Caroline M. Clark’s classroom & curricula, 1858-1860

Before laptops and iPads…

Currier & Ives. God Bless Our School. United States, ca. 1874. New York: Published by Currier & Ives, 125 Nassau St. Library of Congress. Click to open larger image in new window.

This colorful lithograph was published in 1874, but the books, maps, globe, slates for writing on, inkwell and dip pen, and other classroom supplies are very consistent with the materials that Caroline Clark would have encountered in her Seventh Ward High School classroom between 1858 and 1860. Her Clark siblings would have used similar materials during their time as students in the Milwaukee public schools during the 1860s and ’70s.

What was Caroline’s school like?

How were the Milwaukee schools organized in late-1850s and early ’60s? How many students were there in each school division? What did Caroline study at Milwaukee’s first high school? What did her younger siblings study in the primary, intermediate and grammar departments of the Milwaukee schools? What kind of teaching materials were used?

Well, we have a neat, vintage source for that information:

It’s the First Annual Report of the Board of School Commissioners of the City of Milwaukee, for the school year commencing Sept. 1, 1858, and ending Aug 31, 1859, published in Milwaukee, 1859, and available online via GoogleBooks. The March 17, 1858, state law that regulated the Milwaukee schools required that the city’s Board of School Commissioners prepare such a report and submit it to the city’s Common Council. This is the first of these annual reports to be issued (under the 1858 statute), and it contains all kinds of interesting information about the schools, the faculty and administration, the school buildings, and the curricula of the period. Here’s a sample, from the 1858-1859 school year, the same year that we believe Caroline M. Clark began her two years of study at the city’s first high school.


The Seventh Ward School1 is located on Jefferson Street, one door north of Martin. The building is a very handsome one, similar in size, plan, material and general arrangement, to the Second Ward School, already described. The upper story is occupied for a High School, with one male Principal, two female Assistants and a male Instructor in Music and the Modern Languages. There are seats for 108 scholars, and the average attendance during the year, has been 104.

The Grammar Department occupies the second story. There are seats for 110 children, and all of them have been filled during the greatest portion of the school year. One male Principal and two female Assistants have been employed in this department.

The lower story is occupied by the Intermediate Department. There are seats in the room for 144 children, and none of them have been unoccupied, save during brief intervals. Indeed, there are always more applicants for admission into this and the Grammar Department, than there are places vacant.

The Primary School for the Seventh Ward is located on Main Street, in the old “University” building, now owned by the city, and fitted up for a School House last year. It is rather indifferently provided with furniture and school apparatus, but accommodates with seats about 175 children. The daily attendance, during the year, has varied from 140 to 165.

First Annual Report of the Board of School Commissioners of the City of Milwaukee […], 1859, p 12-13.

That description of the Seventh Ward school mentions that the building is similar to the Second Ward school, as described on page 9 of the Report:

The Second Ward School building is located on the South West Corner of Chesnut [sic] and Ninth Streets. The edifice is a large and handsome one, 45 feet front by 78 deep, three stories high, with a bell tower on the North-Eastern angle. The material is brick, with stone caps and sills. The building was erected in 1857-8, and is in complete order throughout. The furni­ture is of the best modern pattern for school purposes, and the provision of Maps and apparatus is ample.

The faculty (and their salaries)

The education of the 108 scholars of the Seventh Ward High School was the responsibility of four teachers. Principal J. G. McKindley, and Assistant teachers Miss Helen A. Everts and Miss Maria Whipple were in charge of the academic curriculum. Herr F. Regenfuss taught (vocal) music, French and German.

First Annual Report of the Board of School Commissioners of the City of Milwaukee […], 1859, p 14

The city’s other high school, the Second Ward High School, opened later in the year on the west side of the Milwaukee River. It had its own Principal, two Assistants, and one teacher of music and modern languages. They received the same salaries as their Seventh Ward counterparts.

The lower grades were divided into Primary, Intermediate and Grammar divisions. Each division had its Principal and Assistant teachers:

First Annual Report of the Board of School Commissioners of the City of Milwaukee […], 1859, p 17

I’ll note without comment that, at every grade level, the gentlemen teachers are always paid more than the ladies.

What was the school schedule?

Under the rules adopted by the Board of School Commis­sioners for the government of the Public Schools of this City, the Scholastic Year commences on the first day of September, and continues until the third Friday in July following; The year is divided into three terms, the first commencing on the 1st Monday in September and continuing until the Friday next preceding Christmas; the second commencing on the first Mon­day after the New Year and continuing till the third Friday in April; and the third commencing on the first Monday in May, and continuing until the third Friday in July.

The Schools are open five days in the week, for six hours a day, with an intermission of an hour, or an hour and a half, be­tween the afternoon and morning sessions.

During the School Year just closed the Public Schools of Milwaukee have been kept open for the full three terms speci­fied in the regulations above refered to.

First Annual Report of the Board of School Commissioners of the City of Milwaukee […], 1859, p 19

What did they study?

The Milwaukee schools program of studies was ambitious. The list of textbooks used, and “studies pursued” take up the final page and a half of the First Annual Report:


The following is the list of Text-Books recommended by the Board for the use of the Public Schools in this city.

Readers.—The “National Series,” of Parker & Watson, published by A. S. Barnes & Co., N. Y.
Geographies.—McNalley & Monteith’s. Warren’s Common School. Warren’s Physical.
Grammars.—Green’s Introduction. Green’s Higher.—Clark’s Higher.
Mathematics.—Davies’ Complete Series. Arithmetic and Algebra.
Histories.—Wilson’s United States. Willard’s Universal.


The following is a list of the Studies pursued in the several Public Schools of the city.

Reading, Spelling, Geography, Arithmetic, Elements of Drawing.

Reading, Geography, Mental Arithmetic, Penmanship, Elements of Drawing, Music, Written Arithmetic, History, Elements of Grammar.

Reading, Geography, Grammar, Written Arithmetic, Composition, Penmanship, Drawing, Music, History, Physiology, Declamation.

First Year.—Algebra, History, (Ancient and Modern,) Physical Geography and Physiology.
Second Year.—Geometry, Trigonometry, Botany, Natural Philosophy, Chemistry, German.
Third Year.—Surveying, Optics, Astronomy, Geology, Mine[r]alogy, French.

Fourth Year.—Engineering, Higher Astronomy, Mental and Moral Philosophy,3 German and French.

In addition to the above studies, Latin, Greek, and Music, are taught in the High Schools.

Calisthenics are taught and practiced in nearly all of the Public Schools.

First Annual Report of the Board of School Commissioners of the City of Milwaukee […], 1859, p 22-23

The description of the High School course of study is not laid out completely clearly here, possibly due to a page turn between the description of the third and fourth years of study. Other published books, clippings and official reports make it clear that the high schools offered two, overlapping, courses of study.

The first was the “General Course” of study, which embraced the first, second, and third years of the curriculum outlined above. The “Classical Course” involved an additional fourth year (see above) following the initial three years of the “General Course.” Latin and Greek were available if the student desired; at the Seventh Ward High School both languages were taught by John G. McKindley.4

Which course did Caroline M. Clark pursue?

We know that Caroline Clark was a member of the first class to attend McKindley’s Seventh Ward High School. She studied there for two years, from (we believe) September, 1858, through the end of July, 1860. And we know (details coming in our next post), that she taught in the Milwaukee schools from September, 1860 to the end of August, 1861.

So—in September, 1858—at what level did Caroline enroll at McKindley’s new high school? Did she begin as a typical new high school student and complete the curriculum for only years one and two? Or did she sufficiently impress McKindley at her entrance examination, such that she was able to skip the first year (or two) of the curriculum and complete the 2nd and 3rd, or 3rd and 4th years of the high school course of study?

We really don’t know. But given Caroline’s reputation for academic excellence, I would expect that she would have at least completed McKindley’s 2nd and 3rd years during her time at the Seventh Ward High School, 1858-1860. And I would not be surprised to learn that she completed the 3rd and 4th year curricula, or at least picked up some Latin, Greek or French—or a little more German—along the way.

Next time

Next time: Caroline gets a job!

Be well. See you soon.



  1. As mentioned previously, I don’t have a copyright-free picture of Caroline’s Seventh Ward High School to share with you, but the Milwaukee Public Library digital collections have an excellent photograph of the school online. I believe this is a photo of the same, original Seventh Ward High School that Caroline Clark attended.

  2. I have not researched the full titles of these textbooks. Perhaps some of our readers would like to see if digital copies of these books are available online, via, GoogleBooks or HathiTrust? It might tell us interesting things about what Caroline and her peers were expected to know, and how the material was presented to them. Let me know if you find anything!

  3. At first, the subject of “Mental and Moral Philosophy” had me stumped. “Moral Philosophy” seemed straightforward enough: ethics and related topics and disciplines. But “Mental Philosophy” was new to me, and it’s a real thing. Merriam Webster defines it as: “psychology, logic, and metaphysics in a single discipline or area of study or instruction.”

  4. Although I’m not an expert in the history of school curricula, the MPS high school courses of study, circa 1858-1860, seem pretty innovative and progressive for their era. On the one hand, the high school offered Latin, Greek, and other topics that formed the “Classical” liberal arts curriculum, still taught at the oldest and most prestigious American colleges.

    But other topics—”modern languages” such as French and German—as well as physiology, optics, surveying, engineering, and mental philosophy, were distinctly “modern,” practical, and more typical of recent progressive trends in American university courses of study.

3 thoughts on “Caroline M. Clark’s classroom & curricula, 1858-1860

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