Public Schools Prospered under Calvin Wiley

One Room School House in Columbus County, North Carolina

A Columbus County one-room schoolhouse in the early 1900s.
Image from the State Archives.

On January 7, 1839, the legislature passed an act to establish North Carolina’s common school system. The law authorized counties to hold elections in which voters approve or reject new taxes for public schools.

As a result of the law, voters in 61 of the 68 counties that then existed in the state chose to support school taxes in the elections later that year. The remaining seven counties soon followed course, and by 1846, every county had at least one public school. Initially, counties only received enough money to pay a teacher for two or three months of the year, and students of all ages were taught in a single class.

There was little regulation in the state’s schools until the election of Calvin Wiley as the state’s first superintendent of public schools in 1853. Wiley had a deep interest in public education, even going so far as to publish the state’s first standard textbook at his own expense.

During his tenure as superintendent, Wiley and his staff were able to raise North Carolina’s educational system to what many considered to be the most efficient in the South within a relatively short amount of time. Several elementary, middle and high schools around the state are named in his honor.

Check out NCpedia for more on the history of education in North Carolina.

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