Provisions for education were part of Illinois government from statehood. The Federal Land Grant of 1818 had provisions for elementary and secondary schools: "section no. 16 of every township... shall be granted to the State, for the ... use of schools" and "thirty-six sections ... shall be reserved for the use of a seminary of learning... and vested in the legislature of the State...". In 1825, the State Legislature passed an act providing for establishment of free schools, as well as the levying of taxes to provide funds for the schools.
Female seminaries provided curriculums of serious study and were the first colleges for Illinois women. Jacksonville Female Academy, established by Frances Ellis, opened in 1830. Monticello Female Seminary was chartered in Alton in 1835. The founder Benjamin Godfrey, claimed that educating a man educated an individual, while educating a woman educated an entire family. By 1860, more than 20 female seminaries existed in Illinois. Many have been incorporated into today's colleges and universities. Women gained more opportunities in higher education as all-male institutions began to admit female students. Illinois Wesleyan University admitted the first women students in its class of 1870.
Concern for education in the state grew between 1840 and 1860. In 1845, the Secretary of State was designated State Superintendent of Public Instruction. The first meetings of the Illinois Education Society were held in 1846. In 1857, the State Board of Education was formed. 3,000 schoolhouses were built between 1857 and 1858. Most of these were one room schools holding classes 7 months of the year.
Illinois State Normal School (now Illinois State University) was established in 1857 to train teachers, but was unable to meet the demand. Teachers were primarily men paid a relatively low wage and the state had a shortage of them.
The solution came primarily from the National Educational Society in the form of teachers from outside the state. Resistance came because they were young women. The Democrats objected to them for political reasons because the girls came from the Northeast. Stephen Douglas claimed that the teachers were abolitionists and would convert the children into "canting, freedom shrieking New England demagogues". Economics and demand silenced much of the opposition. The women often accepted half the pay required to employ a man. As a result the teaching profession at the primary level moved from male-dominated to female-dominated.
By the late 19th century, many young women spent a year or two teaching school between their own schooling and their marriage. Many taught male pupils who were older than themselves. Women also began to have influence in the decision making process of education. Sarah Raymond was superintendent of District 87 in Bloomington by 1874. Georgina Trotter became the first member of the Bloomington Board of Education in 1875. Caroline Grote also spent her career in public education and became Dean of Women of the Western Normal School in 1908.
Photograph of montage, courtesy of Quincy Public Library, Quincy, Illinois