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Erie County (PA) Genealogy

School Related - William Howard Armstrong

Contributed by Janet Armstrong Kliven

William Howard Armstrong was born September 7, 1825 in Freeport, North East Township, Erie County, PA. Little is known of his parents, who died when William was quite young. Only that his father's name was Martin Armstrong and came from Scotland in the early 1800's via Canada. When his parents died, William was adopted by a neighbor family by the name of Jones, but kept the last name Armstrong. There is some speculation, although not proven, that only the mother died, and that the father, Martin, could not care for William and left him in care of the Jones family. It is known that William had three older brothers. It is possible that Martin went to Ohio with the three older boys; however no written proof has been found.

Although educational opportunities were limited in the early 1800s, William made good use of what learning he did receive. At the age of 17, he was sufficiently advanced in his training to take charge of a school, adopting a profession that was to make him successful and an able advocate for the educational system.

According to information taken from the History of Erie County, page 455, and Nelson's Biographical Dictionary, page 190, William Howard Armstrong was the first Superintendent of Schools in Erie County. He was elected at the first convention in 1854, at a yearly salary of $800 a year.

Reports were written on the schools by him each year beginning in 1854. They show the great lack of interest that the public took on improving the school system. They also show the bitter opposition to the office of Superintendent, who was in charge of upgrading the schools and getting certified teachers. The first major task was to license teachers.  He held 30 public exams and there was 530 candidates that tested. Only 27 received permanent certificates and 461 received temporary only. There were to his finding 122 schools houses that were totally unfit for school purposes.

He commended the directors of Greenfield in 1855 for completing 4 school houses that were substantial for school and during the next year planned on completing the number required to supply the district.  All of this was done in the face of the most determined opposition on the part of many of the most influential inhabitants of the township. 

Most of people of Erie County were of eastern origin, being natives principally of the New England States and the state of NY. Not that this was regretted, although it may be a matter of regret that there was not a greater community of interest and feeling between northwestern PA and the eastern and southern portions of the state.

After his term was over in 1860, he went back to teaching in different schools in Erie County, PA, and Chautauqua County, NY. In 1868, he relocated to Crawford County, PA, ending up as Superintendent of the Union School, when he died of typhoid fever on July 22, 1873.

Click on this line if you would like to go to the Crawford County Rootsweb Message Board Obituary. However, you don't need to as it is reposted here:

Obituary of William Howard Armstrong published in the Conneautville Courier, Conneautville, Crawford County, PA, Thursday, July 24, 1873.

We little expected when we noticed in our last issue that Prof. W.H. Armstrong, Superintendent of our Union School, was quite sick, that ere another week had passed he would be numbered among the dead. His symptoms were considered as favorable up to Sunday evening, when a change for the worse was noticed, and he continued to sink steadily until 2 o"clock on Tuesday morning when he died. He had been feeling poorly for several months past, the result of an overworked system, and when his summer vacation was reached, he started to visit his old friends and neighbors in Erie County, in hope that his shattered health might be restored. After an absence of less than an month, he returned home greatly reduced, and was not able to leave his house, typhoid fever setting in on a constitution well nigh exhausted and ending his life.

Mr Armstrong was a native of Freeport, near North East, Erie County, where he was born in Sept. 1825. His parents dying when he was quite young, he was adopted into the family of a neighbor, both of his adopted parents surviving him. He had the usual very limited educational advantages of that day, but making good use of time at the age of 17 he was sufficiently advanced to take charge of a school, adopting thus early the profession which ever after found in him an able advocate and in which he had succeeded in winning a most enviable reputation. He was chosen the first County Superintendent of his native county under the law creating that office, serving so acceptably as to be re-elected for a second term. While teaching in Wattsburg, he was chosen Justice of the Peace for two terms. As a teacher he was employed in different towns of Erie County, and in Chautauqua County, NY, having charge of the Corry schools in 1864 or 65 and North East in 1866 and 67. He came to this place in 1868, on the completion of the new school building, and was placed in charge of our Union School, continuing to hold the position at the time of his death. At the last election he was unsuccessful candidate for County Superintendent. Of his qualifications as a teacher or his standing as a private citizen it is unnecessary to say a word. The former is best shown by the success that has crowned his efforts, and the latter is attested by the shadow of gloom thrown over our community by his untimely death. Some twenty years since he united with the Presbyterian Church, and ever after led a consistent Christian life. He was for several years Superintendent of the Sunday School of his church, and at the time of his death had charge of its Bible Class. He leaves behind a wife and six children, two grown to manhood. The blow is a bad one to the stricken family, who in their bereavement have the heartfelt sympathy of our people.

The funeral, which takes place today (Wednesday) at 1 PM at his late residence, will be attended by the school children in a body in charge of their respective teachers.


Additional information:

Janet Armstrong Kliven, contributor of this material, is the 2nd great granddaughter to William Howard Armstrong. In her research, she has also found that William Armstrong's daughter was a teacher in 1890 directory of Erie.  She was living at 2022 Peach St. in Erie.  Her name was Jessie Armstrong, born Jun 2 1858, and  she married to Jay Chapin, Oct. 8, 1891.  No information is available concerning at what school she taught. 

Change History: Original article posted 9/7/02.

This page was last updated on  Saturday, September 07, 2002 .

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