Muscatine County, Iowa
Muscatine Journal & News-Tribune
Centennial Edition
31 May 1940

Section 1 - Page 10 & 11, Submitted by Charlene Nichols Hixon, July 2, 2012

Page 10

F. M. Witter, Who Served As First Principal,
On Staff Near 50 Years

Photo ~ Professor F. M. Witter established Muscatine high school and was its first principal. For nearly half a century Professor Witter was identified with the educational development of the city and county of Muscatine. The fame of Muscatine high school under his management was known far and wide. For many years he was both principal of the high school and superintendent of the city schools.

At the death of Professor Witter, Professor W. F. Chevalier wrote an account of his life, which was read before the Iowa State Teachers’ association. Part of the article follows:

    Superintendent Witter was born Aug. 15, 1839, at St. Joseph, near South Bend, Ind., and with his parents in 1850 removed to Delaware county, Iowa, making the trip overland in covered wagons, assisting his father in opening a farm on Elk creek.

    Again calling into service the covered wagons, the family removed to Leon, Decatur county, where they settled on government land. A log school house was built in the neighborhood the same year and winter school of about four months was maintained, which he attended. In 1858, when yet a mere boy, he went as a herdsman with a division of the United States army from Fort Worth to Fort Laraine in the Rocky mountains. From there he drove a team of six yoke of oxen in a train of 26 wagons back to Nebraska City, Neb. He had a rich experience among animals and Indians, and became familiar with the overland stage and pony express. He returned to Leon in the late fall of 1858 and was soon appointed to represent Decatur county at the normal department of the State University at Iowa City.

    He attended an academy at Leon in the winter of 1858-59 to prepare for his work. In the summer of 1859 he taught a country school. Later he entered the state university and received the degrees of bachelor of science and master of arts. After leaving the university he taught school in Johnson county for five months, then he went to Davenport where he served as principal of the ward schools for two years. He then came to Muscatine, having been elected to the principalship of the school then called No.2. This was in the fall of 1864. He then began the organization of the schools of Muscatine, putting them upon a plane of equality with the best schools of the state. His heart was in the work. With him it was a labor of love.

The Muscatine Journal expressed what the citizens of Muscatine felt toward his work in the city schools in the following words:

    “The organization and present high standards of the Muscatine schools are the result in a large measure of his ability and energetic work and are a fitting tribute to the man who through nearly half a century never lost sight of the needs of the school children and never failed to devote his best efforts to increase their opportunities for learning.”

    In his work as principal of the high school and head of the schools here he was most happy. At the close of the winter of 1881, Mr. Witter resigned his school position in this city to accept the superintendency of a coal company organized in Muscatine to operate in What Cheer. In the spring of 1883 he bought a small farm three miles from this city on the Moscow road intending to engage in small fruit growing and bee culture. The board of education in Muscatine in August, 1885, without solicitation on his part, unanimously invited him to the superintendency of the schools, which invitation he accepted.

    He served the city in this capacity until June, 1901. Following his retirement from the management of the city schools, he was elected to the position of county superintendent. He served three terms, a total of seven years.”

    The Muscatine newspaper spoke of his work as county superintendent in the following words: “He was exceptionally well equipped for the office, both mentally and morally, and never considered that politics had anything to do with his incumbency or administration. He cared more to please than to perpetuate his tenure. He loved children and children loved him, as the throngs in his office on Saturday attested. His whole life had been spent in education work, devoted to organizing and directing the teachers under him to give their best efforts to their pupils, and to increase the efficiency of the educational system. He spent most of his time visiting the rural schools and spent nights with the parents and patrons discussing plans for the further improvement of the schools. That his work and interest were appreciated was shown by the absence of opposition in the party convention and splendid majorities given him at three successive elections.”

    Mr. Witter was an active member of the Iowa State Teachers’ association from 1863 until his removal to Mississippi in the winter of 1908. He was president of the organization in 1903. He was one of the founders of the Iowa Academy of Science and was for a time its president. He became a recognized authority on conchology and was equally versed on geology and botany, in which connections he gathered many rare and interesting relics and specimens. He was also a taxidermist and his bird mountings constituted a valuable collection. The spirit of science became a paramount one in the schools and the splendid botanical, physical and chemical laboratories of the school indicated the planning and supervision of a trained scientist.

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New Years - 1857 was ushered in at Muscatine with becoming silence and solemnity – but a few insignificant discharges of firearms commemorated the occasion. In fact it was a decidedly dull time. As for ourself, we escaped to the country in the afternoon and in company with a gay party spent a very pleasant time in the hospitality of Maj. Sherfey, the generous proprietor of Oakdale far. Many others of our citizens spent the day in a similar manner, while the remainder continued about their usual avocation. Young America however, was out on skates during the day on the river and creek, and we suppose enjoyed himself hugely. – Jan. 2, 1857.

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Prof. Leverich Devoted Life to Education

Photo ~ One of the prominent figures in education in the early history of Muscatine was Prof. Ruthven Wilson Leverich, who devoted a lifetime of endeavor to his profession. Born May 1, 1838, in Muscatine county, about two miles west of Wilton, in a little log cabin where his parents, Ira and Jane Morgan Leverich, had settled during the pioneer days of his county, he was reared in this locality and spent his entire lifetime here.

Prof. Leverich began his education in one of the old-time log school houses such as were common in primitive days, and after he had mastered the curriculum of the district school he entered Cornell college for further study. In the 1870s, he became a teacher in the Wilton schools and without his solicitation was nominated for the post of county superintendent of schools. Successful in the ensuing election, he continued to hold the office for a period of 10 years.

His experiences served to bring him a knowledge of the deficiencies and needs of school teachers, and on his retirement from public office in 1885 he opened a normal and training school to prepare young men and women for teaching. Prof. Leverich continued to operate the institution here for a number of years, the school through its high standards and excellence achieving an enviable reputation which attracted prospective teachers from throughout a wide area.

Page 11

Conesville High School 1940

Class Photos ~ Pictured are the following: Pauline Todd, Mary Kemp, Norma Maxwell, Doris Cozad, Virginia Stafford, Clarence Buckman, Betty Hankins.

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