Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and the Historiography of Urban Public Education in Pennsylvania


HISTORIANS OF PENNSYLVANIA have been interested in education since the beginning of the twentieth century. The earliest articles and books on this topic appeared long before the history of education became an established scholarly fi eld. One explanation for this anomaly may be that the Quakers who founded Pennsylvania opened schools almost immediately. In effect, William Penn and his contemporaries enmeshed schooling in the colony’s fabric. Among Penn’s successors, Anthony Benezet has attracted the most attention from historians of education because he operated outside of the mainstream, teaching girls, the poor, and African Americans. But it was a non-Quaker, Benjamin Franklin, who did more than anyone else to identify Pennsylvania with the history of education. Knowledge that could be applied, he believed, was the key to opportunity, prosperity, and the common good. The commonwealth has basked in the refl ected glow of this idea—as well as his work on behalf of homegrown learned institutions—ever since.