Over the years, numerous private schools existed in Williamsburg. William & Mary had long sponsored a grammar school for white boys and in 1870 built a school on the site of the Governor's Palace. The "Mattey School" honored Matthew Whaley, the son of Mary Whaley. Her 1742 bequest-which the College received in 1865-funded the school's construction. Other private academies and small home-based schools provided additional educational opportunities. First Baptist Church sponsored a school for students of color that had 75 enrollees in 1873.
In 1869, Virginia's new state constitution contained a radical provision: it required that free public schools be available for all the state's children. Early in 1871, Williamsburg's new school board hired teachers and rented rooms for public schools. In 1873, it leased the Mattey School as a school for whites (Public School No. 1) and in 1884 built a school for blacks (Public School No. 2). Over the next few decades, the city invested ever-increasing sums in education, building several additional schools, hiring more teachers, expanding the school year, and offering an ever-more rigorous education. Construction peaked with the opening of the Williamsburg High School for whites in 1921 on the Palace Green and the James City County Training School for African Americans in 1924 at Nicholson and Botetourt Streets.
Despite the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson case in which the Supreme Court ruled that separate but equal education was constitutional, the school board regularly provided fewer resources for the black schools. African-American parents, determined to provide their children with the best education possible, organized the Williamsburg School Improvement League in the late 1800s. The League raised money for books and other resources and lobbied for new facilities. Its greatest success came with the James City County Training School, built with money from the state, northern philanthropists, the school board, and Williamsburg's black residents. The JCCTS offered kindergarten through grade 11 to students from Williamsburg, James City County, and York County, and it became a center for the black community.1
Material in the Special Collections Research Center
- Progress Comes to Williamsburg from the exhibit "A Most Thriving & Growing Place": Williamsburg Before the Restoration.