Students of history learn to analyze events by looking at the intersections of race, class and gender. Certainly this is true when one studies the questions of public education and which groups of people have access to public education and who pays for the education of the masses.
The issue of class is seen in attitudes governing who is to be educated to what degree and at whose expense. New England Puritans believed that being able to read the Bible was important for everyone, so they created state statutes mandating free basic elementary education for everyone. Higher education remained for those male students able to afford private academies and universities. Women were denied access to higher education and ridiculed as “bluestockings” for wishing to learn. Free blacks were for the most part limited to advanced education by lack of income.
In the southern colonies, which provided many settlers to Pettis County, education was a privilege reserved for wealthy white males. Laws were passed prohibiting slaves from being taught to read or write. The system of subscription schools in Pettis County restricted formal schooling to those whose parents could afford to pay the tuition. Not until after the Civil War did Missouri’s Constitution mandate free public elementary schools for black and white children.
Blacks were quick to recognize the importance of education as a way of attaining self-respect and a measure of self-determination.
In 1866, when Sedalia began to follow the Constitutional instructions to provide a tax supported public schools, opponents mounted a vigorous campaign to prevent an “infamous tax” from being levied to provide education for “negro children,” even though the schools were primarily meant for white children, who constituted the majority of students. After a major disagreement among the school board members, Broadway School for white children and Lincoln School for black children were built in 1867 and opened in 1868.
According to the 1882 History of Pettis County, Lincoln School began as a frame building located at the northwest corner of North Moniteau Avenue and Cooper Street. When Franklin School was planned for that location in 1870, Lincoln School was moved two blocks north and one block east. Two rooms were added to the building in 1879.
This addition enabled the school to have four rooms with a capacity of 260 pupils. Large classes were the norm in the Sedalia public schools, as pictures of both black and white schools show classes of 40 to 50 students. The first teacher in 1867-68 was paid $50 per month. During the 1870s, principal D.W. Bowles was paid $60 and the teacher was paid $50. Surprisingly, the rates of compensation for teachers were similar for both white and black schools, though men were generally paid more than women.
In 1867-68, the community had 60 black students of school-age; 30 of them were enrolled at Lincoln School. By 1880-81, the number of school-age children had increased to 452 and enrollment had increased to 336, a number that compares favorably with the percentage of white students enrolled.
In the years that followed, Lincoln School added grades and programs. During the 1920s, it became recognized as one of the best black schools in Missouri.