The Beginning of North Carolina's Public Schools
Interest in education in North Carolina began shortly after colonization. Missionaries with the purpose of educating North Carolina's future ran the first schools. It was the State Constitution of 1776 that directed that "a School or Schools shall be established by the Legislature for the convenient instruction of youth, with such salaries to the Masters paid by the public." Even with the constitutional mandate, the public school system of North Carolina was slow to develop.
In 1817, Archibald D. Murphey, known as the "father of public education," presented to the General Assembly a report that included a plan for the state's intervention in the educational process. Murphey's plan called for the General Assembly to establish a public school fund and further provided that a State Board be elected to manage that fund. He recommended that this Board of Public Instruction be established with six members: three from Raleigh or east of Raleigh, and three from Raleigh or west of Raleigh.
The Literary Fund
The General Assembly created a Literary Fund in 1825 to support public education. The Fund consisted of bank stocks, proceeds from sales of vacant lands, dividends from navigation companies, license taxes and money received from the federal government for aid in the removal of the Cherokee Indians. A Literary Board was created to administer the fund, with the duties of taking care of the fund and building it up by investing its income in stock. This Board was the first governing body for public education in North Carolina.
The first common school law of North Carolina, passed by the legislature in 1839, established the principle of combined State and local funding for public schools. The law stated that the Literary Fund would provide two dollars for every dollar yielded from local taxes. The law also divided the state into school districts with primary schools in each district. In each county five to ten "superintendents" were appointed to oversee the schools. This was the beginning of local boards of education. By 1846 every county had one or more public schools.
In 1852, the General Assembly created the Office of General Superintendent of Common Schools. Calvin Wiley was appointed to this position with a salary to be paid from the Literary Fund. This office allowed for local school officials to coordinate their efforts with activities and policies at the state level.
The General Assembly of 1855 reestablished the Literary Board as the Board of Literature declaring it a "body politic and corporate" under the name "The President and General Directors of the Literary Fund of North Carolina." Members included the Governor, as ex-officio president, and three other directors appointed by the Governor with the advice of the Council of State. The Board of Literature was vested with full power to order a survey of state owned swamp lands and to order construction for their use and improvement. A fund for the common schools was created with the profit made from the land sales.
The directors met for the last time in 1865 before the fall of the Confederacy. The Treasurer was instructed to place all assets and records of the Board in a box and place them in safety. The records were recovered after the war and can be found in the North Carolina State Archives.