The Hygienic School was a historic Afro-American school in Pennsylvania. The photograph was taken in 1886-87. The school was located in Steelton, Pennsylvania near Harrisburg. Steelton was a the name suggests built around the rising iron and steel industry of the area. The steel mills at the center of the city rose to be a major industrial complex after the Civil War. The mills attracted workers in large numbers, among which were blacks primarily from the South. Low wages over time resulted in industrial strife. One of the company's strategies for dealing with labor unrest was to hire blacks and went into the South to recruit black workers. They were thought to less likely to strike and white workers often did not want to bring them into the trade unions they were attempting to form. The primary company was the Pennsylvania Steel Company which in 191 became the Bethlehem Steel Corporation. The recruiters they sent into the South were successful in finding willing black workers who had few prospects in the Jim Crow South. Once a black community was established they attracted family and friends. This began before the Great Migration beginning during World War I, but increased during this period. The first blacks were housed in barracks built and operated by the company. The first recruits were mostly young men. As families formed, a black shantytown developed the old Pennsylvania Canal and along Adams Street. Other ethnic groups (Croats, Slavs, Germans, Italians, and others) attracted by the jobs gradually assimilated into multi-ethnic society, a pattern repeated elsewhere in the industrial Midwest. The prevailing racism of the day, however, kept Steelton's blacks in their own separate community. And this included a separate school.
Steelton near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania was a the name suggests built around the rising iron and steel industry of the area. It is located in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania, 3 miles southeast of Harrisburg along the Susquehanna River. In addition to the steel works there were brickyards, a flour mill, and machine shops. Before the industrial development began the area was rural where about six families living there. The modern steel mill was built in 1886. The original name was Steel City. The population was about 12,000 people in 1900, reaching over 13,000 in 1920. One source reports a peak population of 16,000 people.
The population declined to less than 6,000 people in 2000, reflecting the decline of industrial cities.
The Civil War was a huge stimulant tonAmerican industry. Production of steel increased during the War and steadily expanded after the War. One of the important compasnies was the Pennsylvania Steel Company (PSC). The steel mills which served as a magnant around which Steelton rose. The mills rose to be a major industrial complex after the Civil War. The PSC Steeltoin plant was the first industrial complex devoted exclusively to the production of steel.
The PSC was absorbed by the the Bethlehem Steel Corporation in 1916. Bethlehem was noted for industrial innovation, especially the introduction of the Bessemer process. The company was the second largest steel producer in America and played a major role in American industry during the 20th century. It became a major shipbuilding company (a major user of steel). The company gradually declined after World War II. It is often cited as a major example of an American industrial company that failed to adjust to the challenge of foreign competition, especially competition using lowpaid workers.
The mills attracted workers in large numbers. The company sought immigrants that flooded into America after the Civil War. The immigrants were highly motivated individuals who wanted to work and had few options other than industrial labor. Thus the industrialists ofvthecday saw them as idea workers. Among the European immigrants were blacks primarily from the South. Steelton thus had a particularly diverse population. Both jobs and residential neighborhoods were segregated by ethnic group. Each ethnic group had jobs they specialized in. They tended to found separate churches and live in destinct neighborhoods, This was a common pattern in late19th century America.
Low wages and difficult often dangerous working conditions over time resulted in industrial strife. The American labor movement traces its history to the post-Civil War Era. Americawas a still largely agricultural country in the mid 19th century, but considerable industrial development had occurred in the Northeast and this was significantly stimulated by the Civil War (1861-65). The first American labor union was the the National Labor Union (NLU) founded in 1866. The most powerful early union was the Knights of Labor. It achieved considerable power, but was destoyed in the aftermath of the Haymarket Riot (1886). Industrialists backed by the courts and the goverment showed n ability to break unions. Ths occured in both the Homstead and Pullman strikes diring 1892. Public opinion seemed to assciate the industrial unions with more radical groups like Anarchists and the IWW. Gradually after World War I, labor unions in most Western European countries and America won collective bargaining rights. In America this was one of the achievements of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal. The Depression put workers at great disadvantge because there were so many unemployed seeking jobs. One of the pillars of the New Deal was the The National Labor Relations Act (1935).
The hope of real freedom for the emancipated slaves after the Civil War was quashed by racist state governments after the withdrawl of Federal trops in the 1870s. The gains achieved by blacks were gradually eroded by racist Jim Crow legislation and extra legal terror fomented by the Klu Klux Klan. Lynchings and mob vilolence througout the South cowed blacks into submission and precented them from voting.
At the time of emancipation, black Americans were a rural, mostly southern people. More than than 90 percent of blacks lived in the rural south, many on plantations. There were blacks in the north, but relatively small numbers. In contrast to the South, northern blacks primarily lived in cities. This dempgraphic pattern did not change significantly after Empancipation, but some southern blacks did move into cities, mostly southern cities. Few blacks moved north. This did not change until the 20th century. Large numbers of blacks first began moving north during World War I. This became known as the Great Migration. Rural blacks headed to northern cities. Blacks left the South for a range of reasons. The Jim Crow susten stripped blacks of civil rights and constricted most to eke out a miserable existence through sharecropping. Blacks wh resisted the system in any way risked extra-legal violence and the lynch mob. The North offered basic rights, decent paying jobs and living conditions as well as educational opportunities. Migration continued after World War I. After the Depression, World war II opened opportunities in the North never before available. The Great Migration trasforned the black population in America from a southern rural people to a northern urban population. It also brought poltical power to black Americans. Black urban voters often swing state elections
One of the company's strategies for dealing with labor unrest was to hire blacks and went into the South to recruit black workers. The company management thought them to be less likely to strike or complain about working conditions than white workers often did not want to bring them into the trade unions they were attempting to form. The recruiters they sent into the South were successful in finding willing black workers who had few prospects in the Jim Crow South. Once a black community was established they attracted family and friends. This began before the Great Migration beginning during World War I, but increased during this period. The first blacks were housed in barracks built and operated by the company. The first recruits were mostly young men. As families formed, a black shantytown developed the old Pennsylvania Canal and along Adams Street. Other ethnic groups (Croats, Slavs, Germans, Italians, and others) attracted by the jobs gradually assimilated into multi-ethnic society, a pattern repeated elsewhere in the industrial Midwest.
Blacks first appeared in Steelton during the 1870s and were hired by the PSC. Following the established pattern of the time, they were at first hired to fill menial jobs, but gradually moved to fill better paid skilled positions. This was a powerful magnet for black workers and the black population increased five times between 1880-1900. This began to change, however, as European immigration increased. The levels of European immigration was still relatively small when blacks began arriving in Steelton during the 1870s, but immigration increased dramatically by the 1880s. In particular Slavic and to a lesser extent Italians becan arriving in Freetown. This apparently affected the upward mobility of blacks and their ability to move into betterpaid skilled jobs. [Bodnar] The prevailing racism of the day kept Steelton's blacks in their own separate community. And this included a separate school for the town's black children.
The situatuon concerning access to education in the North varied over time. Some communities excluded blacks from public schools. Black parents had to take local school authorities to cout to gain access to the public schools. Even after emancipation, some states northern and western states still excluded black children. Overtime blacks were admitted although the time frame varied from state to state. As a result, segregation in the north is a very complicated subject and one which we have not yet investigated to any degree. It is an interesting question and one that we would like to better understand. We note black children in public schools during the late 19th century. An example is the Onarga School in Illinois during 1882. We know that there were segregated schools in Kansas. The land mark Suprme Court decesion was in part aimed against the Topeka Board of Education. We think that segregation in the North, however, was not mandated by state law, but rather an option available to individual school districts. We are not sure at this time about Pennsylvania, but appasrently the statecallowed school districts to maintain seggregated schools.
The Hygienic School was a historic Afro-American school in Pennsylvania. The photograph was taken in 1886-87. The school was located in Steelton, Pennsylvania near Harrisburg. The name sounds rather racist, but actually did not have racist overtones, it was named for Hygienic Hill where the school was located. A Steelton newspaper editor, Peter Sullivan Blackwell. took an interest in the education of black children. The origons of the school apparently date from Blackwell's efforts to begin a night school in the basement of the Monumental A.M.E. Church during the mid-1880s. Soon black parents began to seek a more permanent facility for the education of their children. The city school board apparently did not want the black children attending school with children. They moved to set up classes for the children in what has been called a "ramshackle" hall. Blackwell and Joseph Hill organized the American Protective Association during the 1890s. The Association sought to oppose the school board's project. Notably the Association did not demand entry into white schools. We are not entirely sure why. Perhaps this reflects the southern origins of Steelton blacks. The association instead insisted on more adequate class rooms for Steelton's black children. The solution was two rooms in the existing white Hygienic Hill School. The expanding black population of Steelton meant that larger facilities were soon needed.
It took some doing before the school board was convinced to approve the funds needed to construct six new classrooms for the the Hygienic School. The students attended classes through the 8th grade (about 13-14 years of age). After this they could either look fir work or continue their education
at the Steelton High School. Very few blacks did this. Here the primary factor was probably economics and their parents lack of education. Many of the first generation of Steelton blacks had little or no formal education as well. Legally they could attend the white highscjool because there was no black highschool. How welcoming the teachers and other students were I do not know. There were some limitations. Black graduates were not allowed to join the aluni association. They formed the Douglas Association. One of the first blacks to attend Steelton High School was Charles F. Howard. He was appointed as principal of the Hygienic School (1886). He continued ast the school until retirement (1936). He instituded a course in Afro-American history, probably one of the first in America. Many of the teachers of the schools were eventually recruited from former students.
One source suggests thast the School continued to have an all-black studetbody into the 1960s. I am not sure the school ever integrated or was instead cloesd. The building was torn down in 1974.
Many of the former students look on the Hygienic School "instead of being a sore reminder of racial segregation, the Hygienic School stood as a proud symbol of a community's commitment to education and self-reliance." [Friends of Midland organization]
Bodnar, John. "The mobility rates of slavic immigrantsand negro migrants in a Pennsylvania Steel Town,"Pennsylvania Historical Association, (October 20-21, 1972).
Friends of Midland organization. "The Hygienic School: Steelton, Pennsylvania," Afrolumensproject (2007).
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