Education reformer Alexander Luark Wade (February 1, 1832-May 2, 1904) was raised in Monongalia County, and began teaching in the rural schools at age 16. He served a decade in county government, returning to education in 1871 as principal of the Morgantown schools, shortly thereafter becoming assistant county superintendent. He was elected Monongalia County school superintendent in 1875.
By successfully reforming Monongalia County’s country schools, Wade radically transformed rural elementary education. In most rural schools the students were taught in one room, regardless of age or number of years of attendance, with no structure that prepared them for higher levels of learning. Wade reorganized rural schools using a system that required progress through eight prescribed levels. Those students completing all grades and passing a public examination were recognized through graduation exercises and the receipt of a diploma. Wade implemented his plan in 1874 and held the first exams in 1876.
The graded system worked so well in Monongalia County that other counties implemented it. After the 1881 publication of Wade’s A Graduating System for Country Schools, the plan was quickly adopted in many states. However, it was not adopted throughout West Virginia until 1891. Wade received national acclaim for his accomplishments before his death. Wade’s home in Morgantown was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1965.
This Article was written by Harold Malcolm Forbes
Last Revised on November 12, 2010
Ash, Irvin O. West Virginia Educators. Shepherdstown: Irvin O. Ash, 1936.
Wade, Alexander L. A Graduating System for Country Schools. Boston: New England Pub., 1881.
Barbe, Mary I. The Life of Alexander L. Wade. West Virginia History, (Oct. 1947).