The University of Wisconsin Press



The Origins of Public High Schools
A Reexamination of the Beverly High School Controversy

Maris A. Vinovskis

There has been considerable debate about the process of and the underlying motivation for the expansion of public education in nineteenth-century America. Interpretations that focused on the role of reformers like Horace Mann, or on the demands by workers for more public education, have been criticized by revisionists who see education being imposed upon an uninterested and unwilling populace by capitalists seeking to maintain a docile labor force during industrialization. Here, Maris A. Vinovskis challenges that revisionist view, employing sophisticated social science methodology in a work sure to be welcomed by all historians of American education.

The revisionist view of the nature of educational changes rests heavily upon the now classic study by Michael Katz of the abolition of the public high school in Beverly, Massachusetts, in the mid-nineteenth century. An especially detailed analysis of education in Beverly is made possible by the unique availability of a list of the voters who supported or opposed the public high school in 1860. Katz used this information to demonstrate that the workers strongly opposed the public high school which he claimed had been established by a small group of the leading capitalists not only to provide educational opportunities for their own children, but also to help restore community harmony which was being eroded by the economic transformation of the town.


Vinovskis’s study of the origins of the Massachusetts antebellum public high school reanalyzes the establishment of the Beverly Public High School within the broader perspective of other educational developments occurring in that community as well as in the Commonwealth as a whole. The results raise serious questions about Katz’s depiction of the timing of and the reasons for the creation of that institution in Beverly.


Vinovskis’s present work is the most significant contribution to American educational historiography since [Michael] Katz’s classic study.”
F. Cordasco, Choice

At the time of publication, Maris A. Vinovskis was professor in the Department of History and research scientist at the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan.

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Blue cover with black rectangles containing title and author text

March 1986

LC: 85-040380 LA
208 p
p.   6 x 9
Cloth ISBN 978-0-299-10400-9

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