the challenges become apparent.

Teachers were paid terrible salaries that were discouraging for many.  In addition, they often lacked training, which led to low quality. There were critics of the system but at the time, this was all that was available for many children.

The common school was particularly popular in the frontier territories. This is where the iconic “little red schoolhouse” comes from. It seems as though most communities had a school. The schools were not only for education but were also used as a multi-purpose facility for voting, meetings, and other events.

Legacy of Common Schools

Common schools have contributed strongly to the American mindset that everyone is equal. Common denotes something that is available to all and the idea of a common education was unique to America. These schools provided basic education to all by the state. Without the contribution of the common school the concepts of citizenship and an educated workforce would have never been achieved.

2 thoughts on “19th Century Schools in the United States: The Common School

  1. Pingback: The Development of High School in the United States | educationalresearchtechniques

  2. Pingback: 19th Century Schools in the United States: The ...

Leave a Reply