Popular education has always been an object of vital concern to the people of Texas. It was a matter which attracted the particular attention of the Masons in the early days and was a field in which they made a most remarkable contribution to the public welfare of this commonwealth.
One of the grievances against the Mexican government, as listed in the Texas Declaration of Independence, was the failure of the government to establish any system of education. The Texas Constitution of 1836 provided: “It shall be the duty of Congress, as soon as circumstances will permit, to provide by law a general system of education.” Although Jones, Wharton, and other Masonic leaders urged repeatedly upon the Congress its constitutional duty to make some provision for a system of education, the financial circumstances of the Republic were not such, in the opinion of Congress, as to permit the provision to be made.
In the Constitutional Convention of 1845, the president of the convention was authorized to appoint a committee on education, consisting of seven members. Of the seven members appointed on this committee, four were Masons. 8 Among other recommendations made to the convention by this committee as to what the constitution should provide, was the following:
The Legislature shall, as early as practicable, establish free public schools throughout the State, and shall furnish means for their support by taxation on property, and from and after the year eighteen hundred and fifty, it shall be the duty of the Legislature to set apart one-tenth of the annual revenue of the State, as a perpetual fund, the interest of which, at six per cent per annum, shall be apportioned to the support of free public schools; and no law shall ever be made, directing said fund to any other use.
When the foregoing report of the committee on education came on for consideration in the convention, an amendment was offered from the floor to strike out the word “shall” in the first line and insert in its place the word “may,” thus changing the mandatory provision of the proposal to a mere grant of permission. The amendment was rejected by a vote of thirtyseven to eleven. Of the thirty-seven delegates voting against the proposed amendment, twenty-three were Masons, 2 of the eleven delegates who voted for the amendment only two were Masons. When the recommendation of the committee came up later in the proceedings for further consideration, it was changed and modified, however, to some extent before being incorporated in the constitution as finally drafted. But the mandatory provision directing the Legislature to set aside one-tenth of the annual revenues of the state for the support of free public schools was retained.
In its tenth annual communication held at Houston in January, 1847, the Masonic Grand Lodge of Texas adopted a resolution providing “that a Standing Committee of five be appointed, to be styled the Committee on Education.” It was also resolved “that ten per cent of all revenues accruing to this Grand Lodge be appropriated to purposes of education; and the same shall not be drawn from the Treasury for any other purpose.”
At its eleventh annual communication held at Austin in January, 1848, the Grand Lodge authorized its Grand Master to appoint a Superintendent of Education, who should have the custody and management of the Masonic Education Fund, have general supervision of all the educational interests of the Order, and who should recommend, for the consideration of the Grand Lodge, such measures for the promotion of education as he might deem advisable. E. W. Taylor was appointed the first Masonic Superintendent of Education in Texas.
Prior to 1848, however, various subordinate lodges had already begun the establishment of schools in Texas. Perhaps the first Masonic School in Texas was that fostered by Orphans Friend Lodge No. 17 at Fanthrop in Grimes County; it was established in the fall of 1842 and later became known as the Masonic Collegiate Institute. After the Grand Lodge had established its education fund, it made loans to Marshall Lodge No. 22, Palestine Lodge No. 31, Lockhart Lodge No. 59, Guadalupe Lodge No. 108, and others, for the purpose of assisting each in its respective educational endeavors. In its annual communication in 1853 the Grand Lodge advised and requested all subordinate lodges within its jurisdiction to exert themselves in the establishment of schools, pledging to reimburse any local lodge for expenditures thus made.
Masonic Schools in Texas
In the period from 1850 to 1873, the Legislature of Texas granted charters to seventeen institutions of learning which were organized under Masonic auspices. 11 Among the most noted and prosperous of these institutions were the Masonic Female Institute at Marshall, the Milam Masonic Female Institute at Bowie, Linden Male and Female Academy, New Danville Masonic Female Academy, Upshur Masonic College, and Rusk Masonic Institute. In addition to these seventeen chartered institutions of learning the Masons of Texas established more than one hundred other schools which were not chartered. All of these schools, with few exceptions, were open alike to the children of Masons and non-Masons on equal terms. Although a tuition fee was charged in most instances, these meagre fees were supplemented by generous contributions and abundant revenues derived from the subordinate and Grand Lodge. Moreover, after the state instituted its system of public education in the late fifties, the local Masonic lodge was the silent promoter and partner in many instances where the local school was in the charge of an independent board of trustees elected by the people.
Dr. Frederick Eby makes the following significant statement:
The services of the Masonic lodges in conducting schools and furnishing buildings were possibly greater than those of any single religious denomination. As the state developed its system of schools, Masonic interest gradually declined until it limited its activities to the education of the orphans of its former members. Their services must be regarded as one of the most important transitional steps toward free public education. A certain parallelism can be noted between the educational program of the Grand Lodge and the later organization of public education in the state.
Masonry in the Early Days of Texas
JOSEPH W. HALE