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Pieces of the Past — Higher Education

April 24, 2024

I’d say 99% of my readers missed the “Ag Era”. By the end of the 1800s, the economy was shifting from a focus on farming to one of life preparation. As the Civil War ended, the Warren area was consumed by two economic driving forces: Oil and Timber.

The third was farming. Dairy farming was big. Almost everybody had “Elsie” behind the house. Until the 1840s pig farming was big right in downtown Warren. If you remember I wrote a piece about Youngsville making a move to become the County Seat because pigs were allowed to roam the streets of Warren unrestricted.

Many if not most kids between the 1840s and 1860s, went to a one-room school close to their home. Which was probably a farm. Farming was really “hands-on” back then. Big families meant more help tilling, milking, and surviving. My Dad was a great example of the changes being made back then.

He went to a one-room school but was part of the “education revolution.”

Up until the late 1800s most kids were students up until about 8th grade. Generally, 6th grade was the cutoff for many. With the 1880s and 90s “Higher Education” was starting to become mandated. Because fields needed to be planted, and harvested in spring and fall, school years were shortened to allow teens to help on the farm.

A grade school education in theory, was all a farm boy really needed. As Warren and towns like it became more industrialized, the need for well-educated workers was getting bigger. The establishment of a school that provided the additional training was becoming more important. But, and this was a BIG but there really weren’t any schools equipped to give kids that extra step. Nor was there money for them. Enter schools like Warren’s Union School in 1855.

Born out of economic change, the Union School was self-funded. If a student showed “promise” and the parents had the money, the young man (yes man) could attend “HIGHER” school. Girls for the most part were not offered the option. After all, girls didn’t need more education to perform duties at home! I don’t need to editorialize about how wrong that thinking was!

As the concept of “High School” became more accepted, the Warren Union School began to transition from a “technical” format to one of college prep. The state was beginning to mandate enrollments. They ordered high schools to offer a wider diversity of courses including classes expressly for girls. The Union School was totally inadequate for class expansion like that. Warren borough was also realizing that a long-range plan was needed to accommodate the increasing requirements that Harrisburg was handing down. A 3-story “cathedral of learning” was proposed. By the end of the 19th century, The spires were about to tower over Warren high!

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