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American Primers and Readers

Featuring the Words and Collection of Richard L. Venezky

An online exhibition of the Cubberley Education Library, Stanford University

California Textbooks

Overview of California Textbooks exhibit case
Detail of left side of exhibit case Textbook price list

Twelfth Biennial Report of the Superintendent of Public Instruction of the State of California. 1886. Sacramento, CA: California State Printing Office.

Detail of right side of exhibit case

In the 1880s a variety of California groups including organized labor, the major political parties, and parents decided that textbooks were too expensive and that the state should take on their printing. Some even believed a "textbook ring" was corrupting school boards. Others were concerned that the huge variety of textbooks used in the schools made it hard on families who moved and wanted the state to come up with a list of approved texts. "The Department of Public Instruction led in the campaign for the Perry School Book Amendment itself, largely through its official publication, The California Teacher and Home Journal" (Hendrick, 1964, p. 230). The only major group to oppose the idea was the State Teachers Association, and they questioned the ability of the state to come up with a product of the same quality as the textbooks from the major commercial publishers. However, the amendment was passed in the 1884 general election, and the state quickly moved ahead to bring out a series of textbooks. At first there were difficulties; however, soon "the early problems of poor quality in paper, printing, and binding was corrected and the idea of state authorship was replaced by leasing plates from commercial publishers," (ibid., p. 235), a practice that continued into the 1960s.

Detail of title page from Willis's "Speller"

Willis, W. L. [1886?] Speller. Sacramento, CA: State Board of Education.

Detail of advertisement in the California Teacher and Home Journal

The California Teacher and Home Journal, 2-3 (1884).

Detail of title page of "Days of Fun"

Burton, William H. 1954. Days of fun. Sacramento: California State Dept. of Education.

Cover image of California State Series First Reader

California. State Board of Education. 1886. First reader. Sacramento, CA: State Printing Office.

Cover image of California State Series Lessons in Language

Wilson, Mary E. 1889. Lessons in language. Sacramento, CA: State Printing Office.

Cover image of California State Series Third Reader

California. State Board of Education. 1886. Third reader. Sacramento, CA: State Printing Office.