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Rosenwald Schools. The Advancement of Black Schools in the South (1917 – 1932). Background Information. In the 1800s, most schools in Virginia were either private institutions, or sponsored by a religious organization.

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rosenwald schools

Rosenwald Schools

The Advancement of Black Schools in the South

(1917 – 1932)

background information
Background Information
  • In the 1800s, most schools in Virginia were either private institutions, or sponsored by a religious organization.
  • As a result, education was not available to most Virginian children – especially African American children. *
background information3
Background Information
  • In 1869, the new Virginian constitution established the idea of universal public education. *
  • Public education may have been universal - to now include all children in the state of Virginia – but it was also segregated.
background information4
Background Information
  • During Reconstruction, former slaves actively pursued education – viewing education & literacy as a path to liberation & freedom.
  • Unfortunately, the schools for African American children proved to be sub – standard to white schools.*
background information5
Background Information

Separate and unequal: On the left: a white school in Winchester, Virginia, in 1921. On the right a school for blacks in Brunswick County, Virginia, also in the early 20th. The dismal state of African American schools led Julius Rosenwald to provide funds for new buildings throughout the rural South.(Jackson Davis Collection, Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library, University of Virginia Library)

background information6
Background Information
  • By using both private & available public funds, the Rosenwald Fund (founded 1917) looked to improve the education & lives of African Americans in the South, by aiding all levels of education from grade school to university. *
julius rosenwald
Julius Rosenwald
  • Julius Rosenwald (August 12, 1862 – January 6, 1932) was born to a Jewish immigrant family from Germany.
  • Julius was born & raised just a few blocks from Abraham Lincoln’s residency in Springfield, Illinois during Lincoln’s presidency.*
julius rosenwald8
Julius Rosenwald
  • Julius Rosenwald was a US manufacturer, business executive, and philanthropist.
  • He is best known as a part-owner and President of Sears, Roebuck & Co, and for the Rosenwald Fund, which donated millions to support the education of African Americans.*
julius rosenwald9
Julius Rosenwald
  • During the late 1800s to early 1900s, there were many social struggles in the US being addressed by the Progressive Movement.
  • Rosenwald, too, was concerned with America’s social situation, and he believed the struggle of African Americans was the most serious.*
julius rosenwald10
Julius Rosenwald
  • In Rosenwald’s words:

The horrors that are due to race prejudice come home to the Jew more forcefully than to others of the white race, on account of centuries of persecution which they have suffered & still suffer.


julius rosenwald11
Julius Rosenwald
  • In 1912, Julius Rosenwald was introduced to Booker T. Washington, who promoted better educational opportunities for African Americans.*

Julius Rosenberg &

Booker T. Washington

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Julius Rosenwald
  • Washington asked Rosenwald to serve on the Board of Directors of the Tuskegee Institute in 1912.
  • Rosenwald served on the Board for the remainder of his life (1932).

Aerial View of the Tuskegee Institute

julius rosenwald13
Julius Rosenwald
  • Washington encouraged Julius to address the poor state of African American education in the US.
  • He first did so by providing money, in 1913, to build 6 small schools in rural Alabama which were overseen by the Tuskegee Institute. The schools were opened in 1914.
rosenwald fund
Rosenwald Fund
  • Several shortcomings in black education in the South were quickly identified by the Rosenwald Fund:
    • a lack of adequately paid and trained teachers;
    • there were no High Schools for black students;
    • schools for rural blacks were only open 4 months a year;
rosenwald fund15
Rosenwald Fund
  • The biggest shortcoming identified:
    • the poor condition of most African American elementary school facilities.
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Rosenwald Fund
  • During this time of racial segregation, white school boards often took money that was meant to go to black schools, and distributed them elsewhere.
  • Thus, leaving little to no funding for black schools.
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Rosenwald Fund
  • The Rosenwald Fund promoted cooperation between blacks and whites at a time when racial segregation was a way of life.
  • To receive funding, a community had to commit public funds to the school, as well as, individual cash donations.*

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Rosenwald Fund
  • Also, in order to receive funds, mandatory construction standards had to be followed.
  • All schools were built according to standardized designs published by the Rosenwald Fund. *

architectural design of rosenwald schools
Architectural Design of Rosenwald Schools
  • These models, (which were similar to house kits sold by Sears), were carefully designed to produce a healthy learning environment.

House kit sold by Sears Catalog 1918

architectural design of rosenwald schools20
Architectural Design of Rosenwald Schools
  • The schools provided adequate lighting, ventilation, separate outhouses, coatroom, and quality blackboards and desks.

architectural design of rosenwald schools21
Architectural Design of Rosenwald Schools
  • There were plans for schools that ranged in size from 1 to 7 teachers.

One Teacher School Plan

Seven Teacher School Plan

architectural design of rosenwald schools22
Architectural Design of Rosenwald Schools
  • There were separate designs for schools that faced east or west, and those that faced north or south.

East or West Facing Design

North or South Facing Design

architectural design of rosenwald schools23
Architectural Design of Rosenwald Schools
  • The most recognizable architectural feature of Rosenwald schools were large banks of windows.*
architectural design of rosenwald schools24
Architectural Design of Rosenwald Schools
  • This was an important feature in an era when few rural schools had access to electricity.
architectural design of rosenwald schools25
Architectural Design of Rosenwald Schools
  • The plans for the schools also specified room size and height, blackboard and desk placement, paint colors, and window shades, all in order to make the most of available light.

architectural design of rosenwald schools26
Architectural Design of Rosenwald Schools
  • The plans also specified that the windows be placed so that the light came only from the students’ left.*
architectural design of rosenwald schools27
Architectural Design of Rosenwald Schools
  • The architectural features of the Rosenwald Schools greatly improved the quality of schools for African Americans in the South.*
rosenwald schools28
Rosenwald Schools
  • By 1932, the Rosenwald Fund had produced 4,977 new schools, 217 teacher homes, 163 shop buildings at a total cost of $28,408, 520.
  • Today, that would be approximately $280,500,000.
rosenwald schools29
Rosenwald Schools
  • Rosenwald Schools served 663,625 students, in 883 counties, in 15 states.*
rosenwald schools30
Rosenwald Schools
  • In Virginia, 371 schools were constructed.
  • All counties in Virginia, (except the 4 counties in the Appalachian region), had at least one Rosenwald School.*
rosenwald schools31
Rosenwald Schools

Virginia County Map of Rosenwald Schools

rosenwald schools32
Rosenwald Schools
  • Between 1921 – 1926, seven Rosenwald Schools were built in Albemarle County.
  • The St. John’s School in Cobham, Virginia was built in 1922 for the cost of $2,500.
  • Click here to see information about the 7 Albemarle County schools:

rosenwald schools today
Rosenwald Schools Today
  • Many Rosenwald Schools remained open until Brown v. Board of Education (1954) banned racially segregated public schools.*
  • Prior to them closing, Rosenwald Schools served generations of teachers, students, parents, and the communities in general.
rosenwald schools today34
Rosenwald Schools Today
  • Today, many of the Rosenwald Schools are either gone, or in a horrible state of disrepair.

Exterior & Interior Photos of Siloam Schoolhouse, Charlotte, NC

rosenwald schools today35
Rosenwald Schools Today
  • In 2002, The National Trust for Historic Preservation placed the Rosenwald Schools on its list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places.

rosenwald schools today36
Rosenwald Schools Today
  • Only 10 to 12 % of Rosenwald Schools are still standing, and many of the remaining schools are not safe & in danger of collapse.
  • Efforts are being made in hopes of preserving these historic buildings.
rosenwald schools today37
Rosenwald Schools Today
  • Today, of the seven schools built in Albemarle County, one is used as a house, for storage, and one, the St. John's School, is currently under construction to be re-used as a nursery or Sunday School.
  • Two of the schools are gone, and for a third school, the only remaining feature is an outhouse.
rosenwald schools today38
Rosenwald Schools Today
  • One Virginian success story is the Scrabble School in Rappahannock County.
  • Total restoration was required in order for it to reopen as the county’s Senior Citizen Center in May 2009.
  • Before this, the building was in poor shape, hidden by overgrown brush, and used as a dumping ground by local residents.
rosenwald schools today39
Rosenwald Schools Today

The Scrabble School before Renovation

rosenwald schools today40
Rosenwald Schools Today

The Scrabble School at Its Rededication, May 2009

rosenwald schools in virginia
Rosenwald Schools in Virginia
  • To check Rosenwald Schools in your county click here:

rosenwald schools sources
Rosenwald SchoolsSources
  • Sources:

Narrative by Garth Anderson, Lily Fox-Bruguiere & Laura Voisin George, April 2009

Fisk University – Rosenwald Data Base

Virginia Center for Digital History -

rosenwald schools sources43
Rosenwald SchoolsSources
  • Sources:

Library of Virginia

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The New Georgia Encyclopedia

rosenwald schools sources44
Rosenwald SchoolsSources
  • Sources:

Rosenwald Schools - Beacons for Black Education in the American South