New York State took a leadership role in the education of its children with the passage of the Compulsory Education Law of 1874.
The Dutch West India Company, which made early settlements at Manhattan and Albany, adopted an ordinance in 1629 providing that all colonists “shall endeavor to find out ways and means whereby they may supply a minister and a schoolmaster.” With this early ordinance the Dutch laid the foundation on which today’s compulsory school attendance laws are based.
When America was founded a century and a half later, no provision was made for a national system of
public schools. Any public education in America’s early days was controlled and administered by the states. When schools were established under state laws, provisions requiring compulsory attendance were seldom included.
As America grew, the industrial and commercial sectors of the country developed and expanded rapidly. To meet the ever-growing demand for workers, large numbers of children, often immigrants, were employed in the booming industries. Children routinely toiled in factories and on farms for long hours under brutal conditions, with little opportunity for any sort of education.
The first legislation to bring comprehensive reform to the abuses of child labor and mandate meaningful education requirements for children was New York State’s Compulsory Education Law of 1874. Enacted in April of that year, the law was called “An act to secure to children the benefits of elementary education.” New York’s pioneering legislation required every child between the ages of 8 and 14 years to attend school or receive home schooling for 14 weeks a year. The law further mandated children receive instruction in spelling, reading, writing, English grammar, geography and arithmetic.
With the passage of the Compulsory Education Law of 1874, New York State took a leadership role in the education of its children. This important, groundbreaking legislation has served as a model for similar laws in other states across the country.