Getting Schooled at the Los Angeles County Teachers’ Institute, 30 November-4 December 1896

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

When the Workman family and F.P.F. Temple arrived in Los Angeles in 1841, the state of education in the pueblo, situated on the far northwestern frontier of Mexico, was virtually non-existent.  For several years into the American era, the situation had changed little.  In 1854, the first public school opened in Los Angeles and, slowly, other appeared throughout the county.

When Antonia Margarita Workman and F.P.F. Temple had school age children, however, they were residing in the San Gabriel Valley where public education was not yet established.  So, Margarita’s father, William, decided to hire a tutor to teach school in a room in his home.

This image and the next three are samples from the program of the Los Angeles County Teachers’ Institute, held 30 November-4 December 1896.

For many years and following after two predecessors, the instructor was Frederick Lambourn, who came to El Monte in 1859 from Illinois where he’d moved as a child from his native England.  Lambourn later moved to being the foreman of William Workman’s large domain on the Rancho La Puente and it is not known if he gave up his teaching duties and someone else was brought in.

Presumably, the Workman House private school for the Temple grandchildren (William and Nicolasa’s son Joseph married later and his oldest child was not quite of school age) ended at or just before the failure of the Temple and Workman bank in Los Angeles in 1876 brought financial ruin to the family.


In any case, public education in Los Angeles County, following national trends, improved rapidly during that last half of the 19th century.  A core component to this was increasing professionalization, including better training for teachers.  A State Normal School, which provided for the education and certification of teachers, opened in San Jose in 1862—this campus evolved later into San Jose State University.

As Los Angeles and Southern California grew, especially after the Civil War years and through the 1870s, it was decided to open a branch of the Normal School in Los Angeles in the early 1880s (branches at Chico in 1887 and San Diego a decade later later followed).  The new school was situated on a hill overlooking what was then called Central Park and existed for about thirty-five years, morphing into the Southern Branch of the University of California.  This became known as U.C.L.A. and the Westwood campus opened at the end of the 1920s, while the Normal School building was razed and replaced with the Los Angeles Central Library, opened in 1926 and still operating in the same structure..


Another example of increasing professionalization for the region’s teachers was the creation of a Los Angeles County Teachers’ Institute about 1870 and some form of the entity was still in existence in the later 1940s.  Today’s highlighted artifact from the Homestead’s collection is a program for the 1896 edition of the institute.

The session ran from 30 November to 4 December with the opening ceremonies and two of the general sessions held at the Normal School and two others located a little to the east on Fifth Street at Hazard’s Pavilion, situated across the street to the north of Central Park, renamed Pershing Square in late 1918.  Some program elements were conducted at the Spring Street School, one of the earlies of the elementary schools in the city and located actually on Broadway between 6th and 7th, not far from the other locales.  The high school section met at Los Angeles High School, the second building of which was completed in 1891 on Fort Moore Hill, where the first structure was erected nearly two decades earlier.


Among those presenting was the state superintendent of schools, Samuel T. Black; F.B. Dresslar and Juliet P. Rice of the Normal School; the state superintendent of New York; and others from San Bernardino; Massachusetts; Santa Cruz; Boston; Washington, D.C.; and Stanford, the University of California and the University of Southern California.  The annual address on the opening day was given by the president of the Los Angeles County Board of Education, M.R. Williams.

General sessions included such topics as the mental processes of children in reading; the formation of character in students; whether “ideals [were] relatively more potent for children or adults?”; what new education was; results of child studies; school building architecture; school organization; and presentations from representatives of the National Educational Association and California State Teachers Association.

Specialized sections for elementary education dealt with language; reading; music; geography; drawing; nature study; writing; mathematics; morals and manners; history; bookkeeping.  Those for high school instructors included langauge; the sciences; physical culture; civics; ethics; and methods of teaching.

Los Angeles Herald, 1 December 1896.

At the end was a list of officers for the institute and a statement from the Los Angeles County Superintendent of Schools, Spurgeon V. Riley:

Teachers, read the program carefully, bring it with you to the Institute, and be prepared to respond to your names.

You are expected to be in attendance throughout the entire sesion, and to participate heartily in the exercises of the Institute.  It will be observed that teachers are expected to attend full sessions of the Southern California Teachers’ Association on Thursday and Friday of Institute week.  A cordial invitation is extended to School Trustees and all interested in educational work.

The teaching profession was just one of many in America that were seeing a profusion of professionalization in education, training, continuing education and other aspects.  The burgeoning literacy of Americans in the latter half of the century facilitated the development of standards, curriculum development, and research into how children learn and the best ways for instructors to teach them.

Los Angeles Times, 1 December 1896.

The paths laid out in the 19th century in educational philosophy and practice continued to be extended and improved in the next as the United States developed the world’s most extensive system of universal and higher education.  The 1896 institute came at a particularly interesting time in the world of education and reflects a transformation of regional education just about a half century after the first public school opened in Los Angeles.

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