Public School Society - American Education
A charitable organization founded in 1805 in New York City by Quaker philanthropist Thomas Eddy to provide “for the education of such poor children as do not belong to or are not provided for by any religious society.” Using the LANCASTERIAN SYSTEM of monitorial education, whereby older children tutored younger ones, the society was educating more than 2,000 children a year by 1820. Originally named the Free School Society (until 1826), it obtained most of its funding from the New York State “common school” fund, which had originally been started in 1795 to create a state public school system. Abandoned in 1800, it was resurrected in 1805, with a provision authorizing the distribution of funds to charitable organizations already doing the work of public schools and, therefore, relieving local communities and the state of that obligation.
In 1820, the policy created a public controversy when various churches, including the Roman Catholic Church, demanded a share of common school funds. By then, the Free School Society had a virtual monopoly over schools for the poor in New York City. Because of its Protestant bias, however, Catholics refused to send their children to society schools, and the Catholic Church stepped up its demands for state funds. The Protestant-dominated anti- Catholic New York City Council refused, and the controversy raged until 1842, when the state legislature passed a law establishing a board of education in New York and placed society and all other charitable schools receiving state support under the new board’s jurisdiction. Although the society disbanded in 1853, its former schools and most other public schools retained so Protestant a bias in their curriculum that the Catholic Church built its own alternative Roman Catholic school system in New York. By 1860, there were two school systems in the city, one public, with 153,000 children enrolled, but an average daily attendance of only 58,000; the other, Roman Catholic, with 14,000 children in attendance.