Getting Schooled With a “Report of Trustees of State Normal School, Los Angeles,” 30 June 1896

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

The opening in fall 1882 of the State Normal School for teacher education at Los Angeles on a hillside location in the Bellevue Terrace section, at the edge of town in those days, was another in a growing list of auspicious events in Angel City education history, following the establishment of the first public school more than a quarter century ago; the founding of St. Vincent’s College (now Loyola Marymount University) in the mid-Sixties; the development of the Sisters of Charity school for girls not long after; the opening of Los Angeles High School in 1873; and the creation of the University of Southern California two years prior.

There was a dramatic growth in education broadly speaking in America during the last half of the 19th century and so, too, was the increasing professionalization of teaching. California’s first normal school opened in San Jose, now San Jose State University, and, as greater Los Angeles experienced significant and sustained development through the mid-1870s, before a major economic downturn (including the failure of the Temple and Workman bank), there was a felt need for a branch here.

While government can be generally slow to respond to large-scale demographic and societal changes, the establishment of the normal school in the early Eighties was timely for at least a couple of reasons. For one, it happened several years before the great boom of 1886 to 1888 burst forth in greater Los Angeles, when the population leapt by tens of thousands, but it also meant that the price of the land was substantially less than it would have been in an attempt was to have made during the boom, which real estate prices, of course, skyrocketed.

By the time the featured artifact from the Museum’s holdings for this post, the Report of Trustees of State Normal School, Los Angeles was issued and printed by the state in 1896, the boom had long gone bust and the national depression of 1893 still had its lingering effects, not to mention the fact that there were several drought years in the region. Despite this, there was still major growth in the city and county, with the former’s population rising from about 50,000 to over 102,000 during the decade, while the latter’s shot up from over 101,000 to just north of 170,000 (the figures for 1880 were some 11,000 in the city and 33,000 in the county).

It was not just the sheer numbers of people that were at issue, but also that California made attendance at school compulsory for children ages 8 to 14 in 1874—the age range is now 6 to 18—while educational quality and professional standards for teachers also made tremendous strides during that last quarter of the century. The state’s role also was significantly enhanced with the adoption of California’s second, and still current, constitution in 1879, with commissions formed for oversight and reporting made part of the process.

For this report, a short summary was provided to Governor James H. Budd by the trustees, represented here by Abram E. Pomeroy, a prominent capitalist and co-founder in 1885 of the town of (La) Puente. Pomeroy, who moved to San Jose from Michigan when he was fifteen, was a graduate of University of the Pacific and migrated to Los Angeles in 1881.

The statement provided to the governor under Pomeroy’s name is brief and factual, starting with the observation that the biennial term of 1894-1895 and 1895-1896 included a special appropriation from the state of $75,000 for an addition to the Normal School and it was added, “we believe that all these funds have been carefully and judiciously expended, and strict economy exercised in all departments.”

Beyond this, Pomeroy confidently asserted that the new portion was finished “without any deficiency” and that “no other building owned by the State has been better constructed, and at less cost, or is better adapted to its purposes.” Among other notable changes since the previous report was that a chemistry structure was completed; the gym had new equipment; and a “Sloyd” department, this concerning teaching by manual skill and craft, opened.

Because of the addition, there were more students admitted to the school, with the number being 400 in 1894, but rising 25% at the start of the term in fall 1895 and expected to grow to at least 550 for the winter 1897 session. Pomeroy also noted that

An encouraging feature of the outlook is the fact that nearly half of the students who entered last term are either College or High School graduates, or those holdings grammar grade certificates. For these, courses are formulated covering from one to three years, instead of a four-year course, thus saving the State the expense of educating them for a longer time.

It should be pointed out that it was still very much the case that a high school graduate could obtain a teaching certificate for elementary school instruction without having a college degree. In any case, Pomeroy added that the junior class was 150 two years prior, but in the currently concluded term the total was around 100 “consequent on the large number taking advanced work.”

Also of note was his reference to “the call for thoroughly trained kindergartners” and the decision of the trustees to create a department for this level of instruction, with there already being “a large class in training for this important work.” In fact, within a few years, Mary Julia Workman, daughter of former mayor William H. Workman (nephew of Homestead founders William Workman and Nicolasa Uroste), entered the kindergarten department and, having earned her degree and certificate, embarked on a career in teaching at that level.

After observing that art instruction at the school was markedly improved so that “it is one of the most prominent in the State,” Pomeroy noted that growth was steady in all aspects of the school and “harmony has prevailed among the Faculty and students, and the general desire manifest to make this a model Normal School has produced excellent results.” Consequently, “our graduates are in demand” and finding work in city and country schools, while “the high standard required for graduation is duly appreciated.”

Given all of this and the continuing dramatic growth in greater Los Angeles, he pointed out that “there is no way to advance [further] without some increase in the appropriation for the next two years.” This included more faculty, “already greatly overworked,” and $95,000 was requested for expenses, while another $11,500 was sought for the library, museum, and gym enhancements, as well as general improvements with the buildings.

A dozen pages of detail concerning finances was provided for the two fiscal years, with the expense fund for 1894-1895 totaling just above $37,000 and that for 1895-1896 increasingly slightly to about $38,000. In the first year there were funds for the improvement of the grounds, library, museum and scientific equipment, totaling about $3,400 and petty cash expenses of about $220. For the second year, grounds care totaled $1,300, while furniture and equipment tallied not far under $3,200 and expenditures of petty cash involved not quite $200.

There was, though, a building fund with spending of over $52,000, the largest sums for the addition, naturally, and involving payments for iron and brick, carpentry, electrical, painting and plumbing work, as well as for furniture, along with “extra work,” though this was not explained. A marginal note explained that “the funds seems to have been overdrawn to the amount of 38 cents,” though this excess (!) was mitigated by the fact that “the above sums . . . were actually paid out by us, for which we hold vouchers.”

The last part of the report was the statement provided by Principal Edward T. Pierce, who hailed from the rural Delaware County in New York, about 150 miles northwest of New York City. A graduate of the Empire State’s normal school and also the Union University law school and holder of a doctorate in education, he taught for a few years in New Jersey before coming to California. He and his wife, Isabel, purchased a citrus property in Sierra Madre and intended to pursue that vocation, but he was prevailed upon to teach at the Santa Anita School.

This was followed by a tenure at the Wilson School in Pasadena, the only one in the Crown City, and, after four years, he became superintendent of schools as there were rapidly built additions to the growing burg. After that, he took charge of the normal school at Chico, now California State University, Chico and was a member of the state board of education, while also serving on the prestigious National Council of Education.

Overseeing the Chico school for four years, Pierce returned to Los Angeles to become superintendent of the normal school there and remained in that position just over a decade before he retired in 1904, at just age 53. He returned to Sierra Madre and his ranch, devoting himself to cultivation with the exception of a year teaching foreign-born students in Los Angeles. Health problems worsened in his last two years after Pierce died early in 1919 and the Pierce family included many prominent figures as a recent “Getting Schooled” post here observed.

He began his report with the statement that “the past year has been one of the most prosperous and satisfactory in the history of” the institution, while “growth has not been so rapid as to disarrange the plans for the year” and the faculty, for the first time in years, was almost sufficient in size “to do justice to the number of students enrolled.” In something, though, of a contrast to Pomeroy’s report, the superintendent stated that, because of entrance exams and “the consequent power to limit attendance,” the school has 475 students in the first year and 498 in the second.

As to major changes, Pierce highlighted the Physical Laboratory with ten experiment tables and four sets of apparatuses, while the Chemical laboratory had new tables and apparatuses enough for forty students and the Psychological Laboratory also added equipment, though it needed more improvement. The gym was also equipped better. Improvement was made so that most faculty could focus on instruction in one or two subjects, “thus accomplishing better results than under the old plan in which several of the Faculty scattered their energies in trying to teach various subjects in the same term.” With more coordination, teachers met more frequently with regard to allied subjects.

Given this latter, the principal felt that “students acquire as much two, in two years, as they did in three years,” but he was especially pleased with the growing professionalization for students. Instead of only academic course work for two years, they took a psychology class in their first term, which had the result that students felt “that they are in a professional school studying for a special purpose.”

Moreover, Piece continued, admission standards were improve so that, “no one from the ninth grade is now admitted without examination” because “many came to us who had finished their course in the public school at the age of fourteen or fifteen, having been graduated on averages,” even if they lacked knowledge in one or two subjects. Others simply went to the school because they’d graduated from the public school, but had no “definite purpose.” Tellingly, he added,

Now only the bravest, those with a definite and fixed purpose, decide to come to the Normal School; and from among these we have the power to reject the mentally and physically weak.

There were some fifty students who were admitted after coming from an accredited high school and/or having a teaching certificate, but “they take special courses, covering from one to two and a half years.” Those coming from high school were in the latter time frame, while those with certificates and at least two years of successful teaching completed, could finish in as soon as a year and get their diploma, even as they already had “in effect life certificates in this State.”

With new faculty, Pierce mentioned Everett Shepherdson, who assisted in the instruction of psychology and pedagogy (that is, teaching methods and practices) and, because of the significant percentage of women students, Sarah J. Jacobs was hired for the physical training department. Weekly faculty meetings were also instituted, in addition to preexisting business meetings, and the consequence was that “teachers have been more interesting in the professional [aspect] than ever before, and more thoroughly impressed with responsibility as members of a Normal School Faculty.”

Another point of interest was working with teachers in Ventura and Los Angeles counties (Pierce mentioned three such jurisdictions, but only these two were named) so that monthly sessions were held for subjects that they taught and he added, “this bids fair to bind the whole force of teachers in Southern California into a great active student mass for the improvement of methods in teaching.”

This noted, Pierce stated that there were some needs to be met “to enable us to reap our best results from our work.” The new addition was only possible in back “of the old building,” which was all of 14 years old, but this blocked sunlight from the gym and to the lower floor of the Model School, itself an addition, which were “darkened to an undesirable degree.”

This image from the Museum’s holdings is taken from the north side of Fifth Street and shows the institution with the rear addition, but not the wing on its north end as shown in the photo above. The site is now the Central Public Library, completed in 1926. The Normal School moved to a site on Vermont Avenue that is now Los Angeles City College, while teacher training was transferred to UCLA..

He advocated for moving the gym forty feet away from the building to remedy this issue, while the Model School structure only had windows on one side, something Pierce tried to convince the architect to change, “but he insisted that they were not necessary.” The principal suggested that iron girders be installed at the room ends, thereby, “filling the whole space with glass.” Both recommendations would cost about $4,000.

In addition to promoting the Sloyd educational method, Piece also referred to the great need of making strides with primary-grade education, especially in kindergarten instruction as pioneered in Germany and carried on by some progressive American schools. He observed that “the demand for kindergarten teachers exists in California,” but private instruction of some six months to a year comprised only “‘short cuts’ to the profession of teaching” and did substantial damage to the children “and to the cause of education in general.”

Pierce went into some detail about the imperative of “a revolution in the underlying principles of primary teaching” through the kindergarten concept, and rhetorically queried,

How many men and women have we not all known, filled full of information, perfect walking encyclopaedias, yet helpless incompetents in the plain and practical art of living?

It was vital to focus on the development of children from ages four to fourteen and there should be no gap between kindergarten and primary education, including “no dreary waste of mere intellectual effort in the intermediate grades at the very time when the physical activities are uppermost in the child.” Moreover, grammar school students should not be stuck in a “maze of doubt and disappointment as to what it all means, but [have] a firm and joyful outlook upon life, with a feeling that the school has done something in the way of definite help toward successful living.”

Pierce then turned to the matter of “the work that applies directly to the development in the student of the power to teach” because “an ideal Normal School requires ideal teachers” as “every lesson that such teachers give will exemplify right methods of presenting the subject.” To that end, the principal noted that “each teacher should be a specialist in one or two subjects” and have a careful outline of what will be taught in each term to be more effective in student instruction.

He continued that “I expect teachers of allied subjects to hold frequent conferences for the purpose of determining how, by correlation, [the] energy of both students and teachers may not be wasted, and, how, for the entire school, work may be bound together as a related whole.” This meant focus on both psychology and pedagogy of any given subject. Pierce added,

I have no sympathy with a Normal School teacher who assumes that when a subject in the curriculum is understood by his classes his work is done, who forgets that he is a teacher of teachers, and that it is necessary to emphasize the pedagogical side of his work. Teachers in a Normal School should be able to go into the public schools and give model lessons in their subjects in any grade. Without this power the must slight the most important phase of their work.

Through regular conferences of faculty and the harmony engendered by these, the principal observed, “only in this way can a Normal School become truly professional,” otherwise the institution would merely be a high school or private academy and not be as serious as it should be. Pierce went on, “I am thoroughly convinced that, with four years of such work and with the careful weeding out of unfit and incompetent material,” not to mention the “mentally and physically weak” students he’d referred to earlier, “we shall be able to prepare a body of teachers who will accomplish results of real value to the State.”

Attendant to this ideal was the practical reality that “good service deserves good pay” and the faculty at the school could not succeed there “who could not do better financially in some other profession.” He inquired how many teachers would invest seven years of training for the work needed at the school if they “had to take less than $2,500 per year” for their work and “with no prospects for advancement.”

Pierce ended by noting that normal schools cost less per student than other institutions of higher learning and so “cannot very justly be accused of extravagance.” In fact, he ventured to state that “no expenditure of public funds can be made more fruitful of solid returns to he common weal than the expenditure of the money appropriated to the schools in your care.” It was necessary to recognize that “the character of the common schools where the masses of our children must be educated will always depend largely upon the kind of training given in our Normal Schools” so that it was critical “to establish the necessity of raising these schools to highest possible degree of efficiency.”

This report is an interesting and instructive one for the state of education and, specifically, teacher training, at the end of the 19th century when so much progress was made in the field and in the teaching of the massively growing population of young people in greater Los Angeles, much less nationally. The contents of the document are certainly to be recalled with future entries in the “Getting Schooled” series of posts on this blog.

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