Office of Education

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The Office of Education, at times known as the Department of Education and the Bureau of Education, was a small unit in the federal government of the United States from 1867 to 1972.


In 1857, Congressman Morrill introduced a bill for the establishment, through the aid of public land grants, of State colleges throughout the country primarily for the teaching of agriculture and the mechanical arts. On Monday, February 1, 1858, a petition of the Ohio State Board of Agriculture was presented to the Senate "praying that a donation of land be made to each of the States for the establishment of agricultural colleges." Neither of the proposals was accepted until the time of the Lincoln administration (1861–65), after which it became necessary to gather information on the many schools already in existence, as well as on those being built.

Inception and development[edit]

The Office was created on March 2, 1867, as the Department of Education, using the same titles as another unit which it superseded.[1] Henry Barnard was appointed as the first Commissioner of Education in 1867.[2] On June 30, 1869, the Department lost its independent status and became the Office of Education within the Department of the Interior (where it would remain until 1939).[2] Barnard's personal book collection, later purchased by the Bureau, was the nucleus of what would become the National Library of Education.[2] Barnard resigned on March 15, 1870, and was replaced by John Eaton who remained Commissioner until 1886.[2] In 1870, the unit began to be called the Bureau of Education.[2] The Bureau reverted to the name Office of Education in 1929.[3] In 1939, Office of Education was taken out of the Department of the Interior and made a part of the newly created Federal Security Agency (FSA) which was upgraded to the Department of Health, Education and Welfare in 1953.[4]


The original non-Cabinet-level Department of Education was created to provide educational information to the state and local education authorities.[2] The collecting of educational statistics had already begun in parts of Europe. The Office of Education was created to meet the need to gather statistical information on the fast-growing educational institutions of the United States. Reformers hoped that the Office would become a powerful federal agency, but were frustrated at every turn by Congress, which did not or want to trespass on the right of the states to control educational policy.

The Bureau, and later Office, of Education was a unit of the Department of the Interior, therefore it was under the aegis of the Secretary of the Interior. It had no power to control the actions of educational institutions. At various times during its first decades of existence, attempts were made to change its name. These names (Board, Department, Office, and Bureau) were considered. In 1873, a bill (H. R. 3782) was introduced which would change its name to the Bureau of Education and Statistics.

The Commissioner of Education was required to prepare a Report annually, which was printed and given to members of Congress and other persons. In 1875, 20,000 copies of the Report for 1874 were printed; 5,000 copies for the use of members of the Senate, 10,000 copies for the use of members of the House of Representatives, and 5,000 copies for the use of the Commissioner of Education.

The Office gathered information on diverse educational facilities such as those built to bring an education to American Indians as well as all of the facilities in all of the other places.

Dissolution and legacy[edit]

In 1972, Public Law 92-318 provided the repeal of the law which had created the Office of Education. The repeal took effect on July 1, 1972.

The Office of Education had a unifying influence on the different educational institutions of the United States, caused by supplying the leaders of the institutions with information that enabled them to know of the practices of the various institutions. The direct organizational descendent of the Office of Education is the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), part of the Institute of Education Sciences in the U.S. Department of Education.



  1. ^ Copy of 1867 Department of Education Act As Enacted
  2. ^ a b c d e f "The History of the NLE: Office of Education Library – Early Years" at the National Library of Education website. 3 April 2006. Retrieved 15 January 2012.
  3. ^ "The History of the NLE: Reorganized Office of Education Library" at the National Library of Education website. 3 April 2006. Retrieved 15 January 2012.
  4. ^ "The History of the NLE: Library Consolidation – The HEW Library" at the National Library of Education website. 3 April 2006. Retrieved 15 January 2012.


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