Education

Besides buildings, John Allen and the pioneer settlers of the village were constructing much more important things--the social, educational, religious, political, and economic foundations for the settlement. It is remarkable how soon the cultural institutions were established and how vigorous they proved to be.

Ann Arbor was scarcely a year old in September 1825 when a Miss Monroe opened a primary school in a log school house. Allen had erected the building on his property at the northwest corner of Main and Ann streets. It was just across from what would be court-house square, then serving as Allen's vegetable patch. It was a crude building with small glass windows and split log benches.

We know of little more than the existence of this first school. Miss Monroe, the first teacher, died in 1829. Her successor, Harriet G. Parsons, moved the school into a frame house on the corner of Washington Street and Fifth Avenue in 1829. Miss Parsons later married Lorrin Mills, a tailor who built the first brick house in town.

These pioneer schools were not supported by public funds but by rate bills and other assessments levied on the parents of the children. Public schools were not even authorized until 1830, and it was some years before tax money began to support education. Consequently, many of Ann Arbor's boys and girls did not attend school. In 1832, the average attendance was only 35 out of a possible 161 children five to fifteen years old.

For secondary education a whole variety of private schools were established beginning with the Merrill Brothers' school in 1829--"a select school...for teaching higher English and Latin and Greek." Some were more prosperous than others. One of the most successful, and the private school with the longest history, was the Misses Clark School for young ladies. It was established in 1839 by three well-educated sisters from New York. They operated the school until the death of Mary, the senior partner, in 1875.

A unified public school system emerged slowly. Those citizens who lived across the Huron River in "Lower Town," which existed until 1861 as a separate village, maintained their own school system up to that time. In Ann Arbor teachers in the "aristocratic" north district were paid $224 per year, those in the south $90 until the two districts agreed to build a union school. When the Union School opened in 1856, it was the finest building in the city with an assembly room which could hold 700. Moreover, it was the most expensive school in Michigan on one of the largest sites.

The Union School far outshone in grandeur and landscaping the campus of The University of Michigan, which by action of the legislature was permanently located in Ann Arbor in 1837. The coming of the University undoubtedly was the single most important event in Ann Arbor's development. Its founding determined much of the subsequent history of the community.

A land company of five leading citizens purchased 200 acres of farm land east of State Street and gave 40 acres of it as an inducement for the fledgling school to locate here. Its first buildings, imposing by frontier standards, were four professors' houses and University Building (later called Mason Hall), which opened in 1841. Its first class graduated in 1845. A medical department was added to the literary department in 1850; law followed in 1859. From 1837 onward, the history of the University and that of Ann Arbor have been inseparable and interdependent. There emerged a feeling of creative tension that usually was congenial, or at least tolerant, only occasionally slipping into hostility.

Ann Arbor's first residents were actively establishing other social foundations besides schools. A group of villagers began a library in 1827, which by 1830 had 100 volumes. In 1831, twenty-eight Ann Arborites joined the Lyceum, the purpose of which was "the cultivation of science and knowledge by members on subjects chosen by themselves, the collection of books and apparatus, and specimens of Natural History."