Ohio History Journal

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Politics and Pedagogy:

The 1892 Cleveland

School Reform





On May 25, 1892, a large crowd gathered at Cleveland's Stillman Hotel. The oc-

casion was the announcement of Andrew S. Draper as the city's new school super-

intendent. The assembled group listened attentively as H. Q. Sargent, the school

director, introduced Draper, a prominent New York educator. Sargent dwelt

momentarily on the recently reformed school system, which had led to the creation

of his own office. Draper followed with a brief statement. He praised Cleveland-

ers for a "unique plan" of school administration. He urged all "to act in harmony

to the end that the desired results may be attained," promising that in "attempt-

ing the reorganization I will do the right, with malice toward none."' Many early

advocates of the reorganization, including Edwin J. Blandin, a former municipal

judge, were at the Stillman that day. In 1887, Blandin had first called for school

reform. He was ready to witness the fruition of his original effort.2

The story of the Cleveland school reform is significant for a variety of reasons.

The event is illustrative of Cleveland history between 1870 and 1900. During that

period, the city expanded at an accelerated pace, growing in population from

92,829 to 381,768. Once a secondary Great Lakes commercial terminus, the city

became a major manufacturing center. The social consequences of this change

were enormous. Even as members of founding Connecticut families formed the

Early Settlers' Association, an urban-industrial society emerged that contained

great wealth and extreme poverty. The contrast was evident in John D. Rocke-

feller's mansion on 40th Street and Euclid Avenue and the dilapidated shanties

of laborers in the industrial "flats" along the Cuyahoga River. In this setting, a

new political order unfolded. Politics revolved around a clash between the

business-dominated Republican party and an increasingly immigrant-oriented

Democratic organization. The latter slowly gained new strength from spreading

working-class neighborhoods. By the early 1890s, the Republican hold on city

government was threatened as Democratic ward organizations increased in num-

ber and influence.3



1. Cleveland Leader, May 26, 1892.

2. For an early assessment of the reform, see Samual P. Orth, "The Cleveland Plan of School Ad-

ministration," Political Science Quarterly, XIX (1904), 402-416.

3. The political history of Cleveland for this period is discussed most fully in James B. Whipple,

"Cleveland in Conflict: A Study in Urban Adolescence, 1876-1900" (unpublished doctoral dissertation,

Western Reserve University, 1951), 337-349. A later phase of political development has been covered

by Thomas Campbell, "Background for Progressivism: Machine Politics in the Administration of

Robert E. McKisson, Mayor of Cleveland, 1895-1899" (unpublished thesis, Western Reserve Uni-

versity, 1960). Additional analysis of Cleveland politics can be gleaned from Samuel P. Orth, A His-

tory of Cleveland, 3 vols. (Cleveland, 1910), and Philip D. Jordan, Ohio Comes of Age, 1873-1900

(Columbus, 1943).


Dr. Johnson is Assistant Professor of History at Georgetown University.