Becoming a City and Becoming American, San Antonio, Texas, 1848-1861 Chapter 7


By Lawrence Phillip Knight, Ph.D.

Texas A&M University-Kingsville




Education in San Antonio in the 1850s began as a series of private ventures. The 1850 census reported four schools in Bexar County. Together they had 114 students taught by six teachers. An example of them was Mr. Charles Lackmann's school, which was advertised in the summer of 1851. Lackmann was a graduate of the University of Koenigsburg in Prussia and had taught in England. His school included language courses in English, German, and French, and after 1851 his school was heard from no more. The primary item of importance of Lackmann's school was his offer to teach his fellow German countrymen English. Though San Antonio was a city of many ethnicities in a land of many ethnicities, its citizens needed to know English. To their own loss, many did not. [1]

This assessment was confirmed by Ángel Navarro in a debate in the state legislature. During the Cart War he proposed that 1,500 copies of Governor Pease's message concerning the incident be printed at the state's expense in Spanish and 1,000 in German. Opposition from another representative prompted Jacob Waelder to support Navarro's proposal, but Waelder added that he would settle for copies in Spanish, since the violence was aimed at the Hispanics. Waelder also noted that the Hispanic citizens "have rights, which should be guarded with the same vigilance as those of any other class of the community." Navarro added, "I want this class of people to know that in this free government we recognize no distinction of classes; that an American citizen is a n American citizen, be his origin whatever it may." [2]

A house debate the next month revealed a further negative to not knowing English. Waelder introduced a bill that allowed members of the San Antonio Fire Association, mostly Germans, an exemption from jury duty. Navarro opposed his colleague's proposal because it would shrink the already small jury pool of the city. Navarro noted that many in the city did not serve on juries because they had no knowledge of English; this was true of both Germans and Hispanics, but especially of Hispanics. "[V]ery few of our Mexican citizens in San Antonio serve on juries in the District Court; and it is only for this reason, to avoid the trouble and inconvenience of interpreting." He added, only half-jokingly, that it would be to his interest to have Hispanics on the jury all the time; "for I would then probably have an opportunity of making a few dollars from the county by acting as interpreter in the District Court." According to Navarro, one was not truly a citizen without the knowledge of English. A citizen without knowledge of what the government was doing and why it was doing it was no more a citizen than a person who could not sit on a jury. The knowledge of English was the key to citizenship in an American city, and though San Antonio was composed primarily of citizens whose native tongue was not English, to be an American required a knowledge of English; one simply could not exercise all the rights of a citizen without the knowledge of English. [3]

Lack of a knowledge of English also was associated with poverty. Both the 1850 and 1860 censuses revealed that most Hispanics in the city were illiterate--they were also the poorest ethnicity in the city. The average wealth for native speakers of English (U.S. natives, natives of Great Britain, and Ireland) was $9,808; for natives of Germany the average wealth was $2,012; and for native Spanish speakers (Tejanos, Mexicans, Spaniards, and other Hispanics) the average wealth was $535. Looked at another way, the average Hispanic had 5.45 percent of the wealth of the average Anglo, and 26.6 percent of the wealth of the average German. Averages can be deceiving, however, because one wealthy person can skew the average. Thus, another way to examine wealth is to determine what percentage of the people had wealth. Of the 47 native speakers of English garnered in a sample composed of every tenth head of household from the 1860 census, 26, or 55.3 percent, had no wealth; of the 49 native speakers of Spanish 42, or 85.7 percent, had no wealth; of the German speakers, 33 of 50 or 66 percent, had no wealth. Thus, looked at from the point of wealth or from the point of poverty, the Spanish speaking natives were the poorest, and the poorest by far (see Table 1) [4]


The Relation Between Language and Wealth in San Antonio, 1860
Language Sample Total Wealth Avg. Wealth % W/Wealth
English 47 $460,978 $9,808 55.3
German 50 $100, 600 $2,012 66
Spanish 49 $26.20 $535 85.7

Source: United States Eighth Census (1860), Bexar County, Texas, Population Schedules, (microfilm; GDTSL)

Navarro linked the illiteracy of the Hispanics to a lack of education. He defended the intelligence of the Hispanics, noting that they were smart enough to learn, but they grew up under a Mexican government that refused to spend money to educate them. Navarro recognized that English was the key to success in San Antonio, and education, as Lackmann had advertised, was the key to English. [5]

Navarro's judgment that Mexico refused to spend money to educate its poor was also true of Texas during its time as a Republic and in the early years of statehood. All early schools in San Antonio were private affairs. The first school of substance in San Antonio was the Ursuline Academy, a school for girls. The school began advertising in English and Spanish in the San Antonio Ledger in 1851, stating that the school term would begin on November 1 of that year. While the school offered courses in Spanish, German, and French, they were taught as foreign languages, English was the primary language. English was not a language of choice but of necessity, and the one the students who did not know it most wanted to learn. Of her students' desire to learn English Sister Mary Patrick Joseph reported, "in fact they must know it, for it is the language of the States, and they feel ashamed at not being able to speak it." As at Lackmann's school, English was the primary language. Also like all other schools in the city, no one attended for free. Another Catholic school, this one for boys and named St. Mary's Academy, began in late 1852. It became popular immediately and by 1855 had 150 students, which increased to 190 by 1860. The school served both local and boarding students and was a microcosm of the city's ethnicity. Barreras, Casanovas, Esparzas, Leals, Navarros, Ruiz's, and Sotos studied with Baylors, Crawfords, Devines, Giddings, and Paschals; Beckmanns, Huffmeyers, Mengers, Riottes, Stumbergs and Ulrichs studied with Girauds, LeGrands, Lecomtes, and Odets, and these studied with Callaghans, Cassianos, and Meades. As Catholic girls were educated at the Ursuline Academy, Catholic boys were educated at St. Mary's--though non-Catholics were also educated at both institutions. They too learned English as the primary language, but only if someone paid for their attendance. A private secular school of substance was the San Antonio Male and Female Academy that rented the first floor of the Methodist Church and was under the direction of P.J. Carolan. The school apparently catered primarily to girls since it had two female teachers in addition to Mr. Carolan. Besides teaching basic courses the school taught English, German, Spanish, French, and ancient languages. Like other private institutions in the city, the Academy taught primarily in English and taught only students whose parents could pay for their education. The city had other private schools as well, but none varied on the two primary points from those described; all taught their primary courses in English and were beyond the reach of the poor students of San Antonio to attend. [6]

Parents with the means to send their children to school paid for their children to go. The parents might chose a religious school over a secular one or a Catholic school instead of a Protestant one, but they were determined that their children be educated, and at the heart of that education was English. Yet if the children of the poor of San Antonio were to be educated, if they were to learn English, if they were, in fact allowed the opportunity to become American, then someone would have to pay for their education. [7]

The initial catalyst for a public school in San Antonio was the Anglo press. In 1852 the Ledger contrasted education in the city of San Antonio with the little towns of Seguin and Bastrop. Both towns had public schools, while San Antonio could boast only three private schools, two secular schools and a Catholic school for girls. The writer admonished the city for its failure; how could San Antonio be bested by such small, poor towns? More important, however, were the consequences--lack of education caused the children of San Antonio to suffer, at least some of them. Most hurt were the "poor Mexican children whose only avenue of improvement is cut off." Since it was assumed that a public school in an American city would teach Hispanic children English, the paper was saying that the Hispanic children were hurt because they were being denied the opportunity to learn the language of America. The Ledger further noted that Mr. Riotte had offered to give the city land on which to build a public school. What, the writer wondered, was the city waiting for? Again, the point was broached by the Ledger when it published a wish list of city improvements for the new year, 1853; high on the list was the wish for a public school. The paper's wish was not long in being granted. [8]

The city council appointed a Committee of Education, on January 4, 1853, to propose a public school system for the city. The committee, composed of Navarro, C.N. Riotte, and James R. Sweet, was representative of San Antonio's ethnic makeup and well suited to serve the needs of the poor Hispanic, German, and Anglo children. Its job was the creation of a public school system. Two schools would be opened, one on each side of the river, and they would be equally funded. No curriculum was discussed but no "religious or sectarian bias," was allowed in the curriculum. The committee was empowered to hire and fire teachers at any time by majority vote, and the city's building on Military Plaza (adjacent to the Spanish Governor's Palace) was put at the committee's disposal. [9]

Once the city was committed to a public school system, there was much work to do: a name had to be chosen, teachers hired, and buildings found or prepared. The city's school was named the City Free School, which was appropriate since its primary purpose was to provide a free education to those who could not afford a private one. Three teachers were hired, and initially one school was opened, located on the east side of the river in a building rented from W.A. Menger. All this was accomplished before the Fall term in 1853. By November another teacher was added; the school now had two male and two female teachers with the men receiving $65 per month and the women $50. In January 1854 the city opened its second building, apparently the city owned building on Military Plaza. The school had 120 students, equally split between boys and girls, with the girls meeting in Menger's building and the boys in the city building. The only complaint leveled at the school by the committee was that the boys' building was filthy, the windows were broken, and the heating stove did not work--a combination that made it quite uncomfortable in January. The male teachers were apparently in charge of classroom maintenance because Mr. Reed, the teacher, was reprimanded for the poor condition of the classroom. [10]

In 1854 the city council chose to relieve itself of direct control of the schools. An elected Board of Trustees was to take over the daily governance of the schools in 1855. Three men were elected as trustees, but immediately ran into trouble when they were accused of running the city's schools in accordance with Know-Nothing principles. The next year control of the schools reverted to the city council. [11]

Although the schools had been in operation since September 1854, the council had not formally adopted a curriculum. That was remedied for the Fall term of 1856 when the council adopted a curriculum that included reading, writing, grammar, geography, and math. The council also specified that all courses be taught in English, and that only children from six to sixteen be allowed to attend the school. [12]

Once the school was established and divisive politics removed from its operation, the business of the school became mundane. Teachers were hired and, when resources ran low, let go; raises were asked for and either given or refused; rent continued to be paid, and the children continued to have cold classrooms in the winter. Not all was mundane, however. The school continued to grow throughout the decade and by 1860 had 221 students. Also the city council instituted standards for both teachers and students. The education committee declared that the goal of the school was to attain "the standard of the best in the country." Teachers now had to appear before an examining board to prove their competency, and students were required to be punctual for both the morning and afternoon sessions, and to attend school regularly. Any parent whose child missed two consecutive days of school in any month was notified and missing three consecutive days caused the child to be dropped from the rolls for that month, with an exception made for illness. More important than these, however, was a decision by the city council concerning textbooks. Even though the school was free, until 1860 students had to provide their own texts, which were purchased from local stores. In 1860, however, the city council refused to turn any student away who could not afford the texts and instead paid for the books out of the school budget. Any student who needed financial assistance in purchasing the texts had only to apply to any member of the education committee, and the city would provide the texts. [13]

The most unusual school in the city was the German-English School. Notwithstanding the name, the school's board was composed entirely of Germans. Though a private school, it allowed poor students to attend for free; though determined to teach its students English, its focus was to provide them with a German education.

The board of the school was entirely German and consisted of Riotte, president, and members, Friedrich A. Nette, G. Friesleben, G. Theißen, and Julius Berends. Each of these men was a leader in the German community and was instrumental in founding the school and what became the schools biggest benefactor, the Casino Club. Berends came to San Antonio in 1852, opened a book store, and started the Society for the Sick at San Antonio. Friesleben was the city surveyor, Nette served on the city council, and the first meeting of the German-English school board met at his home, and Thiessen also served on the city council. [14]

At the second meeting of the board, the board members determined that students whose families could not afford the $1.50 per term tuition could have that fee waived. There were three reasons for this largess: the belief that a German education was superior to anything available in San Antonio, the support of an association of patrons each pledged to give at least $30 per year to the school, and a new state law that allowed private schools to receive state funds. The primary aim of the school was "to afford its pupils a training corresponding to that of the German ' Real Schule.'" Such an education would allow students to read publications in many professions--chemical, architectural, engineering, medical, and pharmaceutical--that were published solely in the German language. The idea of the superior German education was reinforced by the requirements for teachers. Except for instructors teaching English, all teachers "shall have been completely trained for their profession in Germany." Though the school was founded to provide a German style education by German trained teachers, the state law required "that the English language [be] principally taught therein." To balance the desire to create a German school in an English language setting, even lessons given in German used the English alphabet. [15]

Initially the school hired three teachers at $60 per month and rented a building for an undisclosed amount. The following term a female, Mrs. Staffel, was added to the all-male staff; her job was to teach homemaking for four hours a week for which she was paid $12 per month. By the second year the faculty had grown to four, but, as with the City Free School, budget constraints caused the school to reduce its faculty to three by 1860. However, the school was blessed with volunteers. Simon Menger, who was the city's soap maker, taught writing for four hours a week; E. Pentenrieder, who pledged $100 in the school's first year, and W. Becker volunteered to teach gymnastics; and A.A. Lewis, the editor of El Bejareño, volunteered to teach Spanish for four hours a week--though Lewis was paid for his efforts. [16]

In fact were it not for the support of the German community the German-English school would have quickly disbanded. The liberality of the school to waive tuition in certain cases, coupled with operating expenses, and the reluctance of the citizens of San Antonio to ever pay for anything that they agreed to without coercion, almost ruined the German-English school. [17] By the school's second term the board realized that a promise to pay by some of the city's citizens, was vastly different than paying. At a meeting early in the second session, the board noted that many of the parents of the students were not paying their installments on tuition. Teachers were given the odious responsibility for collecting the payments from the students, and the board decided that those students whose bill was not paid "should be removed from the school." Financial conditions did not improve, and by the school's third term, the board noted that the school was running a deficit of $180 per month. The solution was to raise the tuition to $3 per month. But the real solution to the problem came not from tuition increases, but from outside money. Most notable in coming to the financial rescue of the school was the Casino Society, a German social and intellectual club. A drama production was staged by the society in the summer of 1858, and a ball was held in the new Casino Hall in December 1858 to support the school. The German-English school board thanked the society for another gift of an undisclosed amount in April, 1859 and did so again six months later. More financial support came from a group within the Casino Society that named itself the Schiller Committee, named after the philosopher Friedrich von Schiller. The committee either donated land to the school on which to construct a school building, or it sold land and gave the money to the school. Usually individual patrons were not singled out for thanks; an exception was W.A. Menger, whose hotel had recently opened, and who was thanked for a gift of $339.40. In any case, because of the Schiller Committee the corner stone of the German-English school was laid on November 10, 1859, Schiller's birthday. So important were the donations of the Schiller Committee and the Casino Society, that a bust of Schiller was to be on prominent display in the new school, and every member of the Casino Society was declared a patron of the school and given voting rights in the school's decisions. By 1860 the German-English school had weathered its financial storms and had become one of the city's largest schools, equaling the City Free School in student population with 221. [18]

That the German-English School was devoted to a German education did not mean that a German education was equated with the German language. All of the board members and many of the patrons were fluent in English and knew that success in their new home meant acquiring a knowledge of English. Things German were not to be lost, but things American, and especially a knowledge of the English language, were to be obtained. Also, ironically, by accepting state funds to provide the children of the poor a superior German education, the German-English School aided in the Americanization of the poor of the city.

Perhaps the definitive term for the citizens of San Antonio concerning education was generosity. Most students, as the 1860 census showed, attended private schools. That meant that the citizens of San Antonio who could afford to send their children to private schools also voted to pay taxes to send children of the poor to public school. In fact, Kenneth Wheeler, in his work, To Wear a City's Crown, termed the city's school the only viable public school system of the state's major cities. In 1854 the city spent $3,460 on the city's public schools. That figure remained almost constant through 1857 when it was $3,360, but that was still 16.8 percent of the city's projected budget, and San Antonio, like most cities, never had enough money--the city suffered without a bridge that would connect the eastern and western business districts via Commerce street for eight years because of lack of funds. Though funds for the public school were cut by the city to $2,303 by 1860, even that figure was a remarkable show of liberality since the overwhelming majority of students in the city went to private schools. Of the 1,201 students in San Antonio 221, or 18.4 percent attend the City Free School; looked at in reverse, 81.6 percent of the students in San Antonio attended a private school, which received no city funds, yet the parents of those students voted to pay taxes, so the children of the poor could also go to school. [19]

Not only did the taxpayers of the city support the City Free School, they did not skimp in quality of education provided by the school. An analysis of the city's schools according to student to teacher ratio and student to dollar ratio (see attached table) showed that the City Free School was competitive with the private schools of the city. In student to teacher ratio the schools ranked in descending order were the city's ten small private schools with a 31:1 ratio, followed by St. Mary's, 32:1, the Ursuline Academy, 38:1; the German-English School, 55:1, and the City Free School, 74:1. Certainly in that category the public school was worst by far. But in the ratio of dollars spent per student, the public school ranked quite high. The Ursuline Academy ranked highest in dollars spent per student at $17.25, followed by the City Free School at $11.25, the ten small private schools at $11.16, St. Mary's Academy at $10.60, and the German-English School at $5.00--though the German-English school used many volunteer teachers. [20]

Not only did San Antonio spend money on its schools, it also supported some of the private schools with one of its few assets, land; this despite the usually desperate need of the city for money. In fact, the city was quite generous with the land. An institution named the Female Academy was the first school to receive land from the city. Three lots of land, consisting of seven and one-half acres, were given to the school despite some dissension among council members that the city needed to sell the land to pay for other badly needed projects. Not only were the objections to giving the land to the school overcome, but within a few months the city gave one lot of land to the German-English School, one to the German Lutheran School, and two to St. Mary's. The giving of land was further proof that the city of San Antonio was determined to educate the children of San Antonio regardless of economic status. [21]

To be American in San Antonio required a knowledge of English. Providing that knowledge in a city whose inhabitants were primarily non English speakers meant teaching English to the young. Teaching the young in a city with a large population of poor meant providing a free education for many of the students. The city of San Antonio, despite the pressing need of funds for other projects, chose to spend a substantial portion of its income to insure that its next generation of citizens would be equipped to be Americans.

[1]San Antonio Ledger, June 19, 1851.

[2] State Gazette Appendix, Containing Official Reports of Debates and Proceedings of the Seventh Legislature of the State of Texas, (Austin: John Marshall and Co., State Printers, 1858), 8-9 (quotations).

[3] Ibid., 110-111 (quotations).

[4]United States Seventh and Eighth Census (1850 and 1860), Bexar County, Texas, Population Schedules; the calculations are based on a sampling of every tenth head of household of the 1860 census.

[5] State Gazette Appendix, 110; San Antonio Ledger, June 19, 1851.

[6] Ibid., Oct. 30, 1851, June 19, 1854; Sister Mary Patrick Joseph and Sister Mary Augustine Joseph, Letters from the Ursuline, 1852-1853, ed. Catherine McDowell (San Antonio: Trinity University Press, 1977), 177-178 (quotation); Rev. Father P.F. Parisot et al. (comps.), History of the Catholic Church in the Diocese of San Antonio, Texas (San Antonio: Carrico and Bowen, 1897), 131-135; Roll Book of St. Mary's Academy, 1853-1921 (Marianist Archives, St. Mary's University); United States Eighth Census (1860), Bexar County, Texas, Population Schedules.

[7] State Gazette Appendix, 8, 110.

[8] San Antonio Ledger, Sept. 2, 1852 (quotation), Nov. 18, Dec. 30, 1852.

[9] San Antonio, Council Journal, Book B, Jan. 4, 198-199, Feb. 1, 1853, 204-205 (quotation) (City Clerk's Office; cited hereafter as SACCO).

[10] Ibid., Aug. 13, 230, Nov. 30, 1853, 240, Jan. 12, 1854, 251-252 (SACCO).

[11] San Antonio Western Texan, Oct. 19, 1854; San Antonio Alamo Star, Oct. 21, 1854; San Antonio Herald, Nov. 20, 1855.

[12] San Antonio, Council Journal, Book C, Sept. 29, 1856, 18 (SACCO).

[13] San Antonio, Council, Book C, Feb. 16, 44, Sept. 7, 79, Oct. 19, 1857, 91, Feb. 1, 106, Oct. 6, 1858, 136-137, Jan. 17, 155, Aug. 4, 191, 31, 1859, 194, Aug. 8, 263, Oct. 15, 272, Nov. 8, 1860, 274, April 1, 1861, 300 (SACCO); San Antonio Ledger, Oct. 9, 1858; San Antonio Ledger and Texan, Oct. 2, 1860 (quotation).

[14] Mary El-Beheri et al. (comps.), "Minutes of the German-English School of San Antonio, Texas (Daughters of the Republic of Texas Library at the Alamo, San Antonio; cited hereafter as DRT), II-4; San Antonio Ledger, Nov. 18, 1852, Sept 4, 1858; San Antonio, Council Journal, Book B, Dec. 24, 1855, 347, Jan. 1, 1856, 354 (SACCO); San Antonio Light, Sept. 24, 1911; Adolf Paul Weber, Deutsche Pioniere, zur Geschichte des Deutschthums in Texas (San Antonio: privately published, 1894), 21-22.

[15] El-Beheri, "Minutes of the German-English School," (DRT), II-2,5-6; Frederick C. Chabot (super.), "German English School, Constitution and List of Subscribers" (Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin; cited hereafter as CAH), 1 (first quotation), 2 (second quotation); Peter-Boda Gawenda, "The Use of the German Language in the Schools of San Antonio, Texas, From 1880 to 1910" (Ph.D. diss., University of Houston, 1986), 92-93; H.P.N. Gammel, (comp.), The Laws of Texas 1822-1897...(10 vols.; Austin: Gammel Book Co., 1898), 4, 999.

[16] El-Beheri, "Minutes of the German-English School," (DRT), April 2, II-1, May 5, II-5, Sept. 2, II-10, Nov. 28, 1858, II-11-12, Jan. 17, 1860, II-21; Chabot, "German-English School (CAH), 5; United States Eighth Census (1860), Bexar County, Texas, Social Statistics; San Antonio Ledger, July 7, 1855.

[17] Many instances could be given of the reluctance of San Antonio's citizens to pay for services already received; one must suffice. W.A. Menger paid to build an irrigation ditch to serve the East Side with the understanding that his fellow citizens would pay him back; they did not, and he was forced to apply to the city council for reimbursement, see San Antonio, Council Journal, Book C, Oct. 19, 1857, 90 (SACCO).

[18] El-Beheri, "Minutes of the German-English School," (DRT), Feb. 5, II-11, (quotation), Nov. 28, 1858, II-13, April 19, II-16, Sept. 2, Oct. 20, II-18-19, Nov. 7, II-20, Nov. 23, 1859; San Antonio Ledger, June 12, 1858, Dec. 4, 1858; United States Eighth Census (1860), Bexar County, Texas, Social Statistics.

[19] Kenneth W. Wheeler, To Wear a City's Crown: The Beginnings of Urban Growth in Texas, 1836-1865 (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1968), 137; San Antonio, Council Journal, Book B, Jan. 6, 248, 12, 1854, 252-253 (SACCO); San Antonio, Council Journal, Book C, Jan. 19, 1857, 39, Feb. 27, 1861, 296 (SACCO); United States Eighth Census (1860), Bexar County, Texas, Social Statistics.

[20] Ibid.; El-Beheri, "Minutes of the German-English School," (DRT), Sept. 2, II-10, Nov. 28, 1858, II-12.

[21] San Antonio, Council Journal, Book C, Feb. 6, 223, April 6, 238-239, May 7, 242-242, Aug. 8, 1860, 260-261 (SACCO).