Ohio History Journal

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Rise and Decline of Private

Rise and Decline of Private

Academies in Albany, Ohio

by Ivan M. Tribe


The nineteenth century witnessed the establishment of numerous private

educational institutions, commonly known as academies. These academies

were especially widespread in states north of the Ohio River and could

be found both in the cities and in rural villages.1 One Ohio town which

boasted a succession of these schools was Albany, incorporated in 1842, a

small farm village in southwestern Athens County.2 A study of the acade-

mies in Albany has a three-fold significance. First, it illustrates the prob-

lems of operating and financing early secondary educational institutions.

Second, it gives an idea of the role the Albany schools played in the anti-

slavery movement of the 1850's as well as in the education of Freedmen

and other Negroes during and immediately following the Civil War years.

And third, it demonstrates the influence that Oberlin College exerted on

educational reform efforts in the mid-nineteenth century.

Since public supported secondary schools in mid-nineteenth century Ohio

were not common, private academies played an important role in the formal

education of the state's youth. Many of these schools were operated by

individuals and stock companies or were under the auspices of a church.

Receiving no state or local tax support, the academies depended largely

upon student tuition for operating funds and, because of limited enroll-

ment, were often in a precarious financial condition. With some exceptions,

many had only a brief existence. Between 1840 and 1880, academies were

established in eight communities in Athens County.3 In addition to these

private institutions, there was also public supported Ohio University in

Athens which operated a preparatory academy for students.4 Public high

schools were established in the county under the provisions of the 1847

"Akron Law," but the first class was not graduated in Athens until 1859.5

In 1847 the first of a succession of private academies in Albany was

founded. It was opened shortly after the arrival of the Ichabod Lewis family

in the village. This family, of Connecticut origin, had moved to Albany

from Oberlin, Ohio, where they had lived for several years. The elder

Lewis and two of his sons were furniture makers, but William S., a third

son who had attended Oberlin College intermittently between 1835 and

1843, and a spinster sister, Lamira, were school teachers.6 The first classes

were started by Lamira, who taught some of the local children in one

room of her father's house. Encouraged by the success of his sister's attempt

to educate the young people of Albany, William  purchased a lot and

built a one-story frame building to house the Lewis Academy. He and his

wife, Eliza, taught older students, while Lamira continued to teach the

primary children. Students were admitted without consideration of race