A History of Education: The American Educational System, Common School Period (National Education Association)

[Editor’s Note: This is the 34th in a series of blogs that examine how education developed throughout history until the present. Links to previous blogs are included at the bottom of the post.]

The National Education Association (NEA) was founded in 1857 by 43 educators in Philadelphia as the National Teachers Association. Its mission was “to elevate the character and advance the interest of the teaching profession, and to promote the cause of popular education in the United States.” Despite its determined-sounding purpose, the association didn’t allow women members until 1866, nor men who taught in private schools.[1]

But in addition to promoting strong public education, the NEA also played a role in helping Blacks gain access to quality education.

The following timeline comes directly from the NEA website:

In its 1865 summer convention, NTA President J.P. Wilkersham denounces slavery. He recommends that no seceded states be readmitted to the Union until or unless they agree to provide a free public school system for Black as well as white children.

In 1869, only three years after women were allowed membership, the NTA elected Emily Rice as Vice President of the Association. It subsequently elected a woman as president in 1910 — a decade before Congress passed the 19th amendment giving women the right to vote.

In 1870, the NTA combined with three smaller organizations, taking on its modern name: the National Education Association.

In the 1920s, the Southern Association of Schools and Colleges (SASC) didn’t accredit schools for Black students, preventing them from attending many colleges and universities. As a result, the NEA joined with the American Teachers Association (ATA), whose members were primarily Black, to pressure the SASC to change their practice. The resulting Joint Committee for Justice was the first of several successful NEA-ATA partnerships.

During the 1940s, the association focused on equal treatment of members, refusing to hold Representative Assemblies in cities that discriminated against delegates based on race.

In 1954, the Supreme Court decided the landmark case Brown v Board of Education. Despite the promise it held for giving Blacks equal access to education, Black educators were targeted or fired by schools that wanted to avoid desegregation orders. The NEA responded by establishing a $1 million fund to “protect and promote the professional, civil, and human rights of educators.” Once again, the association joined with the ATA to support those teachers.

In 1964, during the Civil Rights era, NEA’s Representative Assembly passed a resolution requiring racially segregated affiliates to merge. Only two years later, the NEA became fully integrated when the NEA and ATA agreed at the 1966 Representative Assembly to merge into one body.


Next week: Morrill Act of 1862


To read part 1: Introduction, click here.

To read part 2: Purpose of education, click here.

To read part 3: Prehistory to pre-industrial, click here.

To read part 4: Mesopotamia and the Sumerians, click here.

To read part 5: Ancient Egypt, click here.

To read part 6: Ancient Greece and Rome, click here.

To read part 7: The Greek philosophers, click here.

To read part 8: China, click here.

To read part 9: The Olmecs and the Maya, click here.

To read part 10: The Islamic World: Basics, click here.

To read part 11: The Islamic World: The Golden Age, click here.

To read part 12: The Renaissance, click here.

To read part 13: American Educational System Overview, click here.

To read part 14: European Influences, Jon Amos Comenius, click here.

To read part 15, European Influences,  Froebel, click here.

To read part 16, European Influences, Herbart, click here.

To read part 17, European Influences, Herbert Spencer, click here.

To read part 18, Colonial Period, Puritans, click here.

To read part 19, Colonial Period, New England Books, click here.

To read part 20, Colonial Period, Massachusetts Education Laws, click here.

To read part 21, Colonial Period, Harvard College, click here.

To read part 22, Early National Period, Benjamin Franklin, click here.

To read part 23, Early National Period, Benjamin Rush, click here.

To read part 24, Early National Period, Thomas Jefferson, click here.

To read part 25, Early National Period, Noah Webster, click here.

To read part 26, Early National Period, Educational Ordinances, click here.

To read part 27, Early National Period, Dartmouth College/Yale Report, click here.

To read part 28, Common School Period, Horace Mann, click here.

To read part 29, Common School Period, Mary Lyon and Mount Holyoke College, click here.

To read part 30, Common School Period, McGuffey Readers, click here.

To read part 31, Common School Period, Catholic vs. Protestant Education, click here.

To read part 32, Common School Period, Compulsory Education, click here.

To read part 33, Common School Period, African American Education, click here.



[1] Teeter, Christine. (June 15, 2004). “National Education Association.” The History of Education Web Project. Retrieved from https://www3.nd.edu/~rbarger/www7/nea.html.


Author: AceReader Blogger

The AceReader blogging team is made up of specialists in a number of different areas: literacy, general education, content development, and educational software. For questions about posts, please submit them in the form below. For suggestions about blog topics, please email them to blogger@acereader.com.

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