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Jefferson Township School Census and Map, 1870


Materials in the Library of Virginia’s collections contain historical terms, phrases, and images that are offensive to modern readers. These include demeaning and dehumanizing references to race, ethnicity, and nationality; enslaved or free status; physical and mental ability; and gender and sexual orientation. 


Prior to the Civil War, Virginia did not have a comprehensive public school system. Lawmakers passed various measures to fund public schools, but these measures were primarily directed toward the creation of schools for a small segment of the population, the children of indigent white families. The schools were known as “free schools” or “charity schools,” and they were designed only for very poor white communities. African Americans, free and enslaved, were excluded from these schools because it was illegal to provide them with an education.

With the end of the Civil War and ratification of a new state constitution in 1870, lawmakers established Virginia’s first public school system for all children regardless of their color or economic status. The goals of this new public education system were to “prevent children growing up in ignorance or becoming vagrants.” As local officials complied with the new state law, they set about drawing school districts segregated by race. The practice of using segregation in public education in Virginia would last well into the 20th Century.

Citation: Jefferson Township School Census and Map, 1870. Alexandria County (Va.) Superintendent of Schools Records, 18511920 (bulk 18701884), Local Government Records Collection, Alexandria County/Arlington (Va.) Court Records. Library of Virginia.


VS.1, VS.8, USI.1, USI.9, GOVT.7, GOVT.9

Suggested Questions

Preview Activity

Look at It: Looking at the map, what clues are provided to explain its purpose? Why would such a map be necessary in 1870 Virginia?

Post Activities

Think About It: Segregation in public schools had a long history in Virginia. Why do you think such policies were enacted? Why did they last into the 20th Century? Keep in mind the shifts in cultural values that were concurrent with these policy decisions.

Current Connection: What is the purpose of a census? Why does the federal government and state government still take a census today?