Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Enforcement of the Compulsory Education Act

The man who I believe is my 2nd great-uncle, Fred Waldschmidt, was an alderman in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, when he fined a man $3.58 for refusing to send his 11-year-old son to school. This eventually led to jail time, and an article that appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on February 3, 1898, said that "[t]his is believed to be the first imprisonment made in this state under the new compulsory education act."

Alderman Waldschmidt had seen this man before for the same issue. The first time, Andrew Nieman was dismissed after promising to make sure his son attended school. Since that didn't happen, he was then fined. "He refused to pay the fine and an execution was issued against him on January 2, in which he was given thirty days to pay. When a levy was made on Nieman's household goods yesterday, the constable learned that enough money could not be realized on them to liquidate the fine, and, according to the truant act, Nieman was placed in the county jail."

Smull's Legislative Hand Book and Manual of the State of Pennsylvania from 1900 indicates that the Compulsory Education Act was approved on May 16, 1895, and amended on July 12, 1897. The Act states "[t]hat every parent, guardian or other person in this Commonwealth, having control or charge of a child or children between the ages of eight and sixteen years, shall be required to send such child or children to a day school and ... shall attend such school continuously during at least seventy per centum of the time in which schools in their respective districts shall be in session."

It provided exceptions such as "mental, physical or other urgent reasons," "no public school in session within two miles of the nearest traveled road," or anyone "between the ages of thirteen and sixteen years that is regularly engaged in any useful employment or service."

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