From 1878-1889, the Peale was part of the new Colored Schools being developed in Baltimore to provide free public school educations to African Americans in the city. Known as “Colored School Number 1,” the building was the site of one of the first grammar schools in the Colored School system, and the first High School. The Peale’s seminal role in public school education in Baltimore at the end of the 19th century is one of the most intriguing moments in the building’s history, but so far little is known about this period. Here are the notes we have gathered from a few volunteer researchers; please add to our knowledge base if you can, and share this request for information with anyone you know who might be able to help!
Among our first questions is, what did the term, “color,” mean in this day and context? Who was included and served by these early public schools in Baltimore?
The Early Colored School System in Baltimore
Following the Maryland State Constitution enfranchising African Americans, on November 28, 1864, a group of philanthropic white men created the Baltimore Association for the Moral and Educational Improvement of the Colored People. This group provided the funds, including $10,000 from the City, and teachers to establish nine colored primary schools in African-American neighborhoods in the city, starting with the first in the African Baptist Church on Calvert and Saratoga, which opened January 2, 1865. The Association also petitioned the city council to authorize public primary schools for colored children, and with an 1867 resolution by the city council, the nine colored schools previously operated by the Baltimore Association became city public schools, with four additional schools (2 male, 2 female) to be opened in the southern and western sections of the city a year later (Baltimore Sun, October 16, 1867; September 9, 1868).
In June 1868, the report of the commission on colored schools said there were about 1,100 “scholars” on roll, with an average attendance of 800 and a total of 21 teachers. That same year the school board passed a resolution that all teachers in the colored schools [would] be white. (Baltimore Sun, June 24, 1868) (Despite continual petitions from black leaders asking for colored teachers in the colored schools, no change was made until 1889 when Mayor Latrobe signed an ordinance “providing for colored teachers in schools hereafter to be erected for the instruction of colored children.” (Baltimore Sun, June 29, 1889). In fact, the first colored school to have colored teachers was not built until 1888-89 in northwest Baltimore.)
In November 1868, prominent black businessman Isaac Myers pushed the school commissioners to provide “higher depts. of public instruction” for colored children and the commissioners appointed a committee to look into it. Less than a year later, the commission resolved that “on the first Monday of Sept. 1869 the word ‘primary’ be removed from the name of the colored schools and that they be known henceforth as ‘colored schools’ with numbers 1-7″ and “that the principals of said schools be directed to have classes in grammar school studies whenever the condition of the pupils will admit.” (July 28, 1869)
Male and Female Colored School No. 1, Old City Hall, 1878
In March 1878, the teachers of Colored School No. 1 on Lexington St. successfully petitioned the city council to find them a more suitable building. A City Council resolution appropriated $5,000 and directed the Inspector of Buildings “to fit up the old city hall building on Holliday St. [the Peale Museum building] for use by this colored grammar school [No. 1 on Lexington St.], the building to be turned over to the school commissioners for educational purposes.” (Baltimore Sun, March 27, 1878) The new Colored School No. 1 opened in the old City Hall on Holliday St. on September 2, 1878. N.B. “No. 1″ is a geographic designation, and does not mean the Peale was the site of the first grammar school for children of color in Baltimore, though it did house the first high school in the Colored School system, as will be discussed below.
(The previous January, under the heading “Unoccupied City Property,” a short article appeared in the Sun (1/18/78) listing the “Old City Hall, improved property, Holliday St., fronting 51’ on Holliday with a depth of 100’; ground rent $306 per year redeemable.” The article noted that the comptroller was on the point of offering the building at public sale, but auctioneers and the mayor suggested waiting until spring. “If sold at present or at any time after the assessors and board of control vacated the building, it would have been sold at a sacrifice.”)
In 1878, as part of the “Mayor’s Message and Reports of the City Offices,” the “Report of the Inspector of Buildings” gave a several-page report on the Old City Hall Building, on Holliday Street, which “has been repaired and modified so as to fit it for school purposes, and it was turned over, the latter part of last August, to the custody of the School Commissioners, who have dedicated it to the use of colored pupils, under the title of Male and Female Colored School No. 1.” This report is worth quoting at length as it describes the rooms in the building and their use both during the City Hall tenure and for the school. The description is as follows:
The original plan of the building has been adhered to, with the exception of dividing the room formerly used by the First Branch City Council as a chamber into two rooms, and similarly the portion of the building immediately under it, the first story. The building in rear of old Council chamber was taken down, in order to make room for a yard, and also for and adjunct building enclosing a rear stairway.
The plan of the building now may be described as follows:
The first story is entered by a wide door on Holliday street, opening into a roomy hall, containing an easy open stairway ascending to the second story; on each side of this hall are two class-rooms; the rear end of the hall connects with a lateral passage leading to a door opening on the south yard, and also a door opening into the two class-rooms in the rear end of the building. The first story, therefore, contains six class-rooms.
The second story is reached by ascending the front hall stairs, which land about the centre of the building, in the front of which are three class-rooms and a reception room, and to the rear are two class-rooms; all these rooms have separate access to them by passages. The exit from the second story is made by descending an easy platform stair to the rear vestibule in the first story, which has a door on one side opening in the north yard, and a door on the other side opening on a public alley ten feet wide; so that ample egress is provided in the building, to be voided in cases of emergency, panic, or danger. The second story contains five class-rooms. The present capacity of the building (as restored) is, then, eleven class-rooms, which ought to seat comfortably five hundred pupils.
The report goes on to say that the third story has not been repaired for use but if the need arises, it “ought to have capacity for one hundred and twenty additional pupils.”
The “Colored High School”
In January 1882 a resolution was offered to the city council “to establish a high school for colored children in connection with the colored grammar schools as soon as fifteen properly qualified pupils shall present themselves, the institution to be called The Colored High School of Baltimore City, to be presided over by one professor, until the number of pupils shall exceed 45, at a salary of not more than $1000 per annum, and that the qualifications of pupils shall be the same as white pupils in similar schools.” This resolution, and a second one in April were referred without adoption, but on November 1, 1882 the resolution was finally adopted. (Baltimore Sun, January 24; April 5; November 1, 1882) Classes must have begun soon after as references appeared the following spring and summer in school board reports about the teachers in the “colored high and grammar school” located in the old City Hall.
Nevertheless, the school commissioners soon found the building lacking. In 1883 their Annual Report noted, “The building occupied by the Colored High and Grammar School and Male Colored School No. 1 is not a suitable one in scarcely any respect. It is not well arranged and some of the rooms are too small and very badly lighted. In some of the rooms, on the lower floor, it is scarcely possible to see sufficiently well to read on cloudy days. If, in case of fire or for any other cause, it became necessary to move the children quickly out of the building, great difficulty would be experienced on account of the narrow stairway down which pupils on the third floor have to pass in getting out of the building.”
By 1884 things hadn’t improved: the stairway was still a hazard, and “This neighborhood is too noisy for the location of a school.” Nonetheless, on April 1, 1885, a long article appeared in the Sun describing the Easter celebrations at the “colored high school” in the old City Hall.
The poor conditions persisted and on December 10, 1888 a brand new building erected for the Colored High School opened on Saratoga St., three doors from Charles St. and pupils who had been attending the grammar and high school at the old City Hall moved to their new facility, touted in the Sun as “the first building erected in Baltimore for a colored high and grammar school.” There were 567 pupils, with 26 in the high school. There were two male and fourteen female teachers, all white. The three-story building had a front of red sand brick with red stone and galvanized iron trimmings, with a front of 59’ and depth of 127’. There were 24 classrooms (22 x 26’ each), and three teacher’s rooms. Constructed at a cost of some $25,000, the building was “light and airy” and boasted a ventilating system to supply both fresh air and heat. (Sun, October 11, 1888). These were important features as contemporary reports about the conditions of the city’s colored schools always complained about the lack of light, the stale air, and noxious odors emanating from surrounding buildings.
In May 1889 the city council passed an ordinance empowering the board of school commissioners to “confer testimonials on the pupils of the Colored High School, the same as upon pupils of the Baltimore City College and the Female High School.” (Baltimore Sun, May 21, 1889) This would enable those graduates to secure teaching positions in the colored schools.
The first diplomas given at the new Colored High School were handed out by Mayor Latrobe in a ceremony held at Ford’s Opera House in late June 1889. There were nine graduates, seven female and two male. As part of his speech, Mayor Latrobe said that he “was glad to sign the ordinance providing for colored teachers in schools hereafter to be erected for the instruction of colored children.” He hoped that the graduates of the High School “would help supply the demand for such teachers.” A long article in the Sun described the ceremony and gave the names of the nine graduates, all of whom had previously attended the school on Holliday St. (Baltimore Sun, June 29, 1889)
January 3, 1865: The first Maryland colored school opens in the African Baptist Church on Calvert and Saratoga Streets
1865: The Baltimore Association for the Moral and Social Improvement of the Colored People is formed. The group secures some funding from the city and builds early schools for black students
1867: The Baltimore City Council opens 13 Colored Primary Schools (but no grammar or high schools yet)
1869: The City Council opens publically funded Colored Grammar Schools – one is begun at the Peale building, Colored Grammar School No. 1
1872: Confirmation from Annual Report that the Male and Female Primary Schools No. 1 are located at 5 Lexington St (1871/72 Annual Report)
1873: No address included for Colored School No. 1 – located within Peale? Or not quite yet?
1874: Confirmation that Colored Grammar School No. 1 is housed within Peale building (1874 Annual Report)
1878: By a resolution of the City Council, the Inspector of Buildings is directed to alter and repair the old City Hall Building on Holliday Street. The Peale building becomes Male and Female Colored School No. 1, “replacing an earlier colored school.”
187?-1889: Baltimore’s Colored Schools No. 1
1882: Colored High School No. 1 (a two year program) is added to the Colored Grammar School in the Peale building
1883-1885: Reports of the school illustrate it as extremely unsuitable for learning
1885: Baltimore Sun article describes the conditions of Colored High and Grammar School No. 1 as completely atrocious. It is noted that there are 524 students enrolled in the grammar and high school and 150 students enrolled in the primary school
1888: Colored High School 1 (once located within the Peale) moves to Saratoga Street
1889: Female Colored School No. 1 leaves; Male Colored School No. 1 leaves to accommodate the Water Board
High & Grammar Colored School, Male Colored No. 1, and Female Colored No. 1 are still listed in the 1890 Annual Report, but no addresses are included.
Reports on Baltimore’s Colored Schools
1870 Annual Report
“They [the colored schools] are under the control, exclusively, of white teachers, who are selected with the same ca8re as those in charge of the other schools. The studies of the Primary and Grammar Schools are taught to colored pupils, and the grade of scholarship is rapidly improving.” pg 24
Unsure if curriculum continues to be the same when black teachers are introduced.
1874/75 Annual Report
The number of schools for colored children is 15, under the charge of 68 white teachers, containing 3,562 pupils. These schools have been classified in the same manner as the schools for white children and the studies of the Grammar and Primary department are taught according to the capacity of the pupils. The general condition of these schools is very satisfactory and they present a strong argument in favor of the policy of making liberal provision for education of the colored children of our city. It is undoubtedly our duty to furnish them good school houses, good teachers, and every other reasonable facility for obtaining an education, adapted to their position and wants. They have no desire in this city for admission into any other schools than those produced for them, and we shall certainly remove all complaint by making these what they should be in every respect.
It is undoubtedly a good investment of public money, and will tend to satisfy this class in our community, that those in authority will do them full justice in furnishing a liberal education, so as to fit them to become good citizens. We have asked for an appropriation of $60,000 for the support of these schools during this year, and expect to erect another suitable building for their use.”
“Music Teacher introduced to Colored Schools in 1874. Prior to Professor Grady the students received only such instruction in music as enabled them to sing, by rote, simple melodies used at the opening and closing of school.
Colored Grammar School No. 1 deserves mention for the success that has attended the labors of its teachers. Its reflex influence upon the Primary Schools is very much of the nature of our High Schools upton the Grammar Schools, and now that the property occupied by this school is owned by the city, it can be enlarged to receive all well qualified pupils from the colored Primary Schools.
In our schools drawing has been taught successfully in the Female High Schools for more than 10 years. It has been taught in the Primary and Grammar Schools for 2 years and will be introduced in the City College in a short time. (Drawing was not being taught in the Colored Schools.)”
Baltimore Board of School Commissioners Vol. 49 – Annual Report, 1878
Total expenses of White Schools: $734,548.62 (pg xiii)
Total expenses of Colored Schools: $59,254.24 (pg iv)
On attendance: “Most of the Colored schools present an example on the other extreme, some of them securing an average attendance not greater than forty percent. Here the teacher may do all that is possible, but parents have not a proper appreciation of the necessity for regular attendance. Some of the principals do not observe the rules relating to truancy. Absentees are not always required to furnish satisfactory reasons for absence as they should be – teachers and parents being both imposed upon. Truancy seldom occurs in our best Primaries in certain localities, but in a few schools this evil prevails to too great an extent and is due mainly to mismanagement on the part of those called upon by the rules of the Board to correct it.” (pg 31)
“Previous to 1867, no provision had been made by the city for the education of colored children. The only instruction received by them was at private schools, or at the free schools which had been organized by the Association for the Improvement of Colored People, which had been sustained by private contributions. On the tenth of July of that year, an ordinance was adopted directing the Board of School Commissioners to establish separate schools for the colored children, under the same rules as governed the white public schools.”…”The Board proceeded to organize these schools, and in September commenced with about 1,000 pupils.” (xviii)
“On 28th June, 1868, the Board organized ten separate schools for colored children, under the charge of white teachers, since which time the number of schools and pupils has increased.” (xix)
1878: 13 Colored Day Schools (3,833 pupils) – 79.98% attendance
4 Colored Night Schools (634 pupils) – (?) 60-73% attendance
Colored Grammar School No. 1:
Grammar School No. 1: N. side Saratoga St. near St. Paul
Primary School No. 1: E. side Holliday St. near Lexington (ground rent $153.00)
Colored Grammar School No. 2: E. side East St. near Douglas
Colored Grammar School No. 3: SE corner of Howard and Montgomery
Colored Grammar School No. 4: Biddle St near Pennsylvania (1877) & Orchard (1878)
Colored Grammar School No. 5: S. side Eastern Ave., near Broadway
Colored Grammar School No. 6: N. side Barre St., near Eutaw
Colored Grammar School No. 7: N. side Waesche Street, near Fremont
Colored Grammar School No. 8:
Colored Grammar School No. 9:
Colored Grammar School No. 10:
“By a resolution of the City Council, the Inspector of Buildings was directed to alter and repair the old City Hall building on Holliday Street, for the use of Colored Primary Schools No. 1, and these schools are now occupying their new apartments with better light and ventilation and more comfort than they have ever had since their organization.” (1878) (xxxiv)
“In accordance of Ordinance No. 17, approved April 13th, 1878, THE OLD CITY HALL BUILDING ON HOLLIDAY STREET has been repaired and modified to fit it for school purposes, and it was turned over, the latter part of last August, to the custody of the School Commissioners, who have dedicated it to the use of colored pupils, under the title of Male and Female Colored School No. 1. The original plan of the building has been adhered to, with the exception of dividing the room formerly used by the First Branch of City Council as a chamber into two rooms, and similarly the portion of the building immediately under it, in the first story. The building in the rear of the old council chamber was taken down, in order to make room for a yard, and also for an adjunct building enclosing a rear stairway. The plan of the building may now be described as follows: The first story is entered by a wide door on Holliday Street, opening into a roomy hall, containing an easy open stairway ascending to the second story; on each side of this hall are two classrooms; the rear end of the hall connects with a lateral passage [the hyphen] leading to a door opening on the south yard, and also to a door opening into the two classrooms in the rear end of the building. The second story is reached by ascending the front hall stairs, which land about at the centre of the building, in the front of which are three classrooms and a reception room, and to the rear are two classrooms; all these rooms have separate access to them by passages. The exit from the second story is made by descending an easy platform stair to the rear vestibule in the first story, which has a door on one side opening in the north yard, and a door on the other side opening on a public alley ten feet wide; so that ample egress is provided in the building, to be voided in cases of emergency, panic or danger. The second story contains five classrooms. The present capacity of the building (as restored) is, then, eleven class-rooms, which out to seat comfortably five hundred pupils. And as no requisition was made by the Commissioners for the use of the third story, and consequently no appropriation made for repairing it, this story has received no attention; but should it be required it ought to have capacity for one hundred and twenty additional pupils. In repairing this old building no attempt was made to modernize any feature of its character; but, on the contrary, a studious care was taken that every part necessary to be renewed should be in strict keeping with the original which it replaced. The main object kept in view was to strengthen it in all its weak parts and to make it as comfortable as possible for the occupants, for whose use it was designed. Particular attention was given to the thoroughly [sic] pointing up of all the defective joints in the brick walls with the best Portland cement; and the exterior of the front wall was stripped of the old mortar coating and replaced by two good coats of Portland cement, spread over the entire surface, and it is expected that this will eventually prevent the moisture on the outside from penetrating to the interior surface of the walls and will no doubt add much to their cohesive strength. The lateral walls of the back building (old First Branch Council Chamber), were tied by tension rods passing through the out of one wall, through the cross partitions, to the out of the other wall, secured at their ends by good strong iron washers and set up in their centres [sic] by swivel screws. This was done in order to counteract any tendency to an outward thrust. All the joists, girders, studs and other timbers have been thoroughly inspected, and wherever found defective they have been removed and replaced by new, of good sound qualities, suitable for their respective positions. The first story has been reflected throughout, and the walls of each room have been wainscoted [sic] all around up to the height of the window sills; glass partitions have been put up in the first and second stories of the back [eastlbuilding. The front stairway has been thoroughly restored, and a new back building, containing a rear stairway has been erected. All the door and window frames, doors, windowsash and shutters throughout the building have been thoroughly overhauled and properly adjusted, and where necessary have been renewed and retrimmed [sic]. The entire first story has been replastered, and the second story repaired and pointed up throughout. The tin roof has been carefully examined and all necessary repairs done to make it tight; also, all the proper leaders, gutters and down spouts renewed and adjusted so as to shed the water from the building. The whole of the woodwork on the exterior of the building, as well as on the interior of the first and second stories of the building, has received three good coats of paint, and the exterior of the front [west front] has received four good coats of paint over its entire surface. The front pavement has [sidewalk] has been relaid with new bricks, and the yard properly graded and paved. In short, every part of the building, outside and inside (except the interior of the third story) has been thoroughly renovated, and the work has been done in the best and most economical manner, and it is believed that this building is (now) a very fair type of a modem school-house, and that the city has shown a laudable and judicious economy in utilizing this old monument, and thus preserving it as a relict [sic] of the past.” (Inspector’s 1878 report)
“There were eight evening schools opened during the first part of the year, containing 1,154 pupils, but the Board was compelled to close them in March, in consequence of a want of funds to pay salaries and other necessary expenses. Applications were made by many persons to re-open them in October, but we were unable to do so for the reason mentioned.” (l, li)
1888 Annual Report:
“During the past year, the new building on Saratoga Street for Colored High and Grammar Schools, was completed and is now occupied. It contains 24 classrooms, and will comfortably seat about 1,000 pupils. There are now 23 classes in the building, seven of which belong to Female Colored Primary School No. 1, which had been renting an occupying a rented house on Courtland street. It is probable that from 350 to 400 pupils will be transferred from the Colored PRimary Schools to this Colored Grammar School at the examination in June, and it will then be necessary for Primary School No. 1 to remove elsewhere. The MAle Primary Colored School No. 1 is now occupying rooms in the old city hall, but notice has been received from the Water Department that it will need this building during the summer, and it will, therefore, be necessary for the school to vacate it. These two schools, containing about 600 pupils, will again have to rent an old house for their use, unless an appropriation is made for the erection of a new building.” (page xxiv)
“A lot has been purchased on Carrollton avenue, and a contract made by the Inspector of Buildings for a new house for a Colored Primary School to be opened in September. This school will be under the charge of colored teachers, in pursuance of the ordinance of the Mayor and City Council, adopted May 3d, 1888, which directs the employment of colored teachers in all schools hereafter established for colored children.” (xxv)
“The building on Saratoga St. near Charles was completed during the autumn, and was fitted with entire new furniture in time for its occupancy in December by the High and Grammar Colored School and Female Colored School No. 1. The building occupied by Female Colored School No. 1 during the erection of the new house, will be cleaned of its furniture and repaired in time to be surrendered to its owner before the expiration of the lease. It is a matter to be regretted that Male Colored School No. 1 could not be accommodated in the building, but it was found that the High and Grammar School and Female Colored School No. 1 had so increased in numbers, as to require nearly the entire building for their present number of scholars. During the early portion of next year it is hoped to make some re-arrangement of furniture, etc. in Male Colored School No. 1, which will tend to mitigate some of the discomforts under which the teachers and pupils are low laboring. Not much can be done, because the condition of the building will not warrant much expense, but by giving that school some of the room formerly occupied by the High and Grammar School, improved light and ventilation can be secured and more room be provided for the pupils.” (102-3) …cont’d
1889 Annual Report:
“The building formerly occupied by the Female Colored School No. 1 was repaired and turned over to the owners early in the year.” (page 107)
“During the autumn, the Water Board found it necessary to secure the Old City Hall, which had been occupied by Male Colored School No. 1. After considerable difficulty, a building was secured for the accommodation of the school and fitted up.”
Mention of Annex Colored School No. 1 in Annuals Reports of 1889 and 1890 – does this number correspond to the Colored School No. 1?
High & Grammar Colored School, Male Colored No. 1, and Female Colored No. 1 are still listed in the 1890 Annual Report, but no addresses are included.
Paul Henderson Photographs at the MD Historical Society
PP236.1462, MdHS – Colored High and Training School (Frederick Douglass)
PP236.1423, MdHS – Polytechnic Institute – 1952, fifteen African American students enter the previously all-white school
Frederick Douglass High School
Between 1885 and 1889, Frederick Douglass added a high school
1883 – 1887 in the Peale building
In 1901, it ceased to be both a grammar and high school
From Historic American Buildings Survey: Addendum to Rembrandt Peale Museum (md0143data.pdf)
“The structure has served a variety of important civic functions including housing
Baltimore’s City Hall (1830-78); Baltimore’s Colored School No. 1 (1878-89); and the municipal museum (1931-96).”
*”The Old City Hall on Holliday Street,” in “Report of the Inspector of Buildings,” Annual Address of the Mayor of Baltimore City (Baltimore: Municipal Government Printing, 1878): 700-703.
William T. Alderson, ed., Mermaids, Mummies and Mastodons: The Emergence of the American Museum (Washington, DC: American Association of Museums, 1992)
Bengt Thordeman, “Birth of the Modem Museum,” orig. publ. in Svenska Dagblatt [Stockholm], trans. Edith Anderson for The Baltimore Sun 30 August 1955
Wilbur Harvey Hunter, The Peale Family and Peale’s Baltimore Museum 1814-1830 (Baltimore: Peale Museum, 1965)
Wilbur Harvey Hunter, The Peale Museum 1814-1964: The Story of America’s Oldest Museum Building (Baltimore: The Peale Museum, 1964)
What can you add?
Can you help fill in the details of the history of public education for African Americans at the Peale? We’re keen to learn more about this pivotal chapter in Baltimore history, and look forward to hearing from you!
- Notes from Mary Ellen Hayward
- Timeline and notes from Annual Reports etc. compiled by Ginevra Shay, Jazmin Smith, and Abigail DeVille for The Contemporary’s 2016 exhibition, “Only When It’s Dark Enough Can You See The Stars,” held at the Peale in 2016.
- Citations of articles by Bettye Collier Thomas in the Maryland Historical Magazine
- Annual Reports of the Board of School Commisioners 1878-1887, notes by Jeff Korman, June 5, 2007
- MA thesis at Howard University on the History of Public Education in the city of Baltimore by Vernon Vavrina