Before the Civil War, Southern parents who could afford to educate their children sent them to small private schools or hired tutors for the home. Just nineteen months after the end of the war, Columbus Mayor John McIlhenny introduced a resolution in City Council for public schools in Columbus. It was unanimously adopted, and the first school opened on October 14, 1867. Outside the city limits, county schools were first launched in 1872. Finally in 1950, the city and county school systems were consolidated to form the Muscogee County School District.
The first city-supported school for African-American students was opened in July 1872 in Temperance Hall, a former theater. By 1880 the trustees acquired Claflin School, which had been established and operated independently by the Freedmen’s Bureau since 1868. Baker School became the first school to integrate in 1964, with all schools desegregated in 1971.
Columbus was the first city in Georgia, and perhaps the first in the nation, to add public kindergarten to the curriculum in 1905. Another first in 1906 was the opening of Industrial (now Jordan) High School, the first vocational high school in the United States. It was hailed as “a great forward step in education and a striking expression of high civic spirit” by philanthropist George Foster Peabody, a Columbus native.
A group of local citizens called the Greater Columbus Committee recommended that Columbus have a publically supported college in 1943. After years of planning, an old dairy farm on Warm Springs Road became the home of Columbus College on January 6, 1963. Now known as Columbus State University, the school continues to enrich education and culture in Columbus. The city is also home to Columbus Technical College, which opened in 1961 as part of a state-wide effort to train more skilled laborers.