An Illustrated History of Southern California

Biography of Henry Campbell Brooke

Henry Campbell Brooke, Superintendent of Schools of San Bernardino County, and one of the most devoted and successful workers in the cause of public school education on the Pacific coast, was born in Pennsylvania in 1834. His ancestors on both sides immigrated to America and settled in that State in the closing year of the seventeenth century. His maternal grandmother, Mrs. Phillips (Mary Lewis), was intimately acquainted with General George Washington, and often entertained the Father of his Country at the Phillips home near Valley Forge. The Brookes settled in the mineral regions of Pennsylvania, and were among the first to mine anthracite coal and to discover and demonstrate its value as fuel. His father’s family for generations has been and still is heavily interested in coal mining and iron-manufacturing in the vicinity of Reading. The family are either manufacturers, coal operators or farmers.

The subject of this memoir was educated in the schools of Philadelphia. During the gold-mining excitement at Pike’s Peak, in 1859, Mr. Brooke caught the fever and started from his Pennsylvania home for the new El Dorado; but before he reached his destination that bubble of questionable promise had been exploded and the reactionary wave had set in. So by the way of compromise he continued his journey across the plains to California, and he has never regretted the decision that brought him here. He began his schoolwork in this State in the fall of 1860, as a teacher in Humboldt County, under the old Swett law, and from the most reliable information obtainable Professor Brooke received the first certificate issued in the State under that law. In 1867 he came to San Bernardino and for twenty-three years has been a most zealous and efficient worker in the schools of the county. In 1869 he was first elected county superintendent of schools and served two years, 1870-’71. After an interval of ten years spent in active teaching he was again elected county superintendent, in 1882, and has continued to fill the office by successive elections ever since. “Onward to perfection ” has been his motto, and for the past eight years his time, mind and energies have been consecrated to the bringing of the public schools of this county up to his ideal standard. The following comparative official figures show the progress of the public schools of the county under Prof. Brooke’s administration. In 1882 San Bernardino, of the fifty-two counties in California, ranked No. 25, in number of children of school age; No. 32 in total value of school property and No. 43 in value of school property in proportion to the number of census children. In 1888 the county ranked No. 9 in number of census children; No. 12 in value of all property; No. 5 in value of school property; No. 1 in value of school property in proportion to the value of all property in the county. This splendid ratio of increase in the value of school property is due in a large degree to the wise method inaugurated years ago by Superintendent Brooke, to raise money for the building of schoolhouses, namely, the issuing of school bonds in the respective school districts where houses were needed. Having drawn a form of bond submitted to and improved by the highest legal authorities, the question of voting bonds sufficient to cover the cost of the building to be erected is submitted to the voters of the district, and upon receiving the requisite two-thirds vote the bonds are executed and sold, usually by Mr. Brooke himself, thus saving broker’s commission. Some fifty-six issues of these bonds have been made in the county, and there has never been one returned for any irregularity, and they have always readily sold at-a premium, ranging from six to fourteen per centum, the premium obtained generally being sufficient to seat and furnish the schoolhouses after they are finished. By this judicious and business like mode of procedure the value of school property in San Bernardino County has been increased from $45,198 in 1882 to $456,693 in 1889, a growth of over tenfold in seven years.

During this period the number of census children have increased from 2,661 to 5,990; and the number of teachers from 44 to 118. By the end of the present year every one of the sixty-one school districts in the county will be provided with a comfortable, commodious house, some of them costing as much as $75,000, modern in style of architecture, and each supplied with the necessary apparatus for the most effective educational work. Professor Brooke’s aim has been to furnish all the facilities needed, and to employ the most efficient teachers and then allow them to work in their own way, and through their own individual methods as far as is consistent with the highest interests of the schools, holding them responsible for results. Thus the teacher is not subjected to any inflexible process of machine cramming, but left free to use his or her own judgment in the use of means to attain the desired end in the school-room work. Successive years of experience have demonstrated the wisdom of treating the teacher as an independent thinking individuality rather than an automaton propelled and controlled by rules as in-flexible as the laws of mechanics, with the county superintendent and the board of education as the motive power. The public schools of San Bernardino County compare favorably with those of any other county in California or the Union, and this proud achievement is due in a large measure to the intelligent and unremitting labors of County Superintendent Henry Campbell Brooke.

Source: An Illustrated History of Southern California: embracing the counties of San Diego, San Bernardino, Los Angeles and Orange, and the peninsula of lower California.

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