HOLLANDERS OF IOWA
JACOB VAN DER ZEE
Submitted by Gayle Harper
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THAT religious instruction played no great part in common schools among the Hollanders is shown by the fact that the agitation for a Christian school began many years after they arrived in Iowa. Rev. A. C. van Raalte, the founder of the Dutch colony in Michigan and a strong personal friend of Scholte, came to Pella early in the year 1859 to preach for five weeks to the pastorless congregation of the Dutch Reformed Church. But according to his own assertion he wished primarily to interest the Hollanders of Pella in Christian education. At a series of meetings he provoked much discussion relative to the advisability of founding a Sunday-school and a parochial school, but he could not persuade the people to act.
In the month of January, 1861, on the occasion of his third visit to Pella, however, it seems, that van Raalte had the satisfaction of seeing his ideas bear fruit. At a meeting held on the 19th of February, 1861, a committee selected by the Dutch Reformed Church to consider the matter recommended that a parochial school be established and that sufficient financial support be offered. The recommendation was adopted: the first corps of teachers consisted of Isaac Overkamp, Herman Neyenesch, and John Stubenrauch. Others served later; but by the month of February, 1867, the school had ceased to exist. Indeed, had it not been for the fact that the pew rentals of the Dutch Reformed Church had brought in one thousand dollars more than necessary to support the church each year, the parochial school would have breathed its last three years before - just as a school established by members of the Second Dutch Reformed Church had done in 1863. These two Christian schools had provided elementary instruction in the Dutch language and in the catechism with the idea of enabling children to understand preaching in the Dutch churches.(250)
The disappearance of these institutions was a sad reflection upon church-going Hollanders who had been such strong advocates of the superiority of Christian schools. Scholte cited to them the case of Protestant parents who sent their children to Roman Catholic convent schools not from a predilection for that church and her doctrines, but in order to obtain superior training in discipline, in knowledge, and in the cultivation of good taste and refinement. The Hollanders of Pella had regarded the privileges of government schools in Holland as too meager and limited to conduce to well-rounded development in child life: they looked upon the training as superficial and the atmosphere as unsuitable for the growth of Christian principles in the minds of children. And yet they did not maintain Christian schools at Pella. Were American conditions to blame for this? Like the first Dutch settlers of Michigan the Hollanders of Iowa carelessly allowed their educational program to end in failure.(251)
In recent years, however, the idea of Christian education has revived and the Hollanders of the Christian Reformed Church in Iowa can already point with pride to four parochial schools. The difficulty of giving public schools a distinctively Christian tone became more and more pronounced the introduction of formal instruction in Christian morals appeared so increasingly impracticable that the school patrons of one Dutch church denomination took matters into their own hands.
The movement for Christian schools emanated from Grand Rapids, Michigan, about twenty-five years ago; but not until the year 1903 did the movement strongly affect the Hollanders in Iowa. Its champions asserted that there was no real and complete education without God's Word, that a public school could not properly accommodate people of all shades of belief and unbelief, and that the public school wholly ignored the child's fundamental need of training in religion. They declared that attendance at Sunday-school, Bible reading at home, and mere mental discipline did not sufficiently train the child. By "Christian education" they meant not only instruction in the Dutch language, not only reading from the Bible and repeating the Lord's Prayer as so many public schools in Iowa permitted, but instruction that "reached the heart by means of the understanding" and moulded the character of good young citizens.
Convinced that the public school, however good and sound its instruction might be, could not be other than entirely neutral in religious matters, persuaded that if they wanted their children to have an education based on Christianity and Bible study they would have to set up their own school, many parents, members of the Christian Reformed Church, organized an association at Orange City in 1904 and opened a parochial school which they now maintain at an annual cost of $2500. They support a principal and three teachers for about two hundred pupils.(252)
In 1905 a similar association was formed at Sioux Center where there is a school with three teachers for about one hundred and thirty pupils, conducted at an annual expense of $1700. The farmers living five miles west of Sioux Center established "The Hope School" with one teacher, at a cost of $500 annually. In 1907 many parents living in Richland Township, Mahaska County, east of Pella, established a school at Peoria and secured one teacher for about sixty pupils. These are the only Christian schools among the Hollanders of Iowa, but the members of Christian Reformed Church congregations at Rock Valley, Boyden, and Hull expect to have schools in readiness by the autumn of 1912; while church people are very much interested in the movement also at Middelburg, Lebanon, Ireton, I)oon, and Sheldon - all towns in northwestern Iowa. Furthermore, the Hollanders have subscribed $3000 for a school at Pella, where the idea was abandoned forty-five years ago.(253)
The morning religious exercises in these schools consist of prayer and a study of the Bible by each of the eight grades. In the primary grades the Bible story is especially emphasized, while the upper grades finish a complete course of Bible study in three years. The pupils also receive instruction in biblical geography and are taught Bible truths in connection with all their lessons throughout the day. Reports of these private schools, like the reports of the public schools, are sent to the State Superintendent every year. Graduates are admitted without entrance examination to high schools and to the Northwestern Classical Academy at Orange City, an institution of the Dutch Reformed Church. Members of the Christian Reformed Church have, indeed, been agitating the :matter of establishing an academy of their own, and are already weighing the claims of Sioux Center, Rock Valley, Sheldon, and Hull. To obviate the necessity of erecting another academy in Sioux County, a "Union Northwestern Classical Academy" has been suggested to accommodate the young people of both church congregations.(254)
NOTES AND REFERENCES
(250) Van Stigt's Geschiedenis, Part III, pp. 107, 110, 127.
(251) Dosker's Levensschets van Ds. A. C. van Raalte, D. D., pp. 181-1.94; and The Pella Gazette, December 6, 1855.
(252) The Banner (Grand Rapids,
Michigan), Vol. 46, pp. 71-76; and De Vrije Hollander, July 3, 17,
1903. The writer secured much information also from the Principal, Mr. C.
Aue. The school property at Orange City is valued at $5,250.
(253) The value of the school property
at Sioux Center and that of "The Hope School" is estimated at
$6,500 and $1,200 respectively. - See The Banner (Grand Rapids,
Michigan), Vol. 46, pp. 108, 401.
(254) Report of the Superintendent 'of Public Instruction (Iowa), 1910, pp. 200, 203; and The Banner (Grand Rapids, Michigan), Vol. 46, p. 264.
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