Chapter XVII. From La Escuela of Spanish California to the Schools of the Twentieth Century

In no line has California advanced so far beyond the days of the padres as in her schools. In the early settlements there were no educated people but the priests at the missions and the Spanish officers with their families at the presidios. Later, clever men of good families came into the territory, took up land, and made their homes on the great ranchos, but among these there were few who would take the time or trouble to teach the children; so life to the young people was a long holiday. The sad result was that they grew up so ignorant as to astonish the educated strangers who visited the coast.

At the missions the padres had schools where they taught the young Indians something of reading and writing, religious services and songs, and the trades necessary for life. This, with their duties in the church and the extensive building and planting of the mission settlements, took all the time of the hard-working priests. Occasionally, an educated woman would teach her own children and those of her relatives, but like most attempts at home education, it was so interrupted as to amount to little.

In 1794 a new governor came from Spain who was so shocked at this state of affairs that he at once ordered three schools opened. The first, December, 1794, was held in a granary at San Jose and was in charge of a retired sergeant of the Spanish army. The children had been so long free from all restraint that they did not like to go to school, and their parents did not always take the trouble to insist. There were some reasons for this, as the masters did not know much about what they were trying to teach, and the use of the ferule and scourge (the latter a whip of cords tipped with iron) was frequent and cruel. There were no books but primers, and these were hard to obtain. The writing, paper was furnished by the military authorities and had to be returned when the child was through with it, that it might be used in making cartridges. These schools were for boys only, girls not being expected to learn anything except cooking, sewing, and embroidery.

Slowly the state of things improved, and in 1829 in the yearly report to the Mexican government, it was stated that there were eleven primary schools in the province with three hundred and thirty-nine boys and girls. One of the best of these schools was that of Don Ignacio Coronel of Los Angeles.

In 1846 the first American school was opened at Santa Clara by Mrs. Oliver Mann Isbell. It provided for children from about twenty emigrant families and was held in a room of the Santa Clara mission on the great patio. The floor was of earth, the seats boxes; an opening in the tiled roof over the center of the room allowing the smoke to escape when, on rainy days, a fire was built on a rude platform of stones set in the middle of the floor. Wherever the Americans lived, they would have schools, although their first buildings were bare and inconvenient, with no grace or adornment either inside or out. In some out-of-the-way places, whole terms of school were spent most happily under spreading live oaks.

In the making of the first constitution, educational matters were not forgotten; one section providing that there should be a common school system supported by money from the sale of public lands. On account of the minerals the lands so allotted were supposed to contain, it was believed that they would sell for such vast amounts that the state would have money sufficient for the grandest public schools that ever existed. In fact these lands brought in altogether, after a number of years, less than a quarter of a million dollars. The act provided also that the schools be kept open three months in the year. An effort was made to extend this period to six months, but was defeated by Senator Gwin.

Considering the state of the country when the public schools were begun, and the short time in which they have been developed, the California free schools are a credit to the state and to the men and women who have helped to make them what they are. No community is so poor and remote but that it may have its school if the inhabitants choose to organize for the purpose. Hardly can the settler find a ranch from which his children may not attend a district school over which floats the stars and stripes.

Money for educational purposes is now raised by state and county taxes on property, this sum, in cities, being largely increased by the addition of the city taxes. High schools have only recently been given state aid, and that moderately; the larger ones still depending, in a great measure, upon the special tax of the city, district, or county, according to the class to which the school belongs. The state supports one Polytechnic school, that at San Luis Obispo, where there are three courses, agriculture, mechanics, and domestic science.

About 1878, in the endeavor to teach the children of the worst parts of San Francisco a right way of living, the free kindergartens were begun. Perhaps their success cannot be better shown than in the fact that in the first year of the work along "Barbary coast," one of the most turbulent districts of the city, the Italian fruit and vegetable dealers who lived there, brought the teachers a purse of seventy-five dollars, because the children had been taught not to steal their fruits and vegetables or to break their windows. The first free kindergarten was started on Silver Street in "Tar Flats" and had for its teacher a pretty young girl, with beautiful eyes and a mass of bronze-colored hair, whom the ragged little urchins soon learned to adore. That little school was the beginning of one of the best kindergarten systems in the country, and the pretty young teacher is now Kate Douglas Wiggin, one of America's best loved writers, the author of those delightful books, "The Birds' Christmas Carol," "Timothy's Quest" and others equally interesting. There have been many gifts to these kindergartens. In memory of their only son, Mr, and Mrs. Leland Stanford gave one hundred thousand dollars, while Mrs. Phoebe Hearst supported entirely three of the schools. Kindergartens may now form part of the primary department in the school system of any community so desiring, and are to be found in most of the cities.

Nothing in the educational work of California is of more importance than the five normal schools, which graduate each year hundreds of teachers thoroughly prepared in all branches for the important work of training the children of the state.

As the crown of the free school system, stands the state university at Berkeley. Many an interesting story might be told of the noble men, who as early as 1849 began their long struggle to gain for the youth of California the chance for higher education. The Reverend Samuel Willey, the American consul Mr. Larkin, and Mr. Sherman Day were leaders in this enterprise. There was much against them; men's thoughts were almost entirely given to the necessities of everyday life, and few seemed able to see that a grand and beautiful future was coming to the new territory. The university secured its charter in 1868, but it was not until the adoption of the new constitution in 1879 that it was placed on a firm basis which could not be changed by each new legislature.

The coming of Mr. Benjamin Ide Wheeler to the presidency was one of the best strokes of fortune the institution has ever known. Under his management it has taken a great stride forward. In the work it does, and the high standard it demands, it takes its place side by side with the best universities of the older Eastern states. The work of its college of agriculture is becoming of great service to the farmer and fruit grower. The result of its experiments in determining the best wheat for the soil is of very great importance to the grain industry of the state.

Connected with the university are: the Lick Observatory on Mount Hamilton; the Mark Hopkins Institute of Art, the Hastings College of Law, and Colleges of Medicine, Dentistry, and Pharmacy, in San Francisco; and an admirable University Extension Course which offers its advantages to the people of any locality throughout the state who may desire its help.

One of the most practical and important associations in the state is the Farmer's Institute, which, under direction and control of the university, holds a three days' meeting once a month in each locality throughout the state. Also, once a year, an institute of a week's duration is held at Berkeley, where eminent scientists give their services, and the results are most helpful.

The university has received many gifts from distinguished citizens. Mrs. Phoebe Hearst has devoted much of her time and a large amount of her money to its improvement, and plans are under way to make it the most finished and beautiful educational institution ever owned by any state or country.

Barely one hour's ride from San Francisco south, lies the Leland Stanford Junior University, which at the time of its foundation, in 1885, was the greatest gift ever bestowed upon humanity by any one person. In this noble movement Mr. and Mrs. Stanford were as one. Their only son died in 1884, and the university is a memorial of him, a grand example of the way in which those who are dead may yet live, through the good done in their names. Although entirely a private benefaction, its doors are open to students absolutely free of all tuition charges.

This university started with a large endowment, but after the death of Mr. Stanford, a lawsuit with the United States, and a shrinkage in the value of the properties it owned, ran the finances so low that for a short time it was found necessary to charge a small entrance fee. Even then, the college was kept open only through the economy and self-sacrifice of Mrs. Stanford and the members of the faculty, who stood by the institution with noble unselfishness. By the year 1906 the financial condition had become satisfactory and the attendance had materially increased. Two handsome new buildings, one for the library and the other for the gymnasium, were about completed when, on April 18, an earthquake, the most destructive ever experienced on the Pacific coast, shook all the region around San Francisco Bay. Stanford suffered severely: the two new buildings were ruined; so, too, was the museum and a portion of the chemistry building. Both the noble arch and the mosaics in the front of the memorial chapel were destroyed. Beyond this, comparatively little damage was done to the college buildings. The graduating exercises were postponed until the fall term; otherwise the disaster did not interfere seriously with the routine of study, neither did it affect the attendance in 1906-7, which was unusually large. In the fall of 1907 President Jordan stated that he was empowered to announce that Thomas Weldon Stanford, brother of Senator Leland Stanford, had decided to give the university his own large fortune of several millions.

It is generally recognized that the university owes a great part of its present success to the splendid talents and faithfulness of President Jordan, who has given the hardest labor of the best years of his busy life to helping it onward and upward. Its educational work is thorough, and its requirements are being steadily raised. It stands for the highest education that is possible. Addition is constantly being made to its group of noble buildings. Beautiful Stanford is the sparkling jewel in California's diadem.

Not far from the University of California in the suburbs of Oakland is situated Mills College, which for many years was the only advanced school for girls of which the state could boast. This institution had its beginning as a seminary in Benicia, but was moved to its present situation in 1871. In 1885 it became a college with a state charter. In plan of studies and high Christian aim, it resembles Mount Holyoke, from which many of its leading instructors have been graduated.

There is no place here to speak of all the leading private schools of the state. Throop Polytechnic in Pasadena, the Thatcher School in the valley of the Ojai, and Belmont Military Academy are among the best. A word, however, must be said in tribute to Santa Clara College, without which the California youth of from twenty to forty years ago would have been lacking in that higher education which stands for so much in the making of a state. Incorporated in 1851, it was opened with funds amounting to but one hundred and fifty dollars, yet it grew steadily. With a clever Jesuit faculty, this college has done admirable work of so thorough a character as to win the praise of all those who have come in contact with its results. From it have been graduated such men as Stephen M. White, Reginaldo del Valle, and many other of our leading professional and business men.