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

Section 1 - Page 12, Submitted by Charlene Nichols Hixon, July 3, 2012

Schools of Today in Marked Contrast to Systems of 1800s

Decidedly different and vastly improved are the schools maintained for Muscatine children of today in contrast to that period when this community was in its infancy. Comparisons and progress are given in the article following, prepared by A. A. Johnson, superintendent of Muscatine public schools:

So far as can be ascertained by such records as we have, the first school in Muscatine was opened in May of 1839 under the direction of J. A. Parvin. Mr. Parvin received his remuneration from the parents who paid him directly. The stipend was regulated by teachers and parents and was voluntary for both parties. The earliest concerted action, however, was brought about in 1848. At that time the matter of schools was left with the School Fund commissioners.

We had two such in Muscatine because Muscatine was divided in two districts. District No. 1 occupied all that part of the original part of town east of Sycamore street and district No. 2 all west of Sycamore street. These two divisions were maintained until the passage of the Revised School law, March 12, 1815.

In the year 1848 district No. 2 commenced the agitation of building a school house. Prior to this time there were very few school houses of any consequence in Iowa. Dubuque had built two small brick houses with two rooms each. The public school houses, as a rule, were few and far-between.

In that same year, 1848, a public meeting of electors of district No. 2 was called at the Methodist church standing on the ground now occupied by the “Muscatine Journal printing house.” At this meeting a tax was voted and the school board was instructed to procure a site and building suitable for a school house and sufficient to accommodate the wants of the district. The legal ground work for this first meeting apparently was not in order because the second meeting had to be called. As a result, this first school house was not completed until May, 1851. District No. 1, not to be outdone, voted to build a larger school than that of district No. 2 and this building was completed in March 1853.

In district No. 1 for this first school, the teachers were as follows: D. F. Wells, principal, salary, $500 a year; Miss M. M. Lyon, first assistant, salary, $250 a year; Miss Kate Foster, second assistant, salary, $200 a year; Miss M. Davidson, third assistant, salary, $200 a year; Miss Henrietta Miksel, fourth assistant salary, $250 a year. The school year at this time consisted of ten months divided into three terms of 14 weeks each. At that time the school board had contracted to pay a total teachers’ salary of $975, about one-third of which they received from the apportionment of the school house fund. The balance was set down as unknown quantity. Where it was to come from of just how they were to obtain it were questions they were unable to solve. G. B. Dennison, who was the principal, devised a method of raising the remainder which he did by improvising the rate bill. This bill was merely a measure whereby the Board set the pupils’ tuition on the following basis: The primary department, $1.50; the intermediate department, $1.75; and the higher departments, $2.00 per term, which averaged about 12 ½ cents per week. The board at this time also adopted a rule not to admit anyone to the school whose parents refused to pay this assessment. District No. 2 adopted a similar type of tuition schedule. In January 22 of 1853 this type of assessment was legalized by the state legislature, and was universally adopted throughout Iowa until the passage of the Revised School law, March 2, 1858.

This school which was established in the spring of 1852 was the first graded school established in the state of Iowa. The state superintendent, Thomas H. Benton, Jr., in his report for 1850 gives Muscatine credit for taking the lead in public school matters in the state.

In 1863, Prof. F. M. Witter came to Muscatine and accepted the principalship of the school in the first ward. At that time there were two schools in the first and third wards independent of each other, and even the several rooms of the building were in a measure separated upon distinct plans relative to studies and government. There was no recognized head of the school. In the spring of 1864, due to this condition, the board elected Mr. Witter to act as superintendent of those schools. It was also proposed that Mr. Witter establish a high school of which he was to be principal. In that same year Mr. Witter visited a number of places which were noted for their good school organization in order that he might profit by their example in organizing the proper school in Muscatine. The following quotation is from the rules and regulations put out at that time:

    “The schools of the city of Muscatine shall be organized with the following general grades, namely, primary schools, grammar schools, and high schools. The primary schools shall be divided into two grades, namely, first and second, the first grade being the lowest. Each of these grades shall be organized into at least three classes, known as A, B. and C, C being the lowest. The two grades shall contain at least six classes, and if necessary, additional classes may be formed; but in no case must they change the grade. Each primary school shall be under the immediate control of a principal who shall have as many assistants as the school may require.”

Similar rules were made for the grammar school and for the high school. The high school at that time, however, required merely three years for completion. Application for admission to any one of the grades was by examination and in September of 1864 about one hundred pupils presented themselves, of which about 90 per cent were accepted.

At that time the high school had no building and to supply the deficiency the board leased a frame building which stood on the corner of Fifth street and Iowa avenue. This building had been known as Greenwood academy. The high school were all required and very formal. Emphasis was given to science and mathematics.

The modern school is a sharp contrast with this early school, both in number of pupils and in extent of curriculum. Such courses as commercial courses, shop courses – in fact, vocational courses of any kind – were unheard of in the early school. The purpose of that school was primarily to teach boys and girls to read and write after a fashion and the purpose of the high school was to prepare the boys and girls to attend colleges and universities.

Education was in no sense popular. It catered to the very few and many of them would merely attend school on such occasions as did not interfere with the many jobs which were at hand. Today the problem is decidedly different as to philosophy and practice. Now boys and girls of school age are not allowed to work in any full-time job. The compulsory education laws are most stringent and 99 per cent of all boys and girls finish the eighth grade while a very large percentage attend and even graduate from high school. Many of these have no intention of attending either college or university, hence the problem presents many new phases.

In addition to preparing boys and girls to read and write the modern school is also preparing them to fit into a more complex society and to help them to understand a government that is requiring many more things of its citizens than was true in the past. The modern school must also prepare many of these for their life’s work and help to guide others in finding their life’s work. The more practical and terminal courses, therefore, have become a major factor in modern education. Courses and extracurricular activities are varied in order to meet the needs of large groups coming from many different types of homes in many different stratas of society. It’s the school’s job to meet the needs of its boys and girls in order to make their life reasonably happy and reasonably filled with service towards their fellow men.

The history of the Muscatine school system charts the changing system and the changing needs of its people.

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50 Long Years

Photo ~ An unexpected reunion of a teacher and his pupils who had not fraternized in almost half a century was the occasion for the gathering on Nov. 17, 1912, shown in the above picture. The teacher, R. B. Connor, then 79, is standing in the middle of the rear row, with two of his former pupils, George Rummery and James Q. Beatty, on either side. Seated are Mrs. Sarah Wamsley Craddock, at left, who resides on Muscatine Island, and August Rummery Joy. The pupils formerly attended school in the Hopewell district on Muscatine Island where Mr. Connor taught in the winter of 1863-64.

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Obituary - Departed this life on Wednesday afternoon 16th inst., MATTHEW MATTHEWS, Esq., in the fifty-second year of his age. His removal will be felt as a sore bereavement not only by a numerous circle of relations and by the Episcopal church, of which he was for 30 years, an exemplary and active member, but by the Christian community and society at large. – March 18, 1842.

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Steam Saw and Grist Mill - J. Overholzer respectfully informs the citizens of Muscatine county, and the country generally, that he has purchased the steam sawmill, three miles above Bloominton, formerly owned by Vannatter and Reynolds, and having put the same in first rate order, is now prepared to fill all orders for grinding and sawing on the shortest notice. – Sept. 16, 1842.

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Examination of applicants for licenses was the principal order of business when the State Board of Dental Examiners held its first meeting at Iowa City on April 30, 1883.

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Suel Foster – way back on April 27, 1878 – was exhibiting the bronze centennial award, highest award of Centennial Commissioners, which he had received for judging at the Pomological hall at the exhibition.

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Page created July 11, 2012 by Lynn McCleary