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Wyandotte County, Kansas




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KCKS Public School System, 1819-1961
by Nellie McGuinn
Copyright USD 500, Feb 1966

Return to Previous Section 1872

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The Herald in August, 1873, carried Mrs. Hubbard's advertisement for a "select" school at the home of Mrs. Mary Walker at Fourth and Washington.  Children from three to ten years of age were admitted.  The Walker home had been a show place in the fifties.  It contained twenty rooms that many years later were divided into apartments for four families.  There were people in Wyandotte and other cities in Kansas who came from states where the only schools were private.  Such persons were opposed to public education, especially in places where colored children were admitted.  Much strife and bitterness occurred in some parts of the state.  Taxes for schools were voted down and one or two schools burned.

The usual complaints to the board came in.  "Parents object to certain kinds of discipline," one letter read, "The teacher may punish a small child for a fault overlooked in a larger.  Parents don't want teachers pulling children's ears, cuffing, banging heads with hands or books.  Children can lose an eye from a pencil poke."  Teachers spent too much time on reviewing letters and arithmetic.  Children showed too little interest in the spelling match at Dunning's Hall [4th & State].  Spelling was a subject badly neglected, the criticisms ran.

Hard times in 1873 followed by grasshoppers in 1874 slowed some activities.  The Wyandotte Teachers Institute, however, met as usual.  Reading, compulsory education, and geography were topics for A. N. Moyer and D. Calvin in April, 1874.  R. J. Barker was the secretary. 

Schools were crowded to excess, and more room and teachers were badly needed.  People were urged to begin thinking about ward school houses or additions to the present schools.

By 1875, Wyandotte thought a fire engine was needed, after twenty years without one.  P. T. Barnum, the circus tycoon, attracted Wyandotte people to his lecture at the opera house in Kansas City, Missouri.  Annoyed citizens complained of a lot of "graceless scamps who made life hideous at the neighborhood brick schoolhouse."  Stones and logs barred the gateway.  Parents were advised to know where their boys were; otherwise, "their sons would fill a felons cell at the penitentiary."

The Wyandotte Library Association met on the first Saturday of each month at O. D. Burt's Store.  Joseph Speck, who died in 1875, was president and J. A. Davis, secretary.  In April the group gave a public entertainment at Dunning's Hall for the benefit of the library.  The publishers of Webster's Dictionary were credited for a newly-roused spelling bee excitement.  For a dollar one could buy a copy to serve as a good influence in overcoming a "marked deficient among many."  Kansas organized a historical society on December 8, 1875 to preserve its story for the future.

Professor M. Waters, who followed O. C. Palmer as superintendent, in 1874, was instructed by the board in May, 1975 to visit schools to obtain good teachers.  The superintendent also was told earlier in the term to see that the common English branches received the most attention.  If time and the educational force were not sufficient, he was to add to them. It was emphasized by the board that the primary was not to be sacrificed to the higher grades. "Object blocks" were purchased for use in the school.

An indignant patron wrote to the Herald that his ten-year old boy had been badly beaten by his teacher. It would have been all right, he said, to have used a rawhide or switch, but not a club!

M. Waters was elected principal and superintendent on May 12, 1875. On the records for the year 1875-1876, however, Porter Sherman's name appears as superintendent. He also was on the board in April, 1875.  At the board's September meeting, A. N. Moyer declared that the election of the principal was illegal, that a member should not employ one's self.  Mr. Sherman's name disappeared from the list, and the daily paper announced later that a member of the employee of the board had resigned.

Board members in 1875 received a salary of fifty dollars a year.  The clerk was paid seventy-five dollars plus ten dollars extra for light and fuel in his office.  The treasurer's salary was set at fifty dollars.  Articles in the Herald complained that it was too hard to get a school board quorum.  One member working in Illinois received his fifty dollars a year.  The man later resigned.  Another was working on the railroad in Missouri and two more were wintering in Arkansas.  The paper suggested that a double board be elected and that the public pay for it.

In the fall of 1875, the board adopted new rules.  One rule gave the power of suspension and restoration to the principal of either school.  All teachers were required to attend institute.  Primary grades would dismiss at three and the colored school at three-thirty in the afternoon.  The length of the school year was reduced to six or seven months.

For the November institute, W. W. Dickinson, county superintendent, engaged J. M. Greenwood, Kansas City, Missouri superintendent, and James G. Dougherty, president of Colorado College, to lecture.  The meeting was held at Dunning's Hall.  Mr. Greenwood's topic was "Educational Wants" and Mr. Dougherty talked on Colorado.  Teachers attending the institute passed a resolution recommending that Mrs. F. M. Porter's "School Management" be published.  "The Teacher's Chief Power" by Sarah G. Brooks was also highly praised.

The board was divided into six communities:  Finances, Ways and Means, Teaching and Visiting Schools, Printing, Building and Ground.

The Ways and Means Committee was instructed to try to make teachers' warrants good for cash.  (Annotation:  Warrant: a short-term obligation of a governmental body [as a municipality] issued in anticipation of revenue, Merriam-Webster online)  The clerk was told to write to the state superintendent for a copy of the school laws.

The teachers for 1875-1876 were listed as follows on May 12:

Grand and Teacher Name
First Grade - Sarah J. Brooks
Second Grade - Nettie Dickinson
Third Grade - Jessie Kerstetter
Fourth Grade - Carrie C. Lilly
Fifth Grade - Eva Brayman
Sixth Grade - Fannie Reid
Seventh Grade - Oda L. Chance
Colored:  First Grade - W. P. Brush
Colored:  Second Grade - A. H. Walton

Eighteen students were listed as being enrolled in the "high school."  Early teachers at this time were:  Mrs. F. M. Sherman, H. L. Gibson, Bridget C. Cushing, Clara Serviss, Miss A. L. Sharpe, Miss E. McNally, Miss Lizzie O'Brien, Miss Lizzie Collins, Professor J. D. Bower, John W. Anderson, Nellie Johnson.

After Professor O.C. Palmer left the Wyandotte City schools in 1874, he may have engaged in private teaching. His next mention is in 1878. In September of that year, he opened a Methodist Church, as an experiment in higher education. Students interested in work beyond the eighth grade level crowed the rented church rooms.

At the end of the school year 1879-1880, Mr. Palmer purchased a site on the southwest corner of 7th and Ann, where the Courthouse stands today. There, according to one writer of the time, was erected “an elegant brick structure by the energy and financial means of the Principal.” The school was a six room two-story brick (some accountants say ten rooms), forty by sixty feet, consisting of a “large schoolroom, Principal’s office, and recitation rooms.” The site overlooked the city of Wyandotte and surrounding towns at the mouth of the Kansas River. Stoves provided heat for the school.

By fall the building was ready for the 187 pupils of both sexes who came from Wyandotte and nearby districts. Two courses, English and Classical, were taught by well-prepared, efficient teachers. Subjects were offered in elementary branches when needed, and college preparatory coursed admitted graduates to freshman or sophomore status in college. Included in the English course were bookkeeping, science of government, study of authors, geometry and zoology.

Professor Palmer was recognized as a thorough and successful educator. His Wyandotte Academy, commonly known as the Palmer Academy, attracted pupils from places outside the city. After thriving for six years, the Academy was forced to close. Wyandotte, old Kansas City, Kansas, and Armourdale were consolidated in 1886 into one city and a free high school was established for the three sections. Professor Palmer’s students left to attend a free school. At the end of the year 1887, Palmer left the city to go to the new country opening up in the Northwest. The Board of Education rented the Academy building in 1887 and purchased it for a high school the following year.

An early day student of the Wyandotte Academy, Mrs. Lillian Bayless Moore, recalled in later years a remark the scholarly head of the school had made to her.  "Lillian, you will never make a good housewife," he said, "Your bump of mathematics is weak and you can't understand geometry.  How would you ever learn to bake bread?"  Mrs. Moore fooled him, however, and became an expert at bread baking.

Besides Palmer, other teachers at the Academy included Miss L. M. Dickinson, Miss Bell Sears, and Miss Julia Wolcott.

During the Underground Railroad and Civil War days, colored people had escaped to Kansas from the slave state of Missouri.  The four-room school on Sixth and Kansas (State Avenue) had housed the children of these people up to about 1878, the year of the Exodus.  Thousands of Negroes, owing to a combination of events, left their homes in the South.  They loaded their scant household belongings and livestock on to the numerous barges going up and down the Mississippi and set out to seek new homes in the North.  From 1878 to 1881, at least 20,000 of these emigrants landed on the levee at Wyandotte.  Many of them remained, building shelters along the river bank or erecting homes in Quindaro and the northeast section of Wyandotte.  Before long they were asking for school privileges for their children.  By 1880, one thousand of the 2627 school-age children colored and white, were attending the two schools, and costing the 6500 people of Wyandotte about $7000 a year.

As early as 1872, the stockyards and packing houses had been established in the bottoms along the river.  (Annotation:  What we referred to as the "West Bottoms" in the 1950s - the area between the Kansas River, the Missouri River and the Missouri State Line - was originally the city of Kansas City, Kansas, prior to the Consolidation Act of 1886.)  In 1880 there settled in the city a man whose influence carried over from business affairs into educational matters.  In 1880, George A. Fowler, described as a nervous little Englishman from the North of Ireland, purchased T. J. Bigger's Packing Company.  He changed the name to the Anglo-American Pork and Provision Company, which had been built on a peninsula at the junction of the Kaw and Missouri Rivers.

George Fowler was a lover of fine horses and fine houses.  He drove his horses at breakneck speed and once was fined twenty dollars for speeding across the James Street bridge.  A hotly-contested suit grew out of this.

As Matthew Walker had found the sightly spot at Troup and old Walnut (Fourth St) an ideal location for his mansion, so more than twenty-five years later did George Fowler.  In 1880 $75,000 was a fabulous sum for a house, and that is what Fowler spent on his home.  He modeled it on the plan of a feudal castle of his native Ireland.

The large rooms were the scene of receptions and parties, probably the most elaborate ever seen in Wyandotte up to that time.

It is difficult to imagine a residence of such magnificence in the little city of mud streets, roving livestock, and modest homes.  Old engravings show the thirty-room house set in several acres of grounds.  The seven "inlaid" mantles that adorned the fireplaces, the basement swimming pool, and the beautiful circular staircase, curving at the back of the house from the basement to the top floor, were marvels of the 1880s.  The woodwork was of valuable, rare woods.  Different colors of wood made up the inlaid floors.  Near the front entrance "Welcome" was spelling out in large letters inlaid in oak.

The Edgerton Place residential district grew up around the Fowler mansion.  The Baptist Seminary occupied the building after the Fowlers sold to Swift and Company and left the city.  The Northeast Junior High School was built on the site in 1923.

The part that the Fowler family played in the educational life of the city will be told in the story of old Kansas City, Kansas.

The coming of the packing houses and the railroads brought workers to outlying districts.  Between Armstrong and Wyandotte the settlement known as Riverview sprang up.  It was never incorporated and its school was part of the county system, but it grew to a good-sized village before it was annexed to Wyandotte by an Act of the City Council in May, 1881.

In May, 1880, the trustees of County District No. 9, consisting of Armourdale and Armstrong, divided the district.  They transferred to the Board of Education of Wyandotte, City Lots 14-16, Block 8, the district site and school.  The school and grounds lay north of the Union Pacific tracks in the Armstrong settlement.  A two-story, two-room brick building, bearing a stone marker dated December 25, 1873, was on the site.  On September 6, 1881, Wyandotte City limits were extended to include Armstrong, a town of 3200 population.

Next Section   1881   

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History Site created on December 02, 2002
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