Muscatine County, Iowa

Recollections of
Persons and Events Connected With Our Schools In Early Times

Published in the Muscatine Saturday Mail, Nov. 19, 1889; written by J. P. Walton
No. 93.

Transcribed by Greta Thompson, July 13, 2013

Previous to 1860 the free schools, as the public schools were called, were not considered hardly toney enough by all classes. In this state there were a goodly number of western and southern people who thought that free schools were provided for poor persons to attend, they considered their children too good to associate with the poor man's "kids." This was true of the eastern people also to a certain extent; hence the necessity of securing the support of the more influential class in the public school movement.

In continuation of our review of school district No. 2 we find that on the last day of May, 1854, four of the six members of the school board resigned, one at a time, commencing with Jocob Butler whose place was filled by Mr. A. Dunsmore; then F. Thurston, whose place was filled by S. B. Hill; then Joseph Bridgman stepped down and out and was succeeded by Mrs. S. G. Stein; lastly Rev. Robbins the president of the board, resigned and his place was filled by Mr. Henry Reese. These men had worked hard to keep the social standing up to a high position and they felt as though they were crowded out by a lot of citizens who had little or no interest in the schools. They then turned their attention elsewhere, they got up a company and built a large frame house on the west side of Iowa Avenue at the corner of 5th street, which was known as the Stone school house; they employed a Mr. Stone and opened an academy. This school was not a paying investment and was closed. Other parties got hold of it and tried to run it, but the public schools proved too much for it. One cold morning when the thermometer was 30 degrees below zero it burned down and was never rebuilt. Many of us recollect the Stone school house and the beautiful lake, Siler's pond, near by, both have disappeared.

But to return to No. 2, the first thing the new board did was to rehire the teachers the old board had secured. At their second meeting they appointed a committee to settle with Mr. O'Connor until sometime afterwards, and then the balance was paid in attorney fees in a suit between the two school districts. I don't nose [sic] what they were lawing about, the record doesn't tell. Mr. Abel Fry was appointed collector for the district.

In those days the school directors had to do something for the honor of being officers. They got no pay. I notice that on June 5, 1854, a committee of three were appointed to examine the different school rooms, to arrange the scholars and equalize the numbers in the different departments. This was not necessary while Mr. Denison was the principal. I wonder how it would suit our present medical school board to have to put in their time on such an arrangement.

In July, 1854, Mr. Purcell withdrew from the board and Charles Nealey was appointed in his stead. The teachers during the season of 1854 were A. B. Tuttle principal, with Mrs. Dennis and Miss Walker as assistants.

At the November, 1854, meeting a move was made to change the teachers, and on December 9th they employed Mr. G. B. Denison as principal, Miss Merrill and Miss Jones as assistants. The appointment of Mr. Denison did not suit the Robbins faction, and December 19th “a remonstrance was presented, signed by more than thirty citizen of the district against the action of the board in hiring Mr. Denison as a teacher.” The remonstrance was referred to a committee consisting of Henry Reese and J. P. Freeman, who made their report at the meeting following, it was placed on file, and Denison kept on teaching all the same.

At the April election in 1855, the board consisted of Henry Reece, J. P. Freeman, S. B. Hill, C. Neally, A. Jackson, and J. A. Green. At the first meeting of this board the following bills were allowed for janitor’s fees: Ed. Couch $2.00, J. Birkshire $5.25, Aug. Springer $2.62. We may mention something of the character of these boys later—they were nothing but boys then.

On April 28, 1855, the following teachers were employed: N. F. Hoag, principal, Miss Lydia E. Denison and Mrs. Julie N. B. Walton assistants. A list of the text books used were: Cutter’s physiology, Mitchell’s geography, Pinneas’ grammar, Wilson’s history’s and Parley’s illustrated history, Burrit’s astronomy, Davies geometery, McGuffey’s readers, Ray’s arithmetic and algebra, and Fulton and Eastman’s bookkeeping.

August 30, 1855, the board appointed G. B. Denison a committee to settle up the old accounts and fix up a judgment standing in the court brought by LeGrand Byington against M. Berkshire. If I recollect aright Berkshire collected some taxes for the district that Byington considered incorrect and got relief by the court. He was afterwards paid $49.

On December 24, 1855, R. M. Burnett took the place of Henry Reece on the board; Charles Neally was elected president of the board, and J. A. Green secretary. A Mr. Gillman taught five weeks in the place of Mr. Hoag who was prevented from filling his term by sickness.

On April 4, 1856, Our Hon. Samuel McNutt was employed to teach the school at a salary of $500 a year, with Miss Upham and Miss Merrill as assistants. On April 25 G. B. Denison and S. G. Hill presented their certificates of election as directors, and Denison was appointed secretary. During that year he was quite exact in some of his entries, for instance “adjourned at 10 o’clock;” the next meeting “at 9 o’clock.” He was undoubtedly the best secretary the district ever had. On December 25, 1856, Samuel McNutt resigned—a six month’s school was enough for him at that time.

On January 8, 1857, Mr. Denison resigned his position as secretary and S. G. Hill was elected in his place. February 21, 1857, Moses Ingals was elected principal. At the end of the year Geo. Meason was added to the board, in whose place the minutes do not say. The records show that the teachers in December were Moses Ingals, Miss Upham, Miss Denison and Miss Maxwell.

January 2, 1856, a report was made that an eastern lady refused to come west and take a position as teacher on the ground of her inability to raise funds to pay her expenses; a draft for $50 was sent to her for traveling expenses and taken out of her salary. She proved a valuable teacher and remained some years. After getting married and leaving Muscatine she resumed teaching in the city of Des Moines for the remainder of her days she died but a few months ago. At the January 2d meeting the rate of tuition was fixed at $2.50 per term or $7.50 per year for primary department for the intermediate $10.50, and the higher department $15 a year. A motion was also made and carried to expel all pupils who did not pay up.

There seems to have been a little jarring on the board in some way, quite likely between Butler and Denison, for Butler offered a resolution to have some of the entries made by Denison in the school registry expurged from the registry, as being irrelevant and only the opinion of Mr. Denison. The resolution was laid on the table. Mr. Denison was employed to write up the “registry of scool monies” at an expense of not to exceed $10.

The last entry in the old book was a record of the salaries paid to the teachers; Moses Ingalls $266.67; Miss Pepper $65.30, Miss Denison $100, Miss Upham $100, Miss Merrill, $21. This was for one term or one-third of a year; while the salaries of the teachers were much lower at this time the expense to the pupil was much more. Then the poor man had to pay for the schooling of his body, now the rich man pays for schooling poor man’s boy, and in many cases the poor man keeps growling about some imaginary wrong, especially if his boy don’t get a glld education for the want of time to attend school.

During the period from 1850 to 1860, while the public school system was in its infancy, we had a great number of private schools, frequently several at a time; they were generally quite ephemeral, “but they were here all the same.”

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