History of Education in San Antonio

Quick Chronology of San Antonio Education 1789-1973

1789 Schoolmaster Don Jose Francisco de la Mata petitions the cabildo (town council) of San Fernando de Béxar for a stipend (Cox).
1811 The junta established by the counter-revolution against Juan Bautista Casas presents Don Bicente Travieso with funds for a schoolhouse (Cox).
1826 A city ordinance describes curriculum including reading, arithmetic, grammar, catechism, and good moral and political behavior (Cox).
1839 J.H. Winchell proposes to the City Council that he be permitted to open a school (Corner).
1853 One free public schools is established for boys and one for girls (Heusinger).
1855 The City’s first Board of Education is established (Heusinger).
1871 The public school system opens Rincon School for African American (Mason).
1879 The City of San Antonio opens an all-white high school (Mason)
1889 George Brackenridge's donations make it possible to introduce secondary instruction at Rincon School (Mason).
1899 An independent Board of School Trustees is established, distinct from the city government (Heusinger).
1918 The state legislature adds criminal penalties for violations of its English-only legislation (Blanton).
1934 La Liga Pro Defensa Escolar is founded “to promote the improvement of education in San Antonio’s Spanish-speaking community” (Buitron 42).
1948 Gus Garcia serves as lead attorney in Delgado vs. Bastrop I.S.D., in which a Texas school district is found guilty of illegal discrimination by segregating Mexican-American children (San Miguel).
1954 San Antonio is one of the first school districts to desegregate following the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education (Wilson).
1969 Following the passage of the National Bilingual Education Act in 1967, Texas de-criminalizes bilingual education (Blanton).
1970 The Cisneros v. Corpus Christi ISD court case extends the 1954 Supreme Court decision that abolished segregation of African American students to preclude segregation of Mexican Americans as well (San Miguel).
1973 The state legislature passes the Bilingual Education and Training Act, mandating bilingual instruction in public elementary schools in which twenty or more students have limited English skills (Blanton).

Detailed Chronology of San Antonio Education 1789-1973

Note: Although it provides more detail than the Quick Chronology, this timeline is still only a partial record of events related to education in San Antonio.


1789 Don Jose Francisco de la Mata petitions the cabildo (town council) of San Fernando de Béxar for a stipend of 12 reales per pupil for the school he had begun a few years before, thus recording the first clear documentation of schooling in San Antonio outside the Missions (Cox).
1802 Governor Juan Bautista Elguezabal orders compulsory school attendance for children under the age of twelve (Cox).
1803 On January 20th, the town council provisionally accepts José Francisco Ruiz for the position of teacher, with the understanding that he will hold the school in his residence (Cox).
1809 There was at least one other schoolmaster in the early days of the 19th century. In this year, Francisco Barrera petitioned for permission to engage in public writing to support his family, mentioning in his petition that he has been a schoolmaster in the Villa of San Fernando (Cox).
1811 The junta established by the counter-revolution against Juan Bautista Casas in San Antonio presents Don Bicente Travieso with 855 pesos for purposes of building a schoolhouse; however an inventory of said schoolhouse shows it to be in poor condition and containing only a small number of the items Travieso claimed to have purchased. The code of rules for the new schoolhouse stipulates places for 70 students in two classes, taught by a single instructor paid 30 pesos per month (Cox).
1815 Apparently the 1811 school did not last long. Four years later, the town council again discusses the urgent need for a teacher and requests that the commanding general designate the house of a former insurgent as the school building, since the community cannot afford to construct a new building (Cox).
1817 The town council determines that parents of students will be asked to voluntarily contribute to teacher’s salary. A fine of 3 pesos is set for parents who do not send their children to school (Cox).
1820 Don Ygnacio Villa Señor is appointed commissioner, with the responsibility of looking after “the good order and management of the school” (Cox 34).
1821 A report in the Bexar Archives notes that San Antonio “wholly lacks funds for the education of the youth” (Cox 36).
1826 A letter from José Antonio Saucedo, the political chief of the Department of Texas to Rafael Gonzales, Governor of Cohuila and Texas reports that funds for paying a teacher in San Fernando have been gathered, but asks that the state congress grant the city funds to construct a schoolhouse. The request was not granted at this time, although in subsequent years, the congress contributed money towards schooling in San Antonio (Cox).
1826 The Ordinance for the Primary School of this City (in the Bexar Archives) stipulates that the curriculum should include reading, arithmetic, grammar, catechism, and good moral and political behavior. It states that the school-master should receive 500 pesos per year (Cox).
1828 At this time, a Spanish language school was located on the east side of Military Plaza, and another school—referred to in some histories as McClure’s School—attended by English-speaking students (Corner) (Heusinger).
1829 In an effort to educate the maximum number of students with limited state resources, Coahuila and Texas adopt the Lancastrian System in which one teacher instructs up to 150 students with the help of a few student-assistants. San Antonio’s town charter from this time details how the school day should be spent, including curriculum, evaluation-methods, and seating arrangements; however, it is unclear whether or how many schools were actually in operation (Cox).
1832 According to statistics included in Messages of the Governor from the Bexar Archives, San Antonio’s population at this time included 297 boys and young men and 334 girls and young women under 25; however only 100 students were enrolled in school in this year (Cox).
1837 After organizing Bexar County in December 1836, the Republic of Texas charters San Antonio as a municipality in January of the following year (Fehrenbach).
1839 President Mirabeau Buonaparte Lamar proposes setting aside public lands across Texas for a
public system of education (Berger). In San Antonio, J.H. Winchell proposes to the City Council that he be permitted to open a school that year to teach English, penmanship, and arithmetic to up to 30 pupils for a salary of $800 per year. However, it is not clear whether this school was actually established (Corner).
1844 On June 2nd, P.L. Buquor proposes opening a public school and offers to help organize it. At the end of June, a committee recommends selling city land to obtain funds to repair the old court house in such a way that it could serve as both court house and school. However, the sale of lands in question did not actually happen until 1849 (Corner).
1851 Seven sisters of the Order of Saint Ursula arrive in San Antonio to establish a school for girls on Augusta Street. Several of the Ursuline Academy’s early buildings are designed by Francois P. Giraud (Miller). Its clientele is drawn primarily from the daughters of the Tejano upper class (Blanton).
1852 Marianists from France arrive in San Antonio and begin organizing two primary schools—St. Mary’s Institute (later University) and San Fernando Cathedral School (Wood).
1853 Two free public schools are established: one for girls on Military Plaza and one for boys on Alamo Plaza (Heusinger).
1855 The first city Board of Education is established in March, consisting of three trustees: J. Ulrich, Solomon C. Childress, and John G. Viall (Heusinger).
1858 German immigrants open the German-English School in the Kleeper Hotel on West Commerce Street between Navarro and St. Mary’s streets. Its charter stipulates that “the German and the English language would have equal status and instruction in all other subjects would be distributed as evenly between them as was praticiable” (Blanton 36). The curriculum is based on the gymnasium system used in Germany, including English and German grammar, history, arithmetic, geography, natural history, physics, singing, drawing, physical education, and swimming. The following year, the school moves to its permanent location on South Alamo Street (Heusinger; Blanton; Jennings).
1865 Superintendent of City Schools John Mussey reports to the City Council that January attendance in the public schools included 55 boys and 35 girls (Heusinger).
1866 During Reconstruction, the Freedman’s Bureau sponsors Lincoln School, housed at the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church (Mason).
1868 The Republican controlled state legislature places public instruction under a centralized state system, under which San Antonio’s new public school system opens in September (Mason).
1871 The public school system opens Rincon School for African Americans. For the first few years, enrollment fluctuates between 100-170 students (Mason).
Up to this point, government mandates on the language of instruction were ambiguous. The Spanish and Mexican governments required that Spanish be taught, but did not expressly prohibit the use of other languages in school. Under the Republic of Texas, San Antonio’s town charter required that schools teach English, but did not specify whether this meant only English. The Reconstruction School Law of 1871 gives the state superintendent authority over curriculum. Superintendent and German immigrant Jacob C. De Grass determines in conjunction with the State Board of Education that German, French, and Spanish could be taught in school for up to two hours a day. It is not clear whether this meant these languages could be used for the instruction of other subjects or only taught as subjects themselves (Blanton).
1872 Democrats gain control of the state legislature and return school administration to local districts (Mason).
1875 Democratic governor Richard Coke supports provisions in the 1875 state Constitution stipulating racially-separate schools controlled by local districts (Mason).
In this year, the city employs fourteen teachers: 3 teachers in the 1st Ward in the school at South Flores and Gilbeau Streets; 2 teachers in the 2nd Ward in the school on Soledad Street; 3 teachers in the 3rd Ward in the school in St. Mary’s Hall; 2 teachers in the 4th Ward in the school on Lavaca and Matagorda Streets; and 4 teachers in the school for African Americans on Rincon Street (Heusinger).
1879 The state legislature adds a new requirement explicitly stating that teacher examinations must be conducted in English and teachers must be able to teach in English (Blanton).
The City of San Antonio opens an all-white high school. At this time, no high school for African Americans was available (Mason).
Although wealthy Tejanos had attended both private and public schools for some time, the establishment of the Old Flores Street School on the West Side in 1879 provides the opportunity for children of poorer families to attend school as well (San Miguel).
1881 Incarnate Word College is established to provide a collegiate education for women. (Heusinger).
1886 William Belcher Seeley founds the San Antonio Academy in rented rooms at 231 East Houston St., intending to prepare students to enter Universities. At this time, none of the other schools in San Antonio (including the high school) fully met admission requirements the University of Texas or the Universities in the East (Cox).
1888 Margaret Mary Healy Murphy of Ireland had purchased a lot on the East Side in 1877 with the intent of establishing a school for African American students and in 1888 the school was completed and named St. Peter Claver Colored Mission—the first Catholic school for African Americans in the San Antonio Archdiocese (Mason).
1889 In response to demands from the African American community for a high school, George Brackenridge donates additional funds, equipment, and supplies necessary in order to add secondary instruction and industrial classes to the curriculum at the Rincon School (Mason).
1890 “At the close of this year the city’s public school facilities consist of Central High School, 647 Acequia Street (now Main Avenue); School No. 2 on Marshall Street; No. 3, Avenue E and Fourth Street; No. 4, Mason and North Hackberry Streets; No. 5, Lafitte and Matagorda Streets; No. 6 Lavaca and Matagorda Streets; No. 7, South Flores and Guilbeau Streets; and No. 8, South Pecos and San Fernando Streets. For the colored, there was the Riverside School on Rincon Street and Santa Clara School on Center Street”(Heusinger 49).
1893 New state legislation passes that strengthens English requirements for teacher examinations and requires that teachers “use the English language exclusively and to conduct all recitations and school exercises exclusively in the English language” (Blanton 52).
1898 The Sisters of Divine Providence establish Our Lady of the Lake Academy (later College) on April 21st (Heusinger).
1898 The Episcopal Church establishes a school at St. Philip’s Mission for African Americans, with an enrollment of 13 students (Mason).
1899 An independent Board of School Trustees is established, thereby separating the public schools from direct control by the city government (Heusinger).
1900 Incarnate Word Academy (later College, then University) is established near Brackenridge Park by the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word as a Catholic college for women (Young).
1902 St. Philip’s, the Episcopalian school for African Americans is reorganized into a junior college and vocational institute (Mason).
1903 The City of San Antonio purchases the former German-English School on South Alamo Street, which had been sold due to debts in 1897, and opens the George H. Brackenridge grammar school (Jennings).
1913 The Christian Women’s Board of Missions founds the Mexican Christian Institute and Director of Missionary work Samuel G. Inman and Minister Hugh McLellen establish a school for neighborhood children within the institute (Keith and Teegarden).
1915 The Rincon/Riverside/Brackenridge school moves to new 8-room building on the East Side, opposite Mount Zion First Baptist Church, and is re-named Frederick Douglass Colored High School (Mason).
The San Antonio public school enrollment this year includes “21,983 students, of which 11,461 were white, 8,471 Mexican, and 2,051 black” (Mason 142)
1918 Largely due to anxieties about German Americans during WWI, the state legislature strengthens its mandate of English-only education by adding criminal penalties for violations (Blanton).
1923 The city opens seven new junior schools for the new school year in September (Heusinger).
St. Mary’s Institute fully separates its high school and college campuses, with the college program located on the St. Louis campus, which had been established in West Heights in 1894 and reformulated as St. Mary’s University.  Following the end of WWI, “Americanization” anxieties in Texas shift their focus from German immigrants to Mexican immigrants who had arrived in large numbers throughout the 1920s. Superintendent Annie Webb Blanton (1919-1923) advocates legislation to close a loophole left by the 1918 English-only law that had allowed private schools to continue teaching in other languages (Blanton).
1924 The Supreme Court overturns a similar English-only Nebraska law as unconstitutional in Meyer v. Nebraska, declaring it in violation of parents’ 14th amendment rights. Private schools in San Antonio continue to offer bilingual education (Blanton).
1925 The San Antonio Junior College is established. One year later, it moves into the buildings of the former German-English School on South Alamo Street (Heusinger).
1932 Financial problems at St. Phillip’s College resulted in a teachers’ strike in April, involving five of the seven members of the faculty, and affecting seventy-five students. Although numerically small, St. Phillip’s had great symbolic importance to the East Side as an example of African American achievement. The community was divided between criticizing the teachers for abandoning their posts and sympathizing with their frustration at not receiving their salaries (Mason).
The city’s poor financial situation results in the closure of Dunbar Junior High School and the loss of accreditation for Phillis Wheatley High School, the African American high school that had opened just one year before (Mason).
1934 The LULAC Committee on Public School Buildings and Recreational Facilities issues a report on San Antonio schooling of Mexican-American children, with a particular focus on the West Side. They discover that only 56% of school age Mexican American children are enrolled in public schools. Those who are enrolled experience poorer facilities and greater crowding than Anglo students. Although numerical enrollment for Anglos and Mexican Americans is roughly equal—a little over 12,000 students each—28 schools with 368 rooms and a total of 82 acres of recreational land serve Anglo communities, while only 11 schools with 269 rooms and a mere 23 recreational acres serve Mexican American communities. Despite state laws limiting class size to 35, the Mexican American schools average 48 students per classroom, in contrast to only 33 students per classroom in Anglo schools, and the district spends $35.96 per Anglo child, while spending only $24.50/Mexican American child (San Miguel).
Responding to LULAC’s pressure, the board of education moves fifteen wooden frame rooms abandoned by the Peacock Military academy to the West Side in order to relieve congestion; however LULAC argues that the frame buildings were inadequate and unsafe (San Miguel)

On Dec. 18th, La Liga Pro Defensa Escolar is founded by LULAC member Eleutrio Escobar in conjunction with 73 Mexican-American organizations “to promote the improvement of education in San Antonio’s Spanish-speaking community” (Buitron 42). The league disbanded in 1935, but later re-formed in 1947 as the School Improvement League (Buitron).
1935 San Antonio hosts the Texas Colored Teachers State Association with the theme “Bringing the Association to the People” (Mason).
1938 In this year, “San Antonio had sixty-seven public schools; forty-five elementary schools for whites, four for blacks; ten junior high schools for whites, one for blacks; and six high schools for whites, and only one for blacks. There were thirty-eight Roman Catholic educational institutions for whites, and two for blacks” (Mason 153).
1942 Trinity University of Waxahachie moves to the city and merges with the University of San Antonio as Trinity University (Heusinger).
1947 La Liga Pro Defensa Escolar is re-established as the School Improvement League, this time with an explicitly bilingual and integrationist mission. Its leaders include future Congressman Henry B. Gonzales and attorney Gustavo Garcia (Jennings).
1948 Gus Garcia serves as lead attorney in Delgado vs. Bastrop I.S.D., in which a Texas school district is found guilty of illegal discrimination by segregating Mexican-American children (San Miguel.
1950 The city’s electorate approves a bond of $9,500,000 for the purpose of constructing additional schools (Heusinger).
1954 The U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education requires an end to segregation of African Americans in schools. San Antonio is one of the first school districts to comply with the decision (Wilson).
1961 Construction began on Vance Jackson Road for a new campus for the Ursuline Academy (Miller).
1964-65 A research project by Dr. Annie Stemmler sponsored by the Office of Education and the University of Texas sample several San Antonio elementary schools with majority Spanish-speaking populations. In her preliminary report, Stemmler notes that eighty percent of non-English speaking children in San Antonio fail first grade due to language-related issues. Although “a tacit and nearly general policy has been to punish children for using Spanish at any time in school” (Blanton 126). Stemmler finds that after intensive instruction in Spanish, Mexican American students’ show significantly improved attitudes towards school and themselves (Blanton).
1968 The National Bilingual Education Act is passed by congress in late 1967 and signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson in the new year, allowing local entities to apply for grants to fund experiments and pilot programs in bilingual education (Blanton).
1969 In March, the San Antonio Conference “Bilingual-Bicultural Education – where do we go from here?” is sponsored by the Bureau of Educational Personnel Development and St. Mary’s University with the goal of achieving both short-term impact on executional practice in central and south Texas, and providing the U.D. Department of Education with a grassroots consensus on the long-range needs of Texas Mexican-American students, with regard to future program funding (Bernal).
Following the passage of the National Bilingual Education Act in 1967, Texas reverses the 1918 state law mandating English-only education and in May, 1969 de-criminalizes bilingual education, allowing schools to offer bilingual instruction without requiring special dispensation (Blanton).
Our Lady of the Lake University (previously a women’s college) becomes co-ed (Lane).
1970 The Cisneros v. Corpus Christi ISD court case extends the 1954 Supreme Court decision that abolished segregation of African American students to preclude segregation of Mexican Americans as well (San Miguel).
1971 Incarnate Word College (previously a women’s college) becomes coed (Lane).
1973 The state legislature passes the Bilingual Education and Training Act, which mandates bilingual instruction in all Texas elementary public schools that have 20 or more students with limited English-speaking schools (Blanton).