Secondary Education

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Secondary Education, the level of education between the elementary school (usually ages 6-14 in North America, and 6-10 or 14 in Europe) and (in North America) the college or (in Europe) the university. This article treats only the regular secondary school, not specialized schools such as Bible schools.

No Mennonite secondary schools were ever established in Holland, France, or Switzerland. In Germany one Mennonite secondary boys' school was established at Weierhof in the Palatinate (see Realanstalt am Donnersberg) in 1867, which developed into an excellent institution under private Mennonite management and with a Mennonite principal and part Mennonite faculty, but with only a small number of Mennonite students. The Weierhof Mennonite pastor customarily taught religion in the school. It was taken over by the Nazi regime in 1941, and then used by the French and American armies 1945-57. The school was finally reconstituted in 1959. The Russian Mennonites, however, developed a strong secondary school program, which had a total of at least 23 schools in Ukraine at its height in 1910, seventeen for boys, five for girls, and one coeducational, with an enrollment range per school of 70-200 pupils, and three to six teachers, usually with a three-year program, although several schools had four years. These were called Zentralschulen since they were thought of as central schools for a district.

The first secondary school in Russia was the Ohrloff Mennonitische Zentralschule, established in 1822 at Ohrloff in the Molotschna settlement by the School Association led by Johann Cornies. It was planned as a school to prepare teachers, although it taught only content subjects, no educational methods or theory subjects. This school became the pattern for others to follow. Three outstanding Russian secondary school pioneer educators were the first two principals of the Ohrloff school, Tobias Voth 1822-29 and Heinrich Heese 1829-42, and Heinrich Franz, principal of the Chortitza Zentralschule 1846-58. In the first 50 years only two additional schools were established, Halbstadt in the Molotschna (1835) and the Chortitza school in the Chortitza settlement (1842). Growth was slow until the early part of the 20th century. The only new boys' schools until 1905 were Gnadenfeld in the Molotschna (1874) and Neu-Schönsee in the Zagradovka settlement (1895). The first girls' secondary schools were at Halbstadt in the Molotschna (1874) and Chortitza (1895). By 1910 some 200 Russian Mennonite youth were attending Russian schools and colleges, in addition to the 2,000 attending the Mennonite secondary schools. Zentralschulen were also established in the Crimea, and in the Orenburg, Ufa, and Slavgorod daughter settlements from 1908 on and even after the Revolution.

At first the secondary curriculum was determined by the Mennonite administration of each school, although it was commonly patterned after the first two schools, Ohrloff and Chortitza. After the new military service law of 1874 permitted graduates of an approved secondary school to reduce the period of military service from six to three years, the Mennonites planned a new curriculum to qualify their schools for approval, which was granted by the Russian Department of Education in 1876. Besides the common general subjects, this curriculum included for every year Bible study and church history (including Mennonite history and faith) and both German and Russian languages and choral singing. This curriculum called for a six-year program, but later the four-year program was restored, which continued until 1920.

A regular two-year teacher-training course (Normal School) was added to the Halbstadt Zentralschule in 1878. In 1890 a similar program was adopted at the Chortitza Zentralschule. These two schools trained most of the Mennonite elementary teachers until 1917. Plans to create a separate 3-4 year normal school could not be carried out until 1917. It was perfected in 1921 as the "Molotschnaer Mennonitisches Lehrerseminar."

Girls were not refused admission to the Zentralschulen until 1870, although but few actually enrolled. The first effective girls' secondary school was established at Halbstadt in 1874, which finally developed into an 8-year Gymnasium. The first regular coeducational school was established in 1908 at Davlekanovo in the Ufa settlement.

The graduates of the Mennonite Zentralschule were not eligible for admission to the Russian state higher schools. The Halbstadt Kommerzschule (8-year program) established in 1908, patterned after the German Realgymnasium, was equal to the Russian Commercial or Realschule, hence its graduates could now enter the state schools, but not the universities, which required graduation from a classical Gymnasium. No Mennonite secondary school in Russia ever attained this standard. The Kommerzschule also offered training for entrance into business activities. Students coming from the Zentralschule were admitted to the fifth year of the Kommerzchule.

In addition to the "official" secondary schools under the management of colony-appointed boards, a number of private secondary schools were in operation, usually financed and promoted by wealthy estate owners.

All Mennonite education in Russia was under the supervision of the Mennonite ministers until 1843. This was the standard ruling of the Russian government for all foreign immigrant groups in Russia, especially the Germans. This worked satisfactorily for the Lutherans and Catholics, whose ministers were trained and salaried, but not for the Mennonites, whose ministers were untrained and self-supporting. In 1843 the government placed the Mennonite schools under the Agricultural Association, which also was not logical, since education was only a secondary responsibility for it. After the death of Cornies (1848) the situation deteriorated until boards of education were organized to operate the schools (in the Molotschna and Chortitza colonies in 1869). From 1881 to 1905 the Russianization pressures of the government handicapped the schools, threatening their independence and Mennonite character. In 1905, the year of proclamation of new liberties in Russia (Manifesto of Tsar Nicholas), the Mennonite school program took on new life, and several new secondary schools were established. A Mennonite Teachers' Association was soon formed which gradually took over many of the functions of the boards of education, which had been forced almost out of action. Due to the drafting of many teachers in 1914-17 (World War I) the schools suffered. The return of the teachers in 1917 repaired the damage, and in spite of many troubles five new Zentralschulen were established in 1917-20. One of these schools was still operating in 1931. But the program of the new Soviet Communist state, which soon led to the nationalization of all schools, created increasing difficulties for the Mennonite schools. Religious instruction was forbidden, although continued for a brief time under the guise of Mennonite history. By 1928 the government had succeeded in setting up and bringing into operation its own program of education. From now on the Mennonite teachers were forced out as rapidly as Russian communist teachers could be supplied. Under Stalin all teachers had to sign an atheist questionnaire. Most Mennonites refused to sign and lost their jobs. This was the final end of Mennonite secondary education, at least in the Ukraine. It is not clear when the secondary schools in the Ural region and in Siberia were closed.

Under the German occupation of the Ukraine in the fall of 1941 the German schools and churches were to be reopened and religious instruction allowed. The Chortitza Zentralschule was reopened and celebrated its 100th anniversary in 1942. The dominant Nazi ideology soon began to interfere with real freedom, but before other Zentralschulen were reopened the Germans evacuated the Ukraine in 1943, taking the German population with them.

The first Mennonite secondary school in the United States was the Wadsworth Mennonite School at Wadsworth, Ohio, operated by a board of the General Conference Mennonite Church (GCM), 1868-78. Although its purpose was the training of ministers, it was actually largely a secondary school to which a program of Biblical and theological courses was added. Mention should be made of Freeland Seminary founded in 1848 at Collegeville, Pennsylvania by Abraham Hunsicker, at that time a preacher in the General Conference Mennonite Church, which ultimately became Ursinus College. Henry Hunsicker, son of Abraham, was principal 1848-65. Both Abraham and Henry were expelled from the Mennonite Church in 1851, after which they were nonsectarian.

Meanwhile the new Mennonite immigrants from Russia, with their tradition of education provided by the church, finding no high schools in their new settlements in Kansas, Nebraska, Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota, established a series of German preparatory schools, the first of which was founded at Goessel, Kansas in 1879, which finally developed into Halstead Seminary, established in 1883 at Halstead, moved in 1893 to what became the Bethel College campus in North Newton, and continued there as Bethel College Academy. Other schools were established at Mountain Lake, Minnesota (1886); Buhler, Kansas (1889); Beatrice, Nebraska (1890); Hillsboro, Kansas (1897); Whitewater, Kansas (1900); Henderson, Nebraska (1902); and nine others in 1906-38. These schools gradually all died out. (See Preparatory Schools). Bethel College Academy was discontinued in 1927 with a brief revival during World War II (1944-46).

In addition to the Bethel College Academy, a series of Mennonite secondary schools called academies, all of which have developed into colleges, were established 1894-1917 as follows: Elkhart Institute (Mennonite Church [MC]) 1894 (to Goshen in 1903), now Goshen College; Central Mennonite College (General Conference Mennonite [GCM]) at Bluffton, 1900, later Bluffton College and now Bluffton University; Hesston Academy (MC) at Hesston, Kansas, 1909, now Hesston College; Freeman Academy (GCM), Freeman, South Dakota, 1903, now Freeman Junior College; Eastern Mennonite School at Harrisonburg, Virginia, 1917, later Eastern Mennonite College and now Eastern Mennonite University; and Tabor Academy (1908), now Tabor College. At Hesston, Harrisonburg, and Freeman the academies have continued as high-school departments alongside the colleges. At Goshen, Bluffton, and Tabor they were discontinued.

Two Mennonite secondary schools developed in western Canada about the same time, which have continued and have not grown into colleges — Mennonite Collegiate Institute at Gretna, Manitoba (1889), and Rosthern German-English Academy at Rosthern, Saskatchewan (1908).

A new day came for Mennonite secondary education in the United States after 1940, partly as a result of the pressure of World War II. A series of Mennonite high schools were established in the Mennonite Church as follows: Lancaster (Pennsylvania) Mennonite School 1942, Bethel Springs School (Culp, Arizona) 1944, Johnstown (Pennsylvania) Mennonite School 1944, Iowa Mennonite School (Kalona) 1945, Belleville (Pennsylvania) Mennonite School 1945, Rockway Mennonite School (Kitchener, Ontario) 1945, Western Mennonite School (Salem, Oregon) 1945, Christopher Dock Mennonite School (Lansdale, Pennsylvania) 1954, Bethany Christian High School (Goshen, Indiana) 1954, and one planned to open at Kidron, Ohio, in 1959. These are mostly conference-owned and -operated schools.

Two similar schools have been established by private groups in the General Conference Mennonite Church: Oklahoma Bible Academy (Meno) 1917 and Berean Academy (Elbing, Kansas) 1946. Central Kansas Bible Academy (Hutchinson), est. 1948, is inter-Mennonite (General Conference Mennonite, Krimmer Mennonite Brethren [KMB], Mennonite Brethren [MB]), as are Meade Bible Academy (Kansas) 1945 (Evangelical Mennonite Brethren Conference [EMB] and GCM), Immanuel Academy (Reedley, California) 1944 (MB and KMB), and Lustre Bible Academy (Montana) 1947 (GCM, EMB, MB). One Mennonite Brethren secondary school has been operating since 1902, the Corn (Oklahoma) Bible Academy.

In 1956 the total enrollment of the 17 Mennonite secondary schools in the United States (including Hesston and Eastern Mennonite College) was ca. 2,300, of which ca. 1,650 were in the 10 MC schools.

In 1958 Canadian Mennonites were operating 11 high schools, 5 MB, 4 GCM, 1 MC, and 1 inter-Mennonite. Two of the GCM schools, Gretna and Rosthern, were of the old type, but all the rest were new type, founded since World War II, and all but Rockway and Steinbach (MB) by the newer Russian Mennonite immigrants of 1922-27. These include the MB Collegiate Institute in Winnipeg, Manitoba (1945), Mennonite Educational Institute at Abbotsford), British Columbia (1944, with one GCM congregation participating), Alberta Mennonite High School, Coaldale, Alberta (1946), Sharon Mennonite Collegiate Institute, Yarrow, British Columbia, and Eden Christian College, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, and two GCM schools: the United Mennonite Educational Institute at Leamington, Ontario (1944), and Mennonite Educational Institute, Winnipeg (1958). Steinbach (Manitoba) Bible Academy was founded in 1946 (closed and then restarted in 1953) as an independent inter-Mennonite private school supported chiefly by Evaneglical Mennonite Brethren, Kleine Gemeinde (now Evangelical Mennonite), and Immanuel Mennonite members. The total attendance at the eleven schools in Canada in 1958 was ca. 1900. Two earlier high schools in the Fraser Valley, British Columbia, at Yarrow (1945-49) and Greendale-Sardis (1946-48), were of short duration. The Mennonite Educational Institute operated at Altona, Manitoba, 1908-26, when its building burned down.

All the Mennonite high schools in the United States and Canada today maintain a strong emphasis on their Christian character, and most of them also emphasize their Mennonite character and their particular denominational loyalty. All are supported by private donations and tuition fees. Most of them also maintain high academic standards equal to the public high schools or better, and a number of them are accredited by the states or provinces in which they are located. The six Canadian schools operated by the newer immigrant groups also emphasize German language teaching.

The Mennonite foreign missions in the Far East and Africa generally have established secondary schools in their areas as soon as feasible. Dhamtari (India) Christian Academy (MC), for instance, was established in 1913. In the Latin-American countries, because of the relatively high level of education, this was not done.

The new Mennonite settlements established 1930 and later by refugees from Russia in Paraguay have produced three 4-year secondary schools, the Filadelfia Zentralschule in Colonia Fernheim, Chaco, the Zentralschule in the central village in the Friesland Colony in East Paraguay, and the Neuland Zentralschule in the Chaco. The Filadelfia school has added a two-year teachers' institute.

In Brazil a Zentralschule was established in Witmarsum in the Krauel Colony (ca. 1938), but in World War II all private schools in Brazil were nationalized and the use of the German language in schools was suppressed. In 1954 a Mennonite Zentralschule was established near Curitiba.


Braun, P. J. "The Educational System of the Mennonite Colonies in South Russia." Mennonite Quarterly Review 3 (1929): 168-82.

Friesen, Peter M. Die Alt-Evangelische Mennonitische Brüderschaft in Russland (1789-1910) im Rahmen der mennonitischen Gesamtgeschichte. Halbstadt: Verlagsgesellschaft "Raduga", 1911.

Froese, L. "Das pädagogische Kultursystem der mennonitischen Siedhmgsgruppe in Russland." Doctoral dissertation, Göttingen, 1949.

Harder, M. S. "The Origin, Philosophy, and Development of Education Among the Mennonites." Doctoral dissertation, University of Southern California, 1949.

Hartzler, J. E. Education Among the Mennonites of America. Danvers, 1925.

Hertzler, Silas. "Attendance at Mennonite Colleges and Secondary Schools," an annual statistical report in the Mennonite Quarterly Review beginning with 1929, includes the statistics for secondary schools up to and including the school year 1951-52.

Miller, Ira E. "The Development and the Present Status of Mennonite Secondary and Higher Education in the United States of America." Doctoral dissertation, Temple University, 1953.

Author(s) Harold S Bender
Date Published 1959

Cite This Article

MLA style

Bender, Harold S. "Secondary Education." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1959. Web. 22 May 2024.

APA style

Bender, Harold S. (1959). Secondary Education. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 22 May 2024, from


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, pp. 490-493. All rights reserved.

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