ANNALS OF IOWA
Volume 3, No. 1 January, 1884
EARLY SCHOOLS IN IOWA.
BY T. S. PARVIN.
WHO taught "the first school," and when
and where in Iowa? While we may not be able to satisfactorily to answer the
question, we may by our efforts to do so, bring to light some facts unknown to
the educators of today. These facts, too, have quite passed out of mind, and
been almost forgotten by the early settlers who were in the contemporaries of
those who taught school in Iowa long ago. Of late years commendable efforts have
been made to collect and publish the early general history of some of our towns,
counties, and even the State itself. But so far as we know no effort has been
made to collect and preserve, in permanent form, the Annals of Education in
Iowa, during the first decade of its history. It might pertinently be asked, why
has not the "State Teachers' Association" inaugurated the proper steps
to rescue from oblivion these facts, which have an interesting connection, at
least, with their profession? A vast deal of ignorance prevails in the public
mind, and among our educators, on this subject. And a good deal of impertinence
now and then crops out by impostors, who set up the claim that they or their
friends taught the first school in Iowa. Another claimant,
this time in propria persona, sets up and puts forth the claim that
"he was the first teacher of the first school in Iowa." And strange to
say he immediately adds that he opened his school "in Burlington, the first
Monday in November, 1838." An "honest confession is good for the
soul," and by his candor in giving the date, he refutes his own statement.
Between 1831, when the first school was taught in Burlington, and the date when
this eleventh hour teacher began his school, some nine or more had preceded him,—"honor
to whom honor is due." Let us preface our sketch with a few facts of
historical importance. The Territory of Iowa was organized July 3d, 1838. The
Iowa District, as organized in 1838, had been an integral part of the Territory
of Wisconsin since June 3d, 1836. Both Iowa and Wisconsin had been attached to
the Territory of Michigan from June 28th, 1834, and so remained till the
admission of Michigan as a State in 1836. The Iowa District, or so much of it as
was included in the "Black Hawk Purchase," had only been open for
settlement by treaty since June 1st, 1833, although settlers had unlawfully
"squatted upon its territory" much earlier.
Any one discovering errors or omissions in this article
will confer a favor by communicating the same to the writer.
The members of the "Association" referred to
are quite uninformed as to its early history. But a few years since we received
the programme of its annual exercises accompanied by a brief history of the
Association, prepared by its President and the Executive Committee, in which
they omitted altogether the first two Presidents and commenced with the third,
making him the first. This, too, notwithstanding the fact that the newspapers of
the day made mention of the facts omitted, and the address of the second
President, Hon. John A. Parvin, delivered at the second meeting, was published
by the Association in pamphlet form, and is preserved in the libraries and
collections of some of the old settlers.
Only a week since the Register, in alluding to
the death of Prof. Tice, the weather prophet, said "he was the first school
teacher in Davenport away back in 1840." This latter earmark betrays the
error. We shall have to go "away back of 1840" to resurrect the names
of those who taught school in Davenport before Prof. Tice's day. Prof. Tice was
a classmate of ours, as we believe, and emigrated to Davenport in 1840, while in
fact a school had been taught in Davenport as early as 1837, and in Scott
county, near by, in 1835, as we shall prove in this paper.
We shall in this paper attempt to prove that Iowa had
schools and school teachers while it was attached to Michigan, and all through
the period of its connection with Wisconsin. Yes, even in 1833, before the date
of either of those events. And it might be well for all impostors, eager for
honors not deserved or earned, to "wait a time with patience" till the
old settlers have passed away, as they are rapidly doing.
In the preparation of this article we have availed
ourself of our extensive personal acquaintance with the "old settlers"
to invite from many of them contributions of facts, bearing upon the subject in
hand. The evidence introduced will then be theirs and not ours. We shall
commence with the county of Des Moines and include the river counties.
At the semi-centennial celebration of the first
settlement of Iowa, held at Burlington in May last (1883), Dr. Wm. F. Ross, now
of Lovillia, Monroe county, was one of the speakers. Dr. Ross came to Iowa in
July, 1833, and located at Flint Hills, now Burlington. He was, as we learn from
his address, appointed the first postmaster in southern Iowa, if not for all
Iowa in the spring of 1834. The Territorial government of Michigan, we have
seen, was extended, by act of Congress, over the Iowa District, that part of
Wisconsin west of the Mississippi river, on the 18th day of June of this year
T he Doctor informs us that in the fall of 1833 he had two
cabins built on his claim west of the Park (in which the celebration was held), one
being for a school house, and one of which he occupied in March, 1834. In
that year (1834) he "boarded Zadoc C. Inghram who taught a school in
the log cabin on his (the Doctor's) claim,—the first school in Iowa," the
Doctor said with emphasis, and he was supposed to know, but we shall see that he
was mistaken." As the month of 1834 is not named by Mr. Langworthy, in
which Mr. Whittemore taught his school, in Dubuque, in the old log church, we
are unable to decide between these two persons and places, as to which the
priority should be given. With Mr. Inghram we were personally acquainted in
1838. Subsequently he removed to Louisa county and was appointed Clerk of the
Court there, by Chief Justice Mason, of the Territorial Court. Mr. Inghram was
living quite recently in St. Louis. Besides Mr. Inghram there were several
teachers prior to November, 1838. From Mr. Wm. Garrett, a prominent citizen of
Burlington, an old settler, having located there early in 1836, and well known
over the State as the Secretary for more than a quarter of a century of the
Grand Lodge of Odd Fellows, we learn that Mr. Ben Tucker was the second teacher
who taught a common school in Burlington. He taught in 1830, in a cabin built by
Jeremiah Smith, up a ravine called "Stony Lonesome." Tucker was
succeeded by Johnson Pierson; as he lived so far away he found it inconvenient
to continue his vocation. At a later period in the succeeding year, 1836, Mr.
Tucker resumed his labors in the same cabin. I had the pleasure of meeting the
widow of Jeremiah Smith at the celebration before referred to, in May last, and
received from her a corroboration of these facts, as also some others. Mrs.
Cezum taught a school in 1836, in a cabinon lower Main St., and Mr. Garrett,
then a boy, attended her school, before he went into the store of Webber &
Remey as a store boy, and where we first met him in the summer of 1838. In 1837
a Miss Wheeler taught school, also in a log cabin, on 5th St. This house had a
puncheon floor and puncheon seats. Early in 1838 Mr. Southgate taught in a log
cabin on North 7th St., near the spring. And in the same year a Mr. Pike also
taught school in a log cabin on Main St. Mrs. Sheldon
also taught school that year over Chas. Neally's store on Court St. The Rev. Mr.
Batcheldor taking that room for church (Episcopal) services, Mrs. Sheldon
removed to the brick house that Judge Rorer built on corner of Columbia and
Fourth Sts.—the first brick house built in Iowa, remarks Mr. Garrett,
correctly. So the schools, so far, at least, as the buildings were concerned,
had so advanced tendency. In this building my old friend Judge Rorer laid the
first brick, and when in later years, the growth of the city required the
erection of a larger and finer building in its place, and it became necessary to
take it down, the Judge was on hand to remove that brick last from its place,
and carried to his office, where he keeps it as a relic of by- gone times.
1838 was a prolific year for school teachers to engage
in their chosen work, for we are informed that the Rev. Chas. Burnham taught a
school on 5th St., west of the Square. A young lady, whose name we do not
remember, also taught a school of small children in the summer of that year, and
we recollect of having escorted her home from school one afternoon, and prior to
A Sunday-school was organized in August, 1836, by Rev.
Dr. Teas (Methodist) and Messrs. Brown and
Cottle, which, with varying fortunes and interest, was continued, and became the
nucleus from which larger ones sprang.
Following the numerous schools, between the spring of
1834 and the fall of 1838, we come to the last for Des Moines county. From an
autobiographical sketch of James Rush Hartsock, published in Iowa City, in 1882,
we learn from the head-lines he gives, that he was the "First Teacher of
the First School in Iowa." In the same sketch he states that "he came
to Burlington, Iowa, only the 5th day of May, 1838," and "here."
(Burlington) he says, "on the first Monday [fifth day] in November, 1838,
was opened the first common school in Iowa, and it was successfully conducted
for the term of three months." "His landlady, the 'Widow Jones,' who
had several children 'running wild' as she expressed it, 'because there was no
school in the town,' first turned the thoughts of Mr. Hartsock to the subject of
public education. At that time (he states) the town had a population of not
exceeding three hundred. There was no school house, and the number of children
to be taught was small. In the latter part of October he secured a school house,
a part of the remains of a wrecked steamer, which had been fashioned into a
lumberman's office, on the corner of 2d and Jefferson Sts. Having secured this
as a school house. it was fitted up with wooden benches or seats and rough
boards fastened to the wall as writing desks. One chair and a small stove
comprised the furniture. A paper was circulated and twenty-one pupils obtained.
The tuition was $4.00 for a term of three months."
How strangely the appliances for teaching had
retrograded, while the town was rapidly growing in population and the demand for
schools. This whole story looks quite as far-fetched as the date, November,
1838, when half a dozen schools had been taught that year, and for several years
before, according to Dr. Ross, Mrs. Jeremiah Smith, Gen. Dodge, Mr. Garrett, Mr.
Brown, and others, who have furnished us with data of those early times.
In a lecture delivered at Dubuque, March 3d, 1855, by
Lucius H. Langworthy of that city, we read that "the first house erected
here (in Dubuque) for public worship, was the old log church, standing on the
round now occupied by the old Methodist church (a brick). Rev. Barton Randle
usually preached on the Sabbath—and the house was occupied for a
school on week day. Mr. Whittemore, now (1855) of Bowman's Prairie (a
settlement near and southwest from Dubuque) was the teacher.
Mr. Langworthy was one of the earliest settlers in
Dubuque, having located in the mines as early as 1827. He does not give the date
of the erection of the house, or of the opening of the school. We are able,
however, to supplement this from other data. There is framed, in the State
Historical Society, the original subscription for the building of this house,
and as it was undoubtedly the first house erected for church and school purposes
in Iowa, and as it is an interesting document of itself, we have transcribed it.
It is headed—"Subscription for a Chapel for the
Methodist Episcopal Church in the Town of Dubuque," [which place appears to
have had a name as well as a local habitation at that early period in our
"Plan of the House.—To be built of hewn logs
20x26 feet in the clear; one story, 10 feet high, lower and upper floor;
shingled roof, to be pointed with lime and sand, one batten door, four 20 light
and one l2 light window.
"Cost, estimate for completing in good plain
"The above house is built for the use of the
Methodist Episcopal Church, but when not occupied by said Church, shall be open
for divine service by other Christian denominations, and may be used for a
common school at the discretion of the Trustees Woodbury Massie, John
Johnston, William Hillery, Marcus Atchinson, and Orrin Smith, are the Board of
Trustees who are authorized to receive subscriptions and control the interests
of said house for the uses above mentioned.
"We, the undersigned, agree to pay to the above
Trustees the several sums annexed to our names for the building of said
To this paper there are attached sixty-eight names
subscribing to, and paying the full sum pledged, and a little more than the
$255.00, in sums varying from twenty-five cents to twenty dollars. No date is
attached to the paper, but a number of subscribers are still living at a hearty
old age, honored citizens of Dubuque. We are personally acquainted with several
of the survivors, as we were with many of those now deceased, and from our
personal inquiries as to the date, we have learned from Mr. Allen and others
that the house was commenced in November and completed in December, 1833; six
months before civil government was extended over the country west of the
Mississippi and north of the State of Missouri, and only six months after the
District was opened to settlement by the treaty ceding the "Black Hawk
Purchase." We are unable to determine from the statement of the
recollections of the old settlers, whether Mr. Whittemore, referred to by Mr.
Langworthy, or Mr. George Cubbage, is entitled to the priority of time in
teaching a school in that house. Certainly both taught there in the same year,
early in 1834. With Mr. Cubbage we are well acquainted, a he was one of the
three United States Commissioners to adjust the title to the lots in certain
river towns,—Peru (six miles north of Dubuque), Bellevue, Fort Madison, and
one or two others. He was a gentleman of education and character, as is
evidenced by his selection by the President for the position he filled. My old
friend Thomas Hardie, for twenty years or more past, the efficient Secretary of
the School Board for the city of Dubuque, is of the opinion from his
investigations in the matter, that Mr. Cubbage was the first teacher there and
preceded Mr. Barrett Whittemore. The Rev. N. S. Bastian, the minister referred
to by Mr. Langworthy and Prof. Greenlee, succeeded Mr. Whittemore. Early in
March, 1836, Mrs. Caroling Dexter opened a school in a little log church. Mr.
Shoup, editor of the Iowa Normal Monthly, to whom we are also indebted
for material aid in the prosecution of this "labor of love," writes,
that the old settlers of Dubuque claim that "Mrs. Dexter was the first lady
teacher in Iowa." In this they are mistaken—see our sketch of Lee county,
and learn that Mrs. Rebecca Parmer taught a school as early as May, 1834, near
Ft. Madison. Mrs. Dexter, in her prospectus, issued March 15th, 1836, stated
that she "would teach reading, writing, spelling, etc., and also instruct
young ladies in the art of useful and ornamental needles work." "Her
terms were $3.50 for each scholar instructed in the first three branches and
$4.50 for others—the house and fuel at the expense of the subscribers."
In this same year (1836) Mrs. Louisa King, assisted by
her daughter, Miss Louisa C. F. King opened a school for young ladies which
prospered until 1839.
Dubuque has the honor of publishing the first newspaper
in Iowa. John King, who came to Dubuque in 1834, issued the first number of the
Dubuque Visitor, May 11th, 1836, and Andrew Keesecker (both now deceased)
did the first type-setting in Iowa. Several other ladies and gentlemen
taught here during the year 1837 and 1838. Having mislaid the paper, we can only
name from Mr. Shoup's memoranda, Mr. Alonzo P. Phelps, and Mrs. Mary Ann
O'Reilly, who taught in 1838. The first tax for the support of schools in
Dubuque (and for what we know in Iowa) was levied in 1840. The first school law
passed at the session of the Territorial Legislature, January 1st, 1839,
committed Iowa to a system of "Common Schools," and after a few years
the "occupation" of the teachers of private or select schools was in a
great measure like that of Othello's—"gone." This act is entitled,
"an act providing for the establishment of common schools," and
was superseded by "an act to establish a system of common
schools," approved January 16th, 1840.
By an act approved January 13th (not "February
12th," as published in page 696 of the "Iowa Historical and
Comparative Census"), entitled "an act to create the office of
Superintendent of Public Instruction," Dr. William Reynolds, late a teacher
in Iowa City, was appointed Superintendent. The appointment had been tendered by
Gov. Robt. Lucas to ourself and declined.
We have mislaid some of our papers relative to the
early history of Dubuque and Lee counties. It is well known that the United
States had a Fort at Madison, commanded by Capt.Pike, as early as during the war
with Great Britain in 1812 or 1814. From our old friend Col.Parrott, late
Postmaster at Keokuk, who was a soldier there in later years, we learned, that
as early as 1833 there was a school taught by one of the company, the children
being those of the officers and soldiers. This paper is one of those mislaid. We
learn, however, from a communication in the Gate City (in answer to an
inquiry, from Marcus D. Box, whom we believe to be a son of Hon. John Box, one
of the Representatives from Lee county in the Wisconsin Legislature of 1836,
that a school was taught in Lee county, about two miles from Fort Madison, on
the road lending to Augusta and Burlington, as early as May, 1834. The teacher
was a lady, too, Mrs. Rebecca Parmer, sister to E. S. Ayres one of the old
settlers of Lee county. "The house used was a small cabin with dirt floor
and split rails for seats." Some of her scholars are still living (1882).
and we have heard from their own lips recitals of the events of their school
days in that primitive school house.
The next school was taught by Wm. Crawford in the fall
of 1835, as we learn from Mrs.Eliza E. S. Malcom nee Sample, and daughter of the
late Hon. Hugh W. Sample, of Keokuk, well known in his day throughout the State.
This school was in the town of Fort Madison, and in a cabin of course, as were
most residents of those early days. "He was considered a smart man for his
time. He could not get a school now." We guess this is the case with some
others who claim to have taught at an early time in Iowa.
Mr. Box states, in which we heartily concur,
"there were a great many incidents connected with the early settling of
Iowa that should pass to history. Who will rescue some of them? Mr. J. B.
Stewart, a prominent citizen of Des Moines, was a pupil, or "scholar,"
as then termed, of Mr. Crawford. As he went to Fort Madison when a boy, in 1835,
and has kindly aided us in this matter, we trust he will give us more light on
this somewhat dark subject, and vindicate the majesty of truth, and give honor
to whom honor is due for having taught in those early days. Mrs. Malcolm writes
that early in 1837 a Miss Jennings taught in another cabin in Fort Madison,
located on Second street, between Pine and Cedar.
In 1837, a no less distinguished person than the late
Hon. Alfred Rich taught school in the same place. All old settlers will remember
him as the able and eloquent competitor of the late Hon. A. C. Dodge for
Congress, and who by his burning eloquence almost persuaded the Democrats of
that day to vote for him. He came to Iowa poor, and located at Ft. Madison. He
had read law in Kentucky, but seeing no immediate prospect for business, like
many another young lawyer, taught school for a livelihood. Soon after an
important case arose, regarding a land claim, and all the lawyers had been
retained by plaintiff. In this dilemma Mr. (now General) Parrott came to the
rescue of the defendant, and suggested that the young teacher might be a lawyer;
so they called upon him. He owned up, dismissed school, followed his client to
the court-house, and by his knowledge of the law and his burning eloquence, won
the case-and clients and business came to him from that hour. He fell a victim
to consumption, and returning to Kentucky, died in 1843 at his mother's home.
A Mrs. Williams and her sister, Miss Fanny Pond, taught
school in their own house, a frame on Oak street. They were from Boston,
educated and capable women.
From Mr. Patterson,
of Keokuk, formerly of West Point, Lee county, we learn that a school was taught
at Nashville, on the Rapids in Lee county, as early as 1830, by Benjamin
Jennings. Mr. Jesse Creighton taught in Keokuk as early as 1834. Capt. Benjamin
Campbell, now of Fort Madison, says, in an address delivered by him at Fort
Madison in 1875, that "Mr. Creighton was a shoemaker, but finding it
difficult to support himself at the trade, owing to the customs of those days of
people going barefoot in summer and wearing moccasins in the winter, he was
induced— a makeshift, practiced to this day—to open a school. " Among
his scholars, a list of whom is given, we find the name of our friend Capt.
Campbell, who assigns the time of the opening of this school to 1833, an earlier
date than that assigned to the schools in either Burlington, Dubuque, or Fort
Madison. Capt. Campbell, who located in Lee county as early as 1830, and has
resided there continuously since, refers, in his address aforesaid (to the old
settlers of Lee county), to this same Jennings, and styles him
"Benjamin." He further refers to him as "late a millionaire in
Oregon," by which we are enabled to trace his genealogy. This we will
briefly do from the records as far as they go. In August 1851, Berryman Jennings,
J. C. Ainsworth, also from Keokuk, Iowa, and others united in the formation of
the Grand Lodge of Masons of Oregon, and Berryman Jennings was elected Grand
Master. The Grand Lodge met at Oregon City, which was then, as now, the
residence of Brother Jennings, and he is returned in June, 1883, as a member of
Multonomah Lodge No. 1, of that city (now eclipsed by its near neighbor
Portland). We are led to think that Benjamin and Berryman Jennings are the same
persons, and that his name must be incorrectly given by the Historian of Lee
county, and by Capt. Campbell in his address. We have written P. G M Jennings
upon the subject and for tidings from that first school.
Mr. George Stevenson taught school in West Point in
1837 and was succeeded the same year by Eli Stoddard, a finely educated man and
a graduate of Dartmouth College, while his predecessor was an uneducated man—not
the only one who essayed to teach in those days. The records from this county
are quite full and to the point, and from living witnesses who were
"scholars" in the schools of which they write.
Mr. Simeon Cragin, a discharged soldier taught school
in Pleasant Valley, just north of Davenport, in November, 1835. Capt. Clark, of
Buffalo same county, from whom we have gathered this item, was a scholar during
that term of four months. The children composing the school were mostly of the
families of Clark, Sen., and Levi S. Chamberlin. The next year, 1836, E. H.
Barrett opened a school at Buffalo, to which place Capt. Clark's father had
removed. A young lady, a niece of Judge Cook, also taught during that year.
The first school in Davenport was taught by Miss
Marianna Hall, now Mrs. Jackman, and living in Indiana. She taught in June,
1837, in what is now West Davenport, and so was the predecessor of Prof. Tice
three full years. From a brother of Mrs. Jackman, now residing in Davenport we
learn this fact.
In the spring of 1837, John A. Daniels taught the first
school in Henry county in the town of Mt. Pleasant, and was succeeded same year
by John P. Grantham.
In Muscatine county, Rev. George Bumgardner, a local
Methodist minister, taught school in Muscatine, in the fall of 1837. The school
house was a small, low, rough log cabin, on Iowa Avenue. The Hon. John A. Parvin
taught in a small frame house, during the spring and summer of 1839, as we
personally know, and many of his scholars are still living in Iowa.
In the fall of 1836, Mr. Dean Gray, a man of limited
education, taught a school in Bellevue, Jackson county. "In the spring of
1837, a Mr. Barrett kept school a term after corn planting," and in the
fall of the same year a Mrs. Noble succeeded him.
In May 1838, Miss Mallard, a highly educated lady from
the state of New York, taught also in the same place. My old friend Col. Warren,
first sheriff of Jackson county, and a member of the Constitutional Convention
of 1857, writes me, that "a plain stone marks her grave, that of the first
educated teacher in Jackson county." Among her successors we find the name
of Gen. George Cubbage (who had it seems been promoted since teaching in
We acknowledge our indebtedness to those whose names we
have mentioned in the course of this narrative and also to Hon. J. W.
Satterthwaite and Presly Saunders of Mt. Pleasant, Suel Foster of Muscatine, and
others, all "old settlers," who know full well whereof they affirm.
We have no data from
the counties of Louisa, Clinton, and Van Buren.
In conclusion then we will attempt to name those who
taught school at an early day in Iowa, based upon the authorities we have cited.
Lee county.— 1830. Benjamin Jennings, Nashville.
Lee county.— 1833. Jesse Creighton, Keokuk.
Lee county.— 1834. Mrs. Rebecca Parmer, Ft. Madison.
Lee county.—1835. Wm. Crawford, Ft. Madison.
Lee county.— 1837. Miss Jennings, Fort Madison.
Lee county.1837,—Eli Stoddard, West Point.
Lee county.1837,—George Stevenson, West Point.
Lee county.— 1838. Alfred Rich, Ft. Madison.
Lee county.— 1838.Mrs. Williams.
Lee county.— 1838. Miss Fanny Pond.
Des Moines county.— 1834. Zadoc C. Inghram.
Des Moines county.— 1834. Benj. Tucker.
Des Moines county.— 1834.1835. Johnson Pierson.
Des Moines county.— 1834. 1836. Benj. Tucker, again.
Des Moines county.—1837. Miss Wheeler.
Des Moines county.—1838. Mr. Southgate.
Des Moines county.—1838 Mr. Pike.
Des Moines county.—1838Mrs. Sheldon.
Des Moines county.—1838 Rev. Chas. Burnham
Des Moines county.—1838(in November) James R. Hartsock.
Dubuque county— 1834. George Cubbage.
Dubuque county— 1834.Barrett Whittemore.
Dubuque county—1835. Rev. N. S. Bastian.
Dubuque county—1835.Prof. Greenlee.
Dubuque county— 1836. Mrs. Caroline Dexter.
Dubuque county— 1836.Mrs. Louisa King
Dubuque county— 1836.Miss Louisa C. F. King.
Dubuque county—1838. Alonzo P. Phelps.
Dubuque county—1838.Mrs. Mary Ann O'Reilly.
Scott county— 1835. Simeon Cragin, Pleasant Valley.
Scott county— 1836. E. H. Barrett, Buffalo.
Scott county— 1836.Miss _____, near Buffalo.
Scott county—1837. Miss Marianna Hall, Davenport.
Jackson county— 1836. Dean Gray, Bellevue.
Jackson county— 1837. Mr. Barrett.
Jackson county— 1837 Mrs. Noble.
Jackson county—1838. (May) Miss Mallard.
Jackson county—1838.George Cubbage.
Muscatine county— 1837. Rev. George Bumgardner.
Muscatine county—1839. (May) Hon. John A. Parvin.
Henry county— 1837. John A. Daniels.
Henry county— 1837John P. Grantham, Mt. Pleasant.
There were, as we have authoritatively learned,
forty or more schools taught in Iowa prior to November, 1838, and by that number
of different persons, ladies and gentlemen, married and single. So the claim put
forward by the November teacher of 1838, is not based upon the truth, and we may
conclude by quoting the words of the Great Teacher of such persons, "If any
man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all."