Early Chicago, 1833–1871
A Selection of Documents from the Illinois State Archives

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December 11, 1841

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The General Assembly provided Chicago a school system in February, 1835. Qualified voters were to elect school inspectors who were to lay out school districts, visit schools in districts to investigate progress, certify teachers, and attend quarterly examinations of students. Also elected were three school trustees who were to employ teachers, assure that schools were free and available to all white children, levy school taxes, manage finances, and report attendance statistics to inspectors. Although many taxpayers were opposed to any frills in the educational system, in December of 1841 Nelson Gilbert was engaged to teach the science of music to the city's school population for sixteen dollars a month. By March 28, 1842, he had organized a choir which presented a benefit concert to supplement Gilbert's salary. Of Gilbert one supporter wrote:

To no one individual is our community more indebted than to the accomplished and indefatigable teacher of music, who has conferred on many of our citizens, and particularly on the rising generation, advantages, mental and physical, which will last through the entire period of life, refining the enjoyment of time, and brightening many a scene on the road to the tomb.

In 1840 the school population was 397. In January of 1843 vocal music was dropped from the curriculum. This probably was due to the severe economic depression of the time. It was reinstated as part of the curriculum in 1847.

Points to Consider

Which functions did school inspectors and trustees have?

Why would instruction in vocal music be judged beneficial?

Why were the mayor and aldermen being asked to consider this question?

How were schools financed at this time?

See Related Document:

11, 31, and 42

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