Individual American School: The Utica Free School

Figure 1.--This 1887 cabinet card portrait shows 18 boys from the Utica Free Academy for a St. Patrivk's Day portrait. The elaborate bows the boys wear are probably green and worn for the celebration. We are not sure why they are celebrating St. Parick's Day at school, but suspect that they are Irish. St. Patrick's Day is not a holiday usually celebratd in American public school. In fact at the tome the Irish we still looked on by many as ca suspect minority. Several of the boys do look Irish. And much of the Irish immigration from the Potato Famine (1840s-50s) and continued to come ecen after the Famine. A substantial portion went into New York. And the Irish have a substantial presence in the Moawk Valley. The boys are all well dressed and wearing suits. Most of the students at a secondary school would come from families in comfortable circumstances. Two of the boys wear knee pants. The late-1880s was the time when knee pants were beginning to become standard for boys and we begin to see younger-teenagers wearing them. All the boys are identified on the back, although difficult to read. Some but not all of the names are Irish. The studio was Hurley in New York. Put your cursor on the image to see the rest of the group.

Utica's original public high school was the Utica Free Academy which was founded in 1814. This was in the middle of a war. It was before the term 'public school' and 'high school' was in vogue. Academy convey the idea of a ecomndry school. At the time the idea of free public education was being wellestablished through the system of public lan grants creted by the Northwest Ordinance (1787), Northwest at the times meaning the Mid-West east of the Misissippi. This was rimrily aimed a primary schools. The idea of free secondary education was ot well established. Thus the Utica Free Academy was one of the earlier free secondary schools in America. As such it must have an important history. The number of students were very small. A search of internet, unfortunately offers many alumni siyes, but virtually nothing about the Academy's history. We have found a few notable tidbits. George C. Sawyer (1835- ) played an especially important role in the Academy. He graduated from Harvard (1855) became Principal of the (1858-96)m serving in that position 38 years. During the Civil War, the Academy was desrtoyed by a fire (1865). A new building was opened (1868). There were only 143 students with 7 teachers. Utica school authoritie made manual training (for the boys) and domestic science (for the girls) part of the educationl program obligatory in the middle grades (1896). This was optional in the Academy. The number of students gradually grew and a new builfing on Kemble Street was opened (1899). The schhool authorities bragged that "It is believed that in many respects this is superior to any other High School building in the State." The Utica Free Academy about 1900 has a reference library of over 2,000 volumes for the use of pupils. The Daugters of the American Revolution (DAR) Oneida Chapter to promote pride in local history, and the development of patriotism, instituted money prizes for 'approved' essays upon historical subjects. The prizes were awarded to pupils of the Utica Free Academy, the Advanced School, and advanced grades of the ward schools. The Oneida Historical Society has offered similar prizes to the pupils of the Free Academy. The school was closed and secondary education consolidated in a more modern school buildings (1990).


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Created: 1:47 PM 3/20/2014
Last updated: 1:47 PM 3/20/2014