History of Schools in Linn County

Source:  History of Linn County Iowa; from it's earliest Settlement to the Present Time. Vol.1. 1911. By Luther A. Brewer & Barthinius L. Wick. Pub. Chicago: The Pioneer Pub. Co.

 Please keep in mind that as with all transcribed data errors are possible.
 Information is provided here for personal research only.

The Schools of the County

    Schools in Linn county came into existence almost as early as the first settlers arrived here. Most of the pioneers came from homes of culture and refinement and hence appreciated the value of an education. There were no public schools at first. Teachers were employed by private subscription. Lessons were taught in the settler’s cabin, fitted up with rough boards or puncheons, and of course the attendance was small.
    The organic law which provided for the division of Wisconsin and Iowa makes no provision for education, and no reference to it. On January 15, 1889, an act was passed by the Council and House of Representatives of the Territory of Iowa, providing for “grants of property made for the encouragement of education.” This act has no bearing whatever on our present school system. It deals expressly with donations and gifts for educational purposes.
    The real beginning of our present school system is embodied in "An Act to Establish a System of Common Schools,” approved by the Council and house of Representatives of the Territory of Iowa, January 16, 1840. There are many surprises in this bill when one compares it to our present school laws; in fact, many of our school laws have not been materially changed since the enactments of 1840. It is interesting to note that according to the provisions of this bill, the school library is not a new idea, but it was provided for.  In Section thirteen, paragraph five, the qualified voters in each district were given power to “impose a tax sufficient for the purchase of a suitable library case, also a sum not exceeding ten dollars annually, for the purchase of books to be selected by a vote of the district, by the district board, when so directed.” Paragraph six of the same section designates “the place where the library shall be kept, and the person by whom it shall be kept;” and states that “the superintendent of public instruction shall establish the necessary rules for the regulation of the library.” Section fifteen provides that “every person elected to any one of the above offices who, without sufficient cause, shall neglect or refuse to serve shall forfeit to the district for the use of the library the sum of ten dollars, to be recovered in an action of debt by the assessor before any court of competent jurisdiction.”
    Another interesting item is the fact that school inspectors instead of school directors at that time had charge of the schools. In Section twenty-three, these inspectors are provided for in the following words: “There shall be chosen at each annual township meeting, three school inspectors in the same manner as other township officers are chosen, who shall hold their office until others are chosen.”
    It was the duty of these inspectors, according to Section twenty-nine of this Act, to examine closely all persons presenting themselves as candidates for teaching in their township, and although a certificate may have been issued to a teacher, if the inspectors became dissatisfied, under Section thirty, they might again require the teacher to be re-examined, and if in their opinion the teacher was found wanting the requisite qualifications, their certificates might be annulled by giving the teacher ten days’ notice, and filing the same with the clerk of the township.
    Judge Milo P. Smith when entering upon the duties of his school at Wire’s Corners, just east of Springville, was examined by this method, and it is quite interesting to hear him tell his early experiences in the schools of Linn county. Quite vividly does he bring to one’s mind the sparsely settled condition of the neighborhood around Springville and Viola, when relating an incident regarding his trip from this, school house to a party where he had been invited to spend the evening. After arranging his records and outlining the lessons. for the next day, the Judge states that be started for his destination, and about ten o’clock at night realized that he was completely lost. Evidently he must have traveled in a circle, for he states that about two or three o’clock the next morning he saw a gleam of light flash out of a door. Starting immediately in that direction, he arrived at the place where the party was held, just in time to ride home with the, young folks.
    At the same session, a law was passed regarding the sale of the school lands, and this law was approved January 17, 1840.
    On February 17, 1842, a bill was passed creating the office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. The duties of this officer at this time was very limited; they being of a clerical nature instead of those of a supervisor. Of course there could be no school districts or anything of that nature organized in the county until alter some county organization. The bill calling for the organization of Linn county was not passed until 1840. It is quite interesting to know that it was at this time that the Commissioner or rather what is known today as the Supervisor Districts were laid out. The bill reads as follows:

    “Section 1. Be it enacted by the Council and House of Representatives of the Territory of Iowa, That the board of county commissioners in and for the county of Linn, be and they are hereby authorized and required to lay off the county aforesaid into three county commissioners’ districts, prior to the first day of August, A. D eighteen hundred and forty-one, making the division as nearly as possible in proportion to the population of said county; and the districts shall be classified by said commissioners as districts number one, number two, and number three.
    “Sic. 2. That at the next general election there shall be elected from district number one one county commissioner; and alternately thereafter there shall be elected from each district one county commissioner annually, in accordance with the provisions of an act organizing a board of county commissioners in each county in this Territory, approved December 14th, A. D. eighteen hundred and thirty-eight, in like manner as though the county had been divided under the provisions of said act.
    “Approved, December 31, 1840.”

    This is especially interesting, inasmuch as there has been a great deal of discussion of late regarding the number of supervisors in Linn county. The districts as laid out at that time remain today.
    By an act of the same Assembly, approved June 13, 1841, Marion was established as a seat of justice of Linn county, and the commissioners of Linn county were authorized to employ agents to sell lots.
    The office of the superintendent of public instruction seemed to have been short-Lived, for on February 17, 1842, an act was passed by the territorial legislature which repealed the act of creating the office of superintendent of public instruction.
    In 1846 an act was passed January 15th, which in some respects amended an act “To Establish a System of Common Schools,” which was passed in 1840. This bill (the one of 1845) really made what is now known as the county auditor, the educational head of the schools, and provided a tax for their support.
   In chapter 99, page 127, of the Territorial Statutes of 1847, there is an act relating to the common schools. In section 36, page 134. it provides that at the next annual township election (which evidently must have been held in the spring) there was to be elected a school fund commissioner. This commissioner is what is now known as the county superintendent of schools, and his duties were many and varied.
    In the election book it is shown that in April, 1852, out of the six hundred and ninety-one votes cast, Alpheus Brown received five hundred and seventy-three, and was declared elected. In the formation and alteration of school districts, the records of the county go back as far as 1849, in which records Mr. Brown signed as school fund commissioner. However, this may be attributed to the fact that previous to 1852, Mr. Brown was clerk of the county board of commissioners, and the duties of the school fund commissioner devolved upon that office at that time; consequently the presumption is that when he entered upon his duties a~ school fund commissioner, and began to make up his records, he naturally took from the records of the clerk of the board of county commissioners the things which belonged to the office.
    Mr. Brown held this office for three full terms, also about six or eight months additional time, although Albert A. Mason was elected and qualified as county superintendent of schools in the election of April, 1858. Mr. Brown served until January, 1859, as school fund commissioner. This came from the fact that the county superintendent was provided for by the Statute of ‘58, the election taking place on the first Monday in April, but at this time some of the duties devolved upon the county superintendent. By chapter 36 of the Statutes of 1858, section 1, the office of the school fund commissioner was continued until the county treasurer was elected. The presumption is, therefore, that for about six months we had both a school fund commissioner and a county superintendent of schools in this county.
    It is possible, also, that Mr. Brown served as a sort of triumvirate, as he was school fund commissioner by election, for the simple reason that Mr. Mason may not have qualified until three or four days after the time set; he was also school fund commissioner by the extension Statute, and county superintendent of schools from the fact that his successor had not qualified; in fact in some of the school reports, he signed as both school fund commissioner and county superintendent. However, Mr. Mason entered upon his duties and served as superintendent of schools for one term, when Ira G. Fairbanks (who by the way, still lives in Mount Vernon) was elected as his successor.
    It is a difficult matter to state who was the first school teacher in the county. In 1839 several schools were in operation. In July of that year Elizabeth Bennett taught in Linn Grove, and later that same year Judge Greene taught at Ivanhoe. One of the noted schools of the early day was the one known as the “Buckskin School,” in Linn Grove, so named because teacher and scholars alike attended clad in buckskin suits.
    The first school district was formed in 1840 with Marion as its center. After that school houses sprang up in every direction. The buildings were constructed out of logs; the seats were benches hewn from slabs or logs, and so were the desks. Colleges early sprung up in the county. Of the three that flourished here more or less at one time, the history of two — Cornell and Coe — are given at length. These institutions are now in splendid condition.
    The third institution that in its day was a power for excellence in educational lines was Western, founded in 1856 on the borders of Johnson county at the little town of Western, in College township. Of this institution the late Jesse A. Runkle, some years ago, wrote as follows:

    “In January, 1856, Iowa City became the western terminus of the only railroad in the state, and no other was built within a couple of years. The fine country surrounding Western, would easily lead one to believe that the early plan was feasible, to make the school an industrial one, where deserving young men could make their way through school by devoting some of their time to agricultural work. But Western was unfortunate in two things: First, none of the railroads that were built in Iowa, ever came near the town. It seems as if a Nemesis had brooded over the place, for even the interurban now being built between Cedar Rapids and Iowa City swerves from a direct line, and misses both Western and Shueyville by about a mile. Second, the surrounding country began to be possessed by a population that in the main had little or no sympathy with religious education, and the older generations were alien in thought and temper to our American institutions. These things made the task of maintaining the college at that point a most heroic and arduous work.”

    After some years of struggle, the college was removed to Toledo, where it now wields an influence second to none in the state.
    One of the early educational centers in Linn county was the private school established in 1850 in the Greene Bros. block, which stood on the corner of First street and First avenue, Cedar Rapids, where now stands the building owned by Sunshine Mission. It was founded by Miss Elizabeth Calder, a native of New York, and who in 1855 married R. C. Rock, the first hardware dealer in the city, who came here from Burlington and whose place of business was located on First street a few doors south of the corner of First avenue. This school prospered and was conducted by Miss Calder for four years when it was discontinued.
    One of the first, if not the very first, teacher in Cedar Rapids was Miss Susan Abbe, daughter of the old pioneer. She taught in this city in 1846, the superintendent being Alexander Ely. Miss Emma J. Fordyce, at present a teacher in the Cedar Rapids high school, contributes to this work the following sketch of early schools in the county, and more particularly in the city of Cedar Rapids:

    “It is not often in this changing country that a person lives a lifetime in one community and sees the schools grow from their beginning. This has happened to me. Of the early country schools but two memories remain: a visit in the summer, and one in the winter. There remains an impression of very homely school houses, equally homely surroundings, and very little comfort without or within. It is a standing wonder that even now an Iowa farmer is much more likely to provide an up-to-date fine building for his cattle than a beautiful, well-ordered school-house for the education of his children. A little has been done, but by far too little.
    “Early Cedar Rapids was a little village surrounded by groves of oaks, crabapple, plum, and everywhere the climbing wild grape. Between these groves were the sand hills on which grew vast quantities of sand-burs. Where the Methodist church now stands was a bill which sloped toward the railroad. Where the old Presbyterian church was, the children coasted down “Pepper Grass Hill ;“and where Mr. Crozer‘s florist establishment is, was a deep and wide pond which, on occasions of heavy rain, furnished water for rafts made from bits of sidewalk.
    “The earliest school was on the, sits of the present Granby building, but of that school I have no personal knowledge. The first school building in my memory was the three-story one which was erected in 1856. It had a white cupalo, white trimmings to the windows, with a high, solid board fence, painted red, surrounding it. An iron pump at the side furnished refreshment to the spirit and ammunition for the wetting of people. On the lower floor on the side next the railroad, Miss Elizabeth Shearer taught the children. She was a woman of fine family, fine attainments, and of great patience of spirit. Superintendent Ingalls was in charge of the school at that time. C. W. Burton followed him the next year. His school board was A. C. Churchill, president; Benjamin Harrison, treasurer; J. W. Henderson, vice-president; D. A. Bradley, secretary. These were assisted by three directors, J. F. Charles, W. W. Smith, E. E. Leach. Mr. Harrison had a unique way of collecting taxes from the delinquent foreign citizens to whom our system of collecting them was a dark puzzle; when they refused to pay, he notified them that on a certain day if the taxes were not forthcoming, he would sell everything they had and apply the proceeds to tax payment. The auction was often begun, but never finished, as the taxes were always forthcoming.
    “Mrs. F. J. Lund was one of the earliest of Cedar Rapids teachers. For many years her inspiring example and her patient work developed good children out of bad, and she finished her life’s work by taking care of all the poor and unfortunate of the county. The Cedar Rapids superintendents were Professor Humphrey, 1861-4, Professor Ingalls, 1864-5, C. W. Burton, 1865-70, J. F. Harlan, now president of Cornell, 1870-5, F. H. Smith, the latter part of 1875.  J. W. Akers, 1875-81, W. M. Friesner, 1881-5, L. T. Weld, 1885-6, J. P. Hendricks, 1886-90, J. T. Merrill, 1890-1901, J. J. McConnell, 1901-, twelve men in thirty-four years. The list shows plainly the growing tendency to keep a superintendent for long periods at a time.
    “The high school principals show the same tendency; A. Wetherby, from 1870-1, E. C. Ebersole, 1872-73, W. A. Olmsted, 1871-2, Miss Mary A. Robinson, 1873-86, Miss A. S. Abbott, 1886 —.
    “The original high school building contained four rooms. In 1876 it had a corps of three teachers: Miss M. A. Robinson, Miss F. J. Meade, Miss Estella Verden, and had an attendance of 106 pupils; it now has twenty teachers with an attendance of 838 pupils. In 1876 there were five buildings in the city; there are now sixteen. Of the teachers thirty-one in number in 1876, there are two left: Miss Emma Forsythe and Miss Emma J. Fordyce. In 1876 the total number of pupils handled by thirty-one teachers was 1,752. In 1911, with 181 teachers, there are 6,122 pupils, not quite six times as many teachers, but showing a smaller average number to each teacher. Evidently the school-houses have always been crowded, since the superintendent’s report of 1876 says: ‘We have in the school district five school buildings, and these are taxed to their utmost to accommodate the pupils already enrolled.’ He also remarks pensively: ‘In your wisdom for the coming year, you have reduced the salaries of your teachers, and in some cases the reduction has been such that some of your best teachers have been compelled to seek employment elsewhere.’ Since no following superintendent makes the same complaint, it is evident that school boards do improve. As to salaries, the salary of the superintendent in 1883 is given as $1,000; in 1911 as $3,000, which means the magnificent increase of $42 a year; not a great
temptation. The salaries of the teachers increase in the same period about $25 a year. Comment is unnecessary.
    “As to the high school, the graduates of 1873 to 1885 were hut eleven pupils, with nine times as many in 1908. Amongst the older and pioneer high school teachers were Mr. Wetherbee, Miss Ella Meade, and Miss Ada Sherman, who afterward decided to doctor bodies instead of minds, as it paid much better. Mr. Olmsted, the principal of 1872, who left Cedar Rapids in 1873 to found a business in Chicago, died a hero. He lost his life in his burning building trying to save his bookkeeper.
    “The tendencies in school work are shown by the fact that the reports of the early superintendents are largely lists of members of the school board, while the later reports give large tabulations of expense. It is to be regretted that Iowa has not adopted a series of uniform reports, giving items almost impossible to  discover as these reports are at present made out. The older schools report seventy-two pupils to a primary teacher. The newer reports are silent on the subject. Since efficiency comes in handling the right number of pupils, it would
certainly be wise to keep a careful account of this item.
    “The courses of the schools show the growth in public service. The courses of the high school in 1876 are twenty; those of the high school in 1910, eightythree. All of the older and more prominent citizens served as school directors at one time or another. In 1858 J. L. Enos was president of the board, Freeman Smith, secretary, W. W. Smith, vice-president. J. T. Walker, treasurer, W. W. Walker, director. In 1859 the names of R. C. Rock, E. H. Stedman, J. P. Coulter, and J. M. Chambers appear. In 1860, S. C. Koontz. Henry Church, William Stewart, J. H. Camburn, and William Richmond served. In 1861, W. W. Smith, George M. Howlett, Henry Church, William H. Merritt. A. C. Churchill, and S. L. Pollock directed affairs. In 1862 E. G. Brown, A. C. Churchill, J. F. Ely, George M. Howlett elected Mr. Humphrey superintendent of schools. His reputation seems to have been that of a man of great strength and the bad big boys stood in awe of him accordingly. C. W. Burton, the superintendent of 1865, was noted for his cleverness in mathematics, and his deep interest in horticulture.
    “All of these early directors, superintendents, and teachers were hard workers and great optimists. History has confirmed that optimism, and from the services of these men developed a race of ambitious, energetic, moral citizens to whom the present Cedar Rapids owes a great debt of gratitude.”

    Through the courtesy of County Superintendent Alderman we are enabled to give below some interesting data regarding our schools:
    In 1873 the number of school corporations in the county was 42, increased to 87 in 1909. The number of ungraded schools in the former year was 178. and 166 in the latter year. The average number of months the schools were in session has increased from 6.6 in 1873 to 8.9 in 1909, and the average compensation from $39.78 to $73.50 for males, and from $26.33 to $50.85 for females. The number of female teachers employed in 1873 was 244. and in 1909, 503. The number of male teachers was 90 and 40 respectively.
    In the matter of attendance there has been a vast betterment. In 1873 there were 460 boys and 544 girls between the ages of seven and fourteen not in school. In 1909 these numbers were 29 and 17. The value of school property in 1873 was $240,105; in 1909, $814,300. The value of school apparatus was $2,309.50 in 1873, and in 1909, $20,035.25. There were in 1873 in the school libraries 482 volumes, which was increased to 17,079 in 1909.
    There are now between twenty-five and thirty fine school buildings in the country districts. They are modern in all respects. being supplied with slate blackboards, hardwood floors, ventilators, cloak rooms, bookcases and cupboards. Several have furnaces and cloak rooms in the basements. Some of the buildings are supplied with telephones. making it possible for the county superintendent and patrons to communicate direct with the school.
    The plans and specifications for these buildings are owned by the county, and are furnished gratis to the school districts wishing to build. All of these schoolhouses except two or three are not only proyided with libraries, cloak rooms, etc., but are also provided with a good organ.
    This year there is being installed a hot air ventilating system which keeps the warm air pure. the cold air being taken directly from the outside and passed through the hot air radiators before being allowed to enter the school room.

Source:  History of Linn County Iowa; from it's earliest Settlement to the Present Time.  1911. By Luther A. Brewer & Barthinius L. Wick. Pub. Chicago: The Pioneer Pub. Co.

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