Education is more than just the Three R's. It is a place where young people learn discipline, life skills, and values. In St. Louis, Missouri, the history of education is unique and has been shaped by the organization of the school system, prevailing theories of learning, local political pressures, and financial reality.
William Torrey Harris was a key figure in the development of St. Louis public schools during the 1870s. He adopted a national model that combined systematic teaching methods, strong discipline, and core competencies. Susan Blow proposed to Harris that St.
Louis public schools should test the new kindergarten concept, an experiment to teach young children the skills needed before they start going to school all day. Traditional views on school design suggested that almost any room could be transformed into a classroom. However, at the turn of the century, educational thinking held that construction, design, and floor plan reflected the priorities of the school and its effectiveness as a place of learning. William Ittner was a national leader in school building design and used urban planning ideas to design interiors with better traffic flow and movement.
He designed schools around the functions they should perform and the jobs that should be done, leaving the design to emanate from them. Today's public school buildings designed by William Ittner are still some of the best early 20th century buildings in St. Louis. St. Louis' public education is both heir and victim of its history.
It preserves the legacy of innovation and excellence in teaching, and has some of William Ittner's best architectural works. At the same time, it is also a victim of the politics of the past. Its tax base has declined since the city was limited by the Charter of Autonomy of 1876, with the highest property values (and taxes) outside the municipal system. The largest group of educational institutions in St. Louis are those affiliated with religious denominations.
The Catholic Church has a long history in St. Louis; Augustin Paris organized a school for black Catholic girls in 1845 on 3rd and Poplar Streets, most of whom were daughters of free blacks. The Christian Brothers opened a school in 1849 in the new addition of three floors on the north side of the Cathedral (now the Old Cathedral).Funding and quality of education declined during the 1950s and 1960s due to segregation brought about by housing patterns. Blacks were relegated to neighborhoods in their own city, where their children attended neighborhood schools.
When housing is segregated, so are schools. The Topeka Board did not fully address this issue; however, it was eliminated when St. Louis came under court supervision in 1980 with the goal of eliminating segregation from St. Louis schools within a generation. Other institutions of higher education followed suit; The Missouri Synod-Lutheran Church opened its Concord Seminary in 1849 as the state's first co-educational university; four years later Unitarian abolitionist minister William Greenleaf Eliot created Eliot Seminary which became University of Washington in 1857 named after its address. The University's main campus expanded to the west away from city limits when urban renewal swept through Mill Creek Valley area south and east of campus in late 1950s providing more space for University buildings such as Brookings Hall erected in 1901 and Ridgeley Hall as library following year. The church of Francisco Javier popularly known as Iglesia del Colegio opened its doors ten years later providing another educational institution for St. Louisans. Today St.
Louis is home to many educational institutions providing quality education for its citizens from elementary to higher education level.