Early Texas Teachers

From the time of the Republic our elected leaders formulated grand and noble plans for educating Texas youngsters, but implementation never lived up to them. Development of our education system came in fits and starts.

The first public school in Texas was established in Houston in 1839. Tuition was three dollars per month, but the city fathers provided for poor children. The public notice of the school’s opening also concluded with the following:

“Parents whose circumstances will not permit them to pay the price of tuition are also notified that by applying to the mayor they can obtain a certificate which will authorize them to send their children to the city school free of charge.”

But for the vast majority of Texas kids, despite the best public intentions, schooling was strictly a private affair. Every community of any size had its “professor”, “doctor” or “reverend” who captained an academy, institute or seminary.

From 1848 to 1854, Mrs. Eliza Todd instructed the girls of Red River, Bowie and Lamar Counties at the Clarksville Female Institute. Advertisements for the CFI made it clear that:

“…the Bible is in daily use in her school; she believes it to be the purest fountain of all wisdom; and as such its historical and moral facts and precepts are dwelt upon and enforced.”

Tuition was $20 for a five month term. Knowing the remittance habits of her patrons from long experience, Mrs. Todd beseeched them to “…be punctual in making partial payments at least at the end of each term. A large and expensive boarding establishment cannot be carried on without some ready money.”

Down in Brazoria, Professor Rowely’s Male and Female Academy offered advanced course work in, “mensuration of conic sections, superfices of solids, surveying, and bookkeeping,” for $20 per quarter.

Professor Rowley was evidently a Renaissance man, as he also offered instruction in ancient history, drawing and painting.

During the last years of the Republic, the Rev. and Mrs. C. S. Ives came to Matagorda and established the Matagorda Academy. They offered to teach any child the three Rs in exchange for three dollars monthly. Being shrewd New Englanders, the Ives made it known the price was in US funds and that, “Texas money will be received at its market rates.”

The Texas English and German Academy, founded in Austin by Professor Jacob Bickler, offered a complete curriculum in science, mathematics, literature, history and languages. His faculty was arguably the best in the state for a generation.

Professor Bickler and Pupils

The fortunate students could even learn painting from the great Hermann Lungkwitz, who was Professor Bickler’s father-in-law.

The professor was quite literally of the old school and did not care a wit about his pupils’ self esteem. They were there to learn and they would learn or leave. And they’d better behave, because Professor Bickler, like Santa Claus, was making a list and checking it twice. Here’s a sampling of his notes:

“Disappeared (took French leave.)”
“Expelled for disgraceful conduct.”
“Dismissed on account of general worthlessness.”
“Incapable of speaking the truth.”
“Is neither obedient, truthful or studious.”

Lest you think Professor Bickler was without mercy, this final notation is evidence that he was willing to give second chances:

“Expelled. Entered the school house by stealth late in the evening and stole my new mattress on Oct. 20. His own mother informed me of the fact, which he first stoically denied, but afterwards admitted. Was received back on trial after expressing great sorrow and promising good behavior. Did not keep his word, played truant, lied about it and was expelled.”

His former students, those he didn’t expel, were grateful for the knowledge and discipline they received while in his charge. When Jacob Bickler died in 1902, they paid to place a granite obelisk atop his grave. It’s inscribed:

“He lifted us further from the dust and gave us a wider view.”

He lifted them.

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