It might not look like much from the sidewalk: a limestone house, a few feet above East 10th Street. The German Free School of Austin, built in 1858 with its unique rammed-earth construction, transformed education in Austin.
On a January morning in 1858, all eyes are glued on Julius Schütze. The young teacher’s lesson will be in both German and English. A few students have paid a modest tuition, but thanks to a state-funded reimbursement many “soldiers’ children, orphans, and the children of widows…” are here for free. These boys and girls represent many faiths – and ethnicities. This is the first day of class for the German Free School of Austin, one of the schools that would lay the groundwork for Texas’s first public education system. As they arrived in the 1850s, German immigrants had been startled to find that, unlike the fine schools in their homeland, Texas schools were privately funded, tuition-based, and often church-run. So around the state, German-Texans built schools that were open to all children — and not associated with any one religion.
Here, in 1858, the German Free School of Austin opened its doors in a small, two-classroom building – two decades before the first city-funded school. Its opening was a community affair: the von Rosenberg family donated land and volunteers constructed the building. Soon, officials described the school as “flourishing.” After the Civil War, the German-led push for free public education met resistance - some legislators worried about educating African-American children. But Austin’s German Free School served as a model for urban public schools throughout the state — one of German-Texans’ most lasting legacies.
Today, it is the headquarters for the German-Texan Heritage Society, a nonprofit organization that preserves German culture in Texas through festivals, language classes, genealogical searches, and other services.
German Free School/German-Texan Heritage Society
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