|AdminHistory||After Lancaster's initial success at Borough Road School in London the fame of his system quickly reached New York and an American Edition of Improvements in Education was published early in 1804. The city of New York had a population of c. 75 000 at that time, constantly being swelled by immigration. Education was provided by private, church and charity schools. The social conditions bore a strong similarity to those in Southwark, London, where Lancaster had opened his first school.|
In 1806 a group of philanthropists led by the Governor of New York, De Witt Clinton, formed the New York Free School Society to extend the provision of education to poor children who were not provided for by any religious society. The society had a severely limited budget, so the Lancasterian system with its merits of economy and efficiency was an obvious choice for its schools. In 1825 the free School Society became the Public School Society, and in 1853 it was taken over by the Board of Education.
The new system quickly became popular and was widely adopted in the Eastern states. The Report of the Finance Committee of the BFSS in 1811 records that the Lancasterian system continued to spread in the USA, with schools opening in New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington. It was the Quakers who were behind the introduction of the Lancasterian system in Philadelphia. Lancaster himself taught there briefly, and had many quarrels with the Controllers of the Philadelphia Schools. Use of the Lancasterian method was made compulsory in Philadelphia schools by State legislation in 1818. In 1821 Lancaster founded his Institute at Baltimore. The school at George Town, Washington was founded in 1811 by Robert Ould, one of Lancaster's former monitors from Borough Road. John E. Lovell, another monitor, founded a school at New Haven, Connecticut.
There was however little of the dependence upon teachers trained in England which is seen in other countries. The method was mostly learned through American editions of Lancaster's publications, particularly the British System of Education and the Manual, which was republished in 1817 with alterations for American conditions.
The BFSS took a keen interest and it appointed one of its members, Benjamin Shaw, to visit the US in 1815. His observations are included in the Annual Report for 1816 (p56).
It is difficult to estimate the number and locations of the Lancasterian schools founded in the United States. The Annual Report for 1819 contains an account from Charles Pickton, another former Borough Road monitor, who taught in the US for some years. He states that there are schools following the system in every state, and a great number in some states, probably over 150. It appears that the progress of the system followed the same pattern as in England. It was a temporary expedient, tolerated while education was supported by a few philanthropists when cheapness was a primary consideration; rejected when the public took control of the schools and when the influence of Pestalozzi took hold.
In Philadelphia the legislation making it compulsory was rescinded in 1836, and in New York it was gradually superseded by the increased interest in infant schools. There is no mention of the system in American educational journals after 1850.
From McGarry thesis 1966. Abridged Nov 2011, PJC.