Skip Navigation

Antebellum Education

With the aid of the Virginia Literary Fund, there were 1,300 primary schools in western Virginia by 1850. It was not until the 1863 creation of West Virginia, however, that the state was constitutionally required to provide for public schools. To fill the need for secondary education, early academies were founded at Shepherdstown and Clarksburg, as well as other towns. Many of these academies, such as Marshall and West Liberty, became small colleges which still exist today. Alexander Campbell, the founder of the Disciples of Christ religious denomination, established Buffalo Academy in 1816. Buffalo Academy later became Bethany College.

Given the fact there was no public funding for schools, only the wealthiest citizens could afford to pay for a formal education for their children. The private academies were designed to reinforce the existing class structure, denying education to the poor. This underscores the importance of public funding for education, which is intended to provide quality basic education for students of all economic levels.

In 1841, western Virginia educators, including Campbell and Henry Ruffner, met in Clarksburg to support the growing movement for publicly funded schools. Ruffner asked the Virginia General Assembly to establish free schools which were "good enough for the rich . . . [and] fit for the poor." Ruffner's goals were not met until the establishment of the new state of West Virginia in 1863.


Antebellum Studies

West Virginia History CenterWest Virginia History Center

West Virginia Archives and History