By Patrick Farris
Post-Civil War public education in Warren County began during the era of Reconstruction.
According to the UVA School of Rural Social Economics' 1943 report, under "the Reconstruction Act of March 2, 1867, a convention was held in October 1867 to frame a new constitution for the State." Soon, a "new constitution was adopted and ratified (July 6, 1869) even though considerable objections were raised by the conservatives to the establishment of a school system.
"The Reverend W. H. Ruffner was elected Virginia's first superintendent of public free schools. He prepared a bill 'to establish and maintain a uniform system of Public Free Schools' which became a law on July 11, 1870. The public schools as provided were to be controlled by a state board of education, composed of the governor, the attorney general, and the State superintendent of public instruction. This board was to appoint in each county a superintendent of schools, and in each magisterial district three school trustees were to be appointed, who were to provide for schoolhouses and teachers. The support of public education was to come from State, county, and district funds."
What is of interest from our modern viewpoint is that local superintendents were appointed by this state board, which could exercise significant control over local education. Warren's first superintendent served both Warren and our neighboring county to the south.
"Martin P. Marshall was appointed first county superintendent of Warren and Page county schools. Under Mr. Marshall the public school system was inaugurated in Warren County during the autumn of 1870. There were put into operation in Warren County twelve public schools, eleven white and one colored, with an enrollment of 561 pupils, continuing for an average term of five months. The number of schools in Warren County gradually increased each year, but little improvement was made in their efficiency until 1876 under the county superintendency of G. E. Roy. Mr. Roy organized a county institute for the training of teachers, and all teachers were required to attend," according to the report.
Practically all schools in Warren County from 1870 to 1906 were one-room schools, some of which still stand today. The report also notes:
"The public high school in rural Virginia is a comparatively new institution. From 1870 to 1906, the leading schools for secondary education were the private schools and academies. It was not until 1906 that education of the secondary level was established by legislative enactment. The Virginia legislative act of March 14, 1906 provided for the establishment and maintenance of a system of public high schools. Fifty thousand dollars (later raised to $100,000) was appropriated for the maintenance of schools established in Virginia under this act. The counties, in order to receive aid from this fund, were required to match the amount furnished by the State. Thus the new law permitted those localities willing to help themselves to receive help.
"The people of Warren County took advantage of every opportunity to further and promote public education. As a result of the act of 1906, school funds in the county were increased 5 per cent. Teachers' salaries were increased according to the grade of the certificate; several schools were consolidated; expenditures for buildings were increased; and provision was made for the organization of a parents' club."
Warren was soon to experience a turn-of-the-century growth spurt that would challenge the post-Civil War public school system's ability to provide adequate facilities for the increasing numbers of students.
This is the third in a series of articles on education in Warren County. Interested in local history? Come visit the Warren Heritage Society in Front Royal. Refer to warrenheritagesociety.org for contact information, hours and location. Patrick Farris is executive director of the Warren Heritage Society. Read the rest of the series at www.nvdaily.com/columns/patrick-farris