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Public Schools

Brother DeWitt Clinton founded the New York Free School Society, which later became the Public School Society of New York, generously heading the subscription list and promising $200 a year for the support of the organization. He was Chairman of the Board of Trustees and very active until his death in 1898. In Cubberley's History of Education (page 661) there is a description of the Society promoted by Brother DeWitt Clinton: This Society was chartered by the Legislature " to provide schooling for all children who are the proper objects of a gratuitous education." It organized free public education in the city, secured funds, built schoolhouses, provided and trained teachers, and ably supplemented the work of the private and church schools. By its energy and its persistence it secured for itself 3 large share of public confidences and aroused a constantly increasing interest in the cause of popular education. In 1853, after it had educated over 600.000 children and trained over 1200 teachers, this Society, its work done. surrendered its charter and turned over its buildings and equipment to the public school department of the city, which had been created by the Legislature in 1842.

The New York Mercury, December 31, 1753, refers to a meeting of the Grand Lodge on the previous Thursday, the Festival of Saint John the Evangelist. The report goes on to say that the Brethren donated fifteen pounds to be spent in clothing for the poor children belonging to the Charity School and that a contribution was also made for the relief of indigent prisoners. This interest in the schools is characteristic of Freemasons and at a quarterly meeting of the Grand Lodge of New York, December 7, 1508, a Committee was appointed to "devise and report to this Grand Lodge a plan for the education of children Of poor Masons." This Committee reported in 1809. recommending that a fund be raised "sufficient to defray the expense of an establishment to consist of fifty children."

The Committee had several conferences with the Trustees of the Free School in order to ascertain the probable expense of tuition, including all books and supplies necessary for the purpose. We are told that the Trustees "agreed to educate in their seminary fifty children constantly for $300 annually, which is more than one-half less than would be required for their education in a separate school." The Grand Lodge vas accordingly asked to contribute $80 a year to make up the 3300 required to carry the plan into effect. Each of the Lodges contributing to the Fund vas given the right of "naming two children to receive the benefit of this charity." Six places were assigned to the Grand Lodge School Committee, which was also given authority to fill "all vacancies as they occur from the individual Lodge declining or neglecting to recommend as aforesaid."

In that year, 1809, the first school building was opened and Brother DeWitt Clinton delivered an address at the time. He was instrumental in establishing the educational system of the State and served the Grand Lodge from 1806 to 1820 as Grand Master and was for eight years Governor of New York State.

The Masonic School Committee on June 3, 1812, suggested for the consideration of the Grand Lodge the propriety of establishing a school to be under the entire management of the Grand Lodge, but this suggestion was not adopted. We find that the number of children that the Brethren had decided to educate amounted to fifty and that they were provided with comfortable clothing. From time to time the School Committee provided for purchases of shoes and stockings, overcoats and hats for the children.

The Free School was from the start supported by voluntary donations, but as the legislature began to recognize the value of the work that was accomplished, sums of money were granted. About the end of 1817 the Free School was formally established under the supervision of the State and further support from the Masonic Fraternity was no longer required. For an account of the relations between the Public School project and the Grand Lodge see a chapter in the History of Freemasonry in the State of New York by Brother Ossian Lang (pages 91-5) to which we are indebted for information.

Education generally, as it has been fostered by Freemasons everywhere, is not confined to the promotion of Public Schools and therefore requires no extended mention here. But note should be taken of the active interest in common-school education by the Brethren, the Freemasons in Latin lands being especially worthy of remembrance in this connection. There is also the promotion by the Supreme Council, Southern Jurisdiction, United States of America, Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite, which in 1920 openly declared itself in favor of the creation of a Department of Education with a Secretary in the President's Cabinet, and the passage of what was then known as the Smith-Towner Educational Bill embodying the principle of Federal Aid to the Public Schools in order to provide funds for the equalization of educational opportunities to the children of the nation.

The Brethren declared their belief in the compulsory attendance of ad children upon the Public Schools and that it was the duty of all parents to see that school facilities are both adequate and efficient, "to strengthen the Public Schools by promoting their efficiency, so that their superiority over all other schools shall be so obvious that every parent will have to send his children to them if they are to progress and keep step with the Public School students in life's race" (see Transactions, 192s5, pages 218-9, Supreme Council, Southern Jurisdiction, Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite).

The former Grand Secretary of Scotland, Brother William A. Laurie (bristly of Free Masonry, 1849, page 70) gives briefly several interesting instances:

In Germany, Denmark, and Sweden, charity-schools were erected by the Lodges for educating the children of Free Masons whose poverty debarred them from this advantage. In that which was formed at Brunswick they were instructed in classical learning and various Blanches of mathematics, and were regularly examined by the Duke of Brunswick who rewarded the most deserving with suitable premiums. At Eisenach, several seminaries of this hind were established, the teachers were endowed with fixed salaries, and in a short time after their institution these sent into the world 700 children instructed in the principles of science and the doctrines of Christianity. In 1771 an establishment of a similar kind was formed at Cassel in which the children were maintained and educated till they could provide for themselves. In 1773 the united Lodges of Dresden, Leipsic, and Gorlitz, erected at Frederickstadt a seminars for children of every denomination in the Electorate of Saxony, the Masonic subscriptions were so numerous that the funds of the institution were sufficient for its maintenance and in the space of five years, above 1100 children received a liberal education.

In the same year an extensive workhouse was erected at Prague. in which the children were not only instructed in the rudimentary principles of education but in those branches also of the useful and fine arts which might qualify them for commercial and agricultural situations. It deserves to be remarked that the founders of these institutions, amid their anxiety for the public prosperity, never neglected the spiritual interests of the children; they saw that early piety is the foundation of all that is useful and Honorable in life, and that without this, speculative knowledge and practical skill are of little avail.

Fully in line with the subject under discussion is another item also mentioned in the above work (page 193), "At the Quarterly Communication on 4th February, 1820, a letter was read from Leonard Corner, Esquire, Secretary to the Edinburgh School of Arts, thanking the Grand Lodge for the very liberal manner in which they had granted the use of the Hall for the accommodation of that Institution, thereby enabling it to extend its usefulness to a degree that would not have been practicable without this cordial co-operation." Brother Lauriesac's "This was the first School of arts instituted in Scotland, if not in Great Britain, and the parents of the numerous Mechanics' Institutes since established" (see also Sunday Schools).

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