On September 8, 1841, one of the most important education conventions ever held in present West Virginia convened in Clarksburg. At the time, a formal education was virtually unheard for families without money.
In 1829, the Virginia General Assembly had authorized counties to establish school systems but provided little funding. Monroe County opened a free school under this plan but soon discontinued it.
Education reformers were spurred to action by the 1840 census, which demonstrated extensive illiteracy in Virginia. The Clarksburg gathering was the first of several conventions held throughout the state.
The Clarksburg convention highlighted serious education inequalities between the eastern and western parts of Virginia. Henry Ruffner called upon the General Assembly to create public schools that were “good enough for the rich . . . [and] fit for the poor.” In 1846, the legislature allowed citizens to petition counties to establish free schools but again failed to appropriate funding. The only counties in present West Virginia to adopt this plan were Kanawha, Jefferson, and Ohio.
In 1863, one of the first acts passed by the new West Virginia legislature established a system of free schools.