There were a number of schools in 19th-century Charles Town (though the city’s name was spelled as Charlestown until 1911). At first schools were private academies segregated by gender, race and socio-economic status.
White families who could afford the tuition sent their boys to the Charlestown Academy, established in 1797, and their girls to a “school for girls and young ladies established across Lawrence Street from the Academy.” A period photograph of the Charlestown Academy appears with this story, but I have never seen either a photo or a sketch of the girls school and would be interested in seeing a photograph if anyone has a copy.
In 1846, the Commonwealth of Virginia permitted the use of tax dollars to assist the poor in each of its counties. Until his death in 1826, President Thomas Jefferson had advocated the establishment of free primary schools for both girls and boys. In that spirit, the General Assembly permitted the use of tax dollars to establish free schools.
In 1847, Jefferson County voters approved the establishment of free primary schools for white boys and girls, one of only three counties in present-day West Virginia to do so.
The county court created 27 school districts each overseen by a three-member school board. The court authorized each board to build a school and hire teachers. (If you are interested in seeing the school districts, check out Samuel Howell Brown’s “1852 Map of Jefferson County, Virginia.” All 27 school districts appear on the map, distinctly and colorfully.)
Although there were two separate Charles Town school districts, the 19th district on the north side of town and the 20th district on the south, it appears that there was only one school in that area – it occupied a previous one-story stone building.
As student population grew, the school board added a brick second story around 1874. The school continued in use until 1912. Charles Town native Doris Marshall Cline recently told me that her mother, Edna Burns Marshall, attended school in this building.
Following the Civil War, the state of West Virginia required the establishment of free schools for black students, though black and white children would study in separate facilities.
In 1865 while working for the Freedmen’s Bureau, the Rev. Nathan Cook Brackett created schools for formerly enslaved men and women in the Lower Valley’s major towns.
Brackett recruited missionaries from the Freewill Baptist Churches in Maine to head up each school. Anne S. Dudley answered Brackett’s call and in December 1865, she established the first school in Charles Town for the formerly enslaved.
Brackett and Dudley secured a space on property belonging to Achilles and Ellen Dixon. This school on East Liberty Street is not pictured with this column, though the museum does have a photo. It operated until 1874.
Next time, we’ll look at Charles Town schools established after 1875.
– Doug Perks is the historian at the Jefferson County Museum in