St. Tammany may have been ahead of the curve in industrial arts education in 1837 when a school was started in Covington based on a new teaching method that advocated a well-rounded academic education combined with farm training. One hundred and eighty three years ago a group of local men got a state legislative act signed by the governor that incorporated the "Fellenburg Institute of the Parish of St. Tammany."
The Act, dated March 11, 1837, was also signed by C. Derbigny, President of the Louisiana Senate, and Alcee LaBranche, Speaker of the House of Representatives.
Residents involved in the creation of the school, located in Covington, included Thomas Kennedy, George Richardson, Joseph Walton, James C. Finly, and Robert S. Finly on the Board of Trustees. Its stated purpose was to establish of one or more seminaries of learning for the instruction of youth of either, or both, sexes.
Three years later, in 1840, historical accounts noted that Robert Finly's school (probably the Fellenburg Institute, according to Steve Ellis in the "St. Tammany Parish" history book) had 30 students in attendance.
So why was this vo-tech school named the Fellenburg Institute? The school apparently subscribed to the educational principals of Phillip Emanuel Von Fellenberg, a Swiss educator born in 1771.
According to research published in 1962 by Bently W. Robinson on the worldwide industrial arts education movement, Fellenburg believed that everyone, whether rich or poor, needed a good education, particularly a good vocational education in order to succeed.
Fellenburg's first school, built in 1807, combined academic study with manual labor. It stressed experimental work in agriculture, a scientific approach to growing crops. Both sexes attended Fellenburg's school, with slightly different academic subjects for each, but both doing farm work.
Demand for that type of school instruction expanded worldwide, along with a demand for more teachers schooled in the Fellenburg method of instruction. His school attracted students from all parts of Europe. It brought pupils from different social levels into contact with each other, calling upon them to work together.
Fellenberg also founded an orphan asylum (1804), a colony for poor boys (1816), and other schools.
So whatever became of Fellenburg training methods? Well, a quick Google search of the Fellenburg method brings up links to Fellenburg training centers around the world. After a widespread effort to inform communities throughout the United States about this educational method, Fellenberg schools sprang up all over the young nation: in Maine, Connecticut, Indiana, New York, Georgia, Tennessee, Vermont, Pennsylvania, Alabama, Ohio, North Carolina, Michigan, and, apparently, Louisiana.
The popularity of the Fellenberg schools didn't last, however. Combining farm work and manual training with academic studies was expensive, required an investment in land, buildings and faculty, and the funds just weren't there, especially as other "more advanced" educational methods were introduced throughout the 19th century.
Here are excerpts from a 1914 article in "Manual Training Magazine"