Libertus Van Bokkelen was the first Maryland State Superintendent of Public Instruction and principal ex officio for the Maryland State Normal School from 1864 until 1867.
He was born in New York City on July 22, 1815 to Adrian H. and Deborah (Morris) Van Bokkelen. From 1836 until 1839, Van Bokkelen taught at St. Paul’s School at College Point in Long Island, New York. He became a Protestant Episcopal priest in 1842.
In 1845, he was appointed the first rector of St. Timothy’s Church in Catonsville. That same year, he founded St. Timothy’s Hall in Catonsville, the first church-sponsored military academy in the nation, which Van Bokkelen ran for almost 20 years. He also served as a Baltimore County school commissioner from 1859 until 1864.
In 1864, in the midst of the American Civil War, Maryland ratified a new state constitution and created a school for the instruction of teachers. At that time, Governor Augustus Bradford appointed Van Bokkelen as the first State Superintendent of Public Instruction. Van Bokkelen was the prime writer of the law regarding the establishment of the Maryland State Normal School, and his role within that institution as the principal ex officio. Van Bokkelen believed that the central state government should have control over the education of Maryland’s future teachers, not the legislative bodies of the individual counties of the state.
In 1866 he became a director of the National Teacher’s Association, the precursor to the National Education Association.
In 1867, Van Bokkelen was ousted from his State Superintendent position when the Maryland State Constitution was re-written and his office was abolished. However, the educational program he’d instituted remained in place.
He remained interested in educational advancements, becoming the secretary for the National Teacher’s Association in 1868 and then president in 1869.
He then moved back to New York and was rector of Trinity Church in Buffalo, and then head of the Jane Grey School in Buffalo.
He died on November 17, 1889 in Buffalo, New York.
In 1960, the Lida Lee Tall Campus Elementary School was moved to a new location, and the building was then re-named Van Bokkelen Hall in honor of the school’s founder. It currently holds classroom space and offices for the College of Fine Arts and Communication.
written by Felicity Knox, Archives Associate, Spring 2021