Stories from PA History
Story Details
"The Surest Foundation of Happiness": Education in Pennsylvania
From the founding of William Penn's "Holy Experiment" to present-day debates over curriculum reform and taxes, education has played a central role in the evolution of Pennsylvania society. Once viewed as essential to individual and social progress, the story of Education in Pennsylvania also reveals the fascinating and complex relationship between diverse peoples and cultures in the forging of Commonwealth history and identity.

Continue the Story...
Bring this subject into focus through the following chapters. These stories take exploration of the main story further by providing more detail for you to learn and explore.

Overview: "The Surest Foundation of Happiness ”: Education in Pennsylvania
Chapter One: The Pillars of Piety and Practical Knowledge: The Growth of Private Education
Chapter Two: Staying the "Battle Axe of Ignorance": The Rise of Public Education
Chapter Three: "An Open Field and No Favors": Education and the Quest for Equality
Chapter Four: Education and Society Since World War Two

Historical Markers In the Story
marker icon ENIAC (Philadelphia) marker icon Edinboro State College (Erie)
marker icon Edward Drinker Cope (Philadelphia) marker icon Genevieve Blatt (Dauphin)
marker icon Girard College Civil Rights Landmark (Philadelphia) marker icon Martin Luther King, Jr. (Delaware)
marker icon Millersville University (Lancaster) marker icon Opportunities Industrialization Centers (Philadelphia)
marker icon Pennsylvania State University [Education] (Centre) marker icon Station WQED (Allegheny)
marker icon The Penn Relays (Philadelphia) marker icon University of Pittsburgh (Allegheny)

Lesson Plans for this Story
Take your students back in history with these discussions and activities for the classroom

Story Bibliography

Original Documents
icon full text William Penn on the Role of Education in is Colony, "Frame of Government of Pennsylvania," 1682.

1681 Founding of Pennsylvania
1682 William Penn arrives in Pennsylvania and issues his Frame of Government, which includes sections on schools and education
1689 Penn establishes first Quaker school in Pennsylvania: Philadelphia Quaker Meeting hires George Keith as schoolmaster to supervise local instruction
1706 Mennonites erect one-story schoolhouses, mainstay of church-based education
1727 William Tennent founds Log College in Bucks County that trains Presbyterian ministers and educators throughout colonies
1740 Founding of the Academy and Charitable School of Philadelphia, (today's the University of Pennsylvania)
1743 First Catholic parochial school in Pennsylvania established at Goshenhoppen, in Berks County.
1745 American Philosophical Society founded in Philadelphia.
1750 Moravians at Lititz establish Linden Hall, the oldest girls" boarding school in America; Anthony Benezet opens Pennsylvania's first school for enslaved African American children
1751 University of Pennsylvania chartered, doors open the next year
1782 Rev. John McMillan begins teaching in frontier log school in Canonsburg, Washington County; a foothold for Presbyterian education and mission work on the Pennsylvania frontier
1783 Founding of Dickinson College chartered in Carlisle, the first college charted in the new United States; Treaty of Paris ends Revolutionary War
1787 McMillan founds Washington Academy, Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia
1801 Founding of the Society for the Establishment and Support of Charity Schools; the basis for public education for poor children in Philadelphia
1805 Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts opens
1815 Allegheny College founded; old college west of Allegheny Mountains
1818 Pennsylvania Legislature creates the School District of Philadelphia
1820 Pennsylvania School for the Deaf opens.
1834 Passage of Free Schools Act, which establishes a system of public schools in Pennsylvania
1835 Thaddeus Stephens defends public common schools in state legislature
1836 Publication of William Holmes McGuffey's First Eclectic Reader; founding of the Institute for Colored Youth (African Institute) in Philadelphia, to provide vocational and liberal arts education for black youth
1844 Controversy over reading of the bible in Philadelphia schools leads to Anti-Catholic riots
1848 Stephen Girard's will establishes Girard College, school for poor and orphan boys; Mexican War ends
1849 Avery College (Pittsburgh) founded; short-lived liberal arts college dedicated to African Americans
1850 Female Medical College chartered in Philadelphia; provides medical education for women
1852 Pennsylvania State Teachers Association established in Lancaster; instrumental in passage of public-school reform
1853 Franklin and Marshall Colleges merge in Lancaster
1854 Lancaster County Normal School opens in Millersville; founding of the Ashmun Institute, (today's Lincoln University) in Chester County; Pennsylvania legislature passes law permitting schools districts with twenty or more black students to provide separate schools
1855 Founding of the Pennsylvania Farmers" High School (today's Penn State University)
1857 Passage of Normal School Act, major reform legislation that provides for publicly funded teacher training programs in Pennsylvania
1859 Lancaster County Normal School (today's Millersville University) is named the first Pennsylvania State Normal School
1865 Civil War ends; Lehigh University founded with emphasis on engineering and science
1866 Ashmun Institute (1854) changes name to Lincoln University
1878 Duquesne University established in Pittsburgh to offer Catholic education
1879 Opening of the Carlisle Indian School in Carlisle, PA
1880 Pennsylvania Oral School for the Deaf opens in Scranton
1881 Pennsylvania legislature passes a law, widely ignored, outlawing school segregation
1884 Temple University founded to serve working-class students in Philadelphia
1885 Bryn Mawr College opens and soon becomes the nation's first all-female institution to offer graduate degrees
1888 Desegregation of Pennsylvania public schools; results from major court case over discrimination in education
1891 Thomas Foster founds the International Correspondence Schools in Scranton, PA.
1892 Pennsylvania Chautauqua opens as Mt. Gretna; part of national movement for civic education and entertainment
1907 University of Pittsburgh chartered; provides state supported higher education in western Pennsylvania
1912 Jim Thorpe of the Carlisle Indian School becomes an international sensation by running, jumping, and throwing his way to victory in the Olympic decathlon and pentathlon.
1912 Opening of the University of Pittsburgh's Allegheny Observatory; Jim Thorpe of the Carlisle Indian School becomes an international sensation by running, jumping, and throwing his way to victory in the Olympic decathlon and pentathlon.
1914 Philadelphia School Superintendent Martin Brumbaugh becomes the first and only Ph.D. to win election as the Governor of Pennsylvania.
1921 Edmonds Act reorganizes state public education system; Bryn Mawr opens Summer School for Women in Industry, a progressive economic education program for working women
1923 John Dewey becomes director of education at the Barnes Foundation, a progressive school for art education, in Merion, PA.
1928 State normal schools become teachers colleges able to grant four-year degrees as part of growing professionalization of educational standards
1929 Stock market crash and onset of the Great Depression
1945 World War II ends
1960 Pennsylvania state teachers colleges adopt liberal-arts curriculum and expand their mission beyond teacher training
1963 The Supreme Court bans compulsory Bible reading in public schools.
1964 Rev. Leon Sullivan opens the first Opportunities Industrialization Center, in Philadelphia.
1968 Girard College admits its first African American students, after federal court ruling and years civil-rights demonstrations in Philadelphia; Mister Rogers' Neighborhood debuts on WQED Public Television in Pittsburgh
1972 Federal Title IX prohibits discrimination based on sex in public and higher education
1982 Establishment of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education creates a common public university system from old teachers" colleges
1990 Americans With Disabilities Act establishes educational rights and services for children with disabilities
2001 No Child Left Behind Act establishes new academic benchmarks for disadvantaged students
2005 Controversy over the teaching "intelligent design" in the Dover School District ends when a federal judge bars the teaching of "intelligent design" in Pennsylvania's Middle District public school science classrooms.
2007 Pennsylvania voters reject Act 1 property tax and school funding reform; creating uncertainties in future school funding
Back to Top