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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 1917


Although the school people and other citizens of Kansas City were unaware of the changes to come, customs, manner of living, and school methods started to undergo a revolution in 1918.  It was to reach a height in the so-called "Roaring Twenties."  Young men went to Europe in the war "that was fought to save democracy," and parents displayed flags with blue, or sometimes gold, stars in their windows.

High school students called their yearbook "The Tank" and dedicated it to the students in service.  The civics class sent a letter to the board before school closed in May suggesting plans for Memorial Day.  The students wanted the day observed as a Sunday, with attendance at church instead of picknicking.  Amusement places should close, and a band concert or pageant be given at Swope Park.  A patriotic pageant as such as that given by the junior high school could be presented in Huron Park.

Dr. S. J. Crumbine, state health official, said in May that he considered smallpox and measles epidemics foolish and that he had no sympathy for the victims.  The junior graduated its second class, 142, at he senior high school.  Dr. Raymond R. Schwegler of the university was the speaker.  Miss Stella Meyers, a high school teacher, announced that she would spend the summer cultivating her acre tract.

At the high school sixty charter members formed the first National Honor Society organization in the city.  Judge Sims, known for his work with delinquent boys, let the Kansan and the public know his opinion of one teacher.  He had one enemy, he announced, a school teacher with "many unwed summers to her credit, who like other weak sisters, learned to hate two boys in her room that she couldn't get along with."

As revenge, she got them into court.  They eventually became fine young men, which made the "old maid school teacher" hate Judge Sims.

On September 11, 1918, school was dismissed, so that teachers could help with the draft registration.  Fathers and sons within the draft age limit often registered together.  Employers gave time off from work to their men to register.  Canning demonstrations went on.  The high school enrollment dropped because of Army enlistments.  Leslie Davis, former student, came from the Officers Training Corps at Fort Sheridan to conduct military training at the high school.

Young men wanted to marry before leaving for training camps.  A Hawthorne teacher married in early September and had to resign because of the board rule.  When a substitute replaced her, the board discovered that the substitute had been a bride longer than the original teacher.  It then decided to let war brides teach.

The largest parade ever held in the city covered a 30-mile route on September 29, 1918, to advertise the Fourth Liberty Loan Drive.  Three thousand children in groups of 100 to 150 were led by teachers and a Boy Scout carrying the flag.  They marched to different parts of the city, and for five hours sang the late war songs, patriotic songs, and battle hymns.  Miss Bessie Miller, music supervisor, selected the songs.  Teachers and principals subscribed at their schools.

[Annotation:  To pay for the war, President Wilson levied a new income tax, which accounted for about half of the $33 billion spent on the war. The rest of the cost was met through Liberty Loan drives, which rallied the population to invest in America by buying Liberty Bonds.]

Ward school enrollment increased, and Superintendent Pearson said there would have to be a salary raise if he was to get competent people for the schools.

Trouble arise in March with Lydia and Helena Conley.  Workmen in the cemetery complained that the sisters interfered with their work by pulling up surveyors' stakes.  The contractor said they got so fierce in their talk that he called police, who booked them on a charge of disturbing the peace.  Huron Park would soon be numbered among park orphans if better care were not given, the newspaper warned.  People were cutting paths across instead of using the walks.

Disaster struck the city early in the fall of 1918 in the form of an epidemic of Spanish influenza.  Men in training camps had been stricken with this deadly type of illness, and a carpenter from Camp Funston is supposed to have brought the first case to the city on September 19, 1918.  In September there were fifteen cases, in October 2700 people were ill.  The first death occurred October 8.

The situation was grave.  Dr. C. W. McLaughlin and the Board of Education conferred about school closing and warned children to stay home.  Cases to the number of 100 and over were reported every day.  No church services were held, some businesses were closed, and a statewide ban went into effect.  Funerals were private.

When the city thought the terror was over, with fewer new cases and deaths being reported, on October 14 there 18 deaths and 269 cases.  It was decided to close schools another week.  The anti-spitting law was rigidly enforced.  Nurses and those who volunteered in their places caught the disease.  As the hospitals were unable to care for all the sick, the city and the school board equipped the junior high school for a hospital for 300 patients.

Dr. Crumbine arrived from Topeka on October 19.  He reported eight deaths, 62 ambulance4 calls, and 219 new cases.  After 376 cases in ten days, the "flu" was said to be on the wane, and the ban would be off on November 6.

Schools opened on November 9.  On November 11, the country went wild when the armistice ending World War I was signed.  Everything closed except the schools and the whole town went celebrating.  Dr. Crumbine advised cancellation of the annual teachers' meeting as there was still "flu" around.  The same officers held over for another year.

Then on November 27 a new outbreak occurred.  Forty members of the senior class of the Medical College on the Missouri side went to the schools, one to each, to try to detect signs of the disease in the children.  When schools opened on Monday, they had the greatest number of absentees in history.  People, the doctors said, were more afraid than sick.  Rumors spread about another closing.

Seven deaths and 120 new cases over the weekend brought another ban, in spite of the protests of principals.  They cases were light, and that it was not fair to close schools and let business places operate.  On December 3, the commissioners ordered children to stay away from shows.  There were 300 new cases, and people tried eating yeast cakes for a preventive.

After Christmas the schools opened.  For the first time New Year's Day went unobserved as a holiday.  Seven weeks had been lost, and seniors and eighth graders worried about graduation.  To add to the general misery, public transportation employees went on strike and a storm damaged telephone service during the holiday.

The war caused many teachers to leave their places here to serve with organizations overseas or to take up other work where they were better paid.  Eighty resigned during the spring and summer of 1918.  Half of those left, it was said, were readying themselves for commercial jobs.  The Council of Clubs and other groups asked that salaries be increased, and the Legislative Committee of the Board went to Topeka in November to see what could be done.  The shortage of teachers was nationwide, and even the government became concerned.

Those who remembered the town of Wyandotte asked that the name be given to a Liberty ship to be launched in December.  The city had earned the right to christen a boat because of the record made in selling Liberty Bonds.  Mrs. Edith Cubbison Darby (Mrs. Harry Darby) was chosen as the sponsor.  Later, it was learned that "Wyandotte" was already taken, and the name "Quindaro" was suggested.

For about the first time, teachers made their wants known at a state level.  M. E. Pearson, representing the group at a committee meeting, said that they desired a state employment bureau, retirement legislation, and representation on the textbook commission.  They asked also for a four-year term for superintendents and high school principals, and for compulsory education for children eight to sixteen years old unless they had completed the eighth grade.

The Hoe Brigade or School Garden Army was organized in October, 1918, at President Wilson's request.  Companies of children elected officers and received.  Companies of children elected officers and received bronze medals, service bars, and stars for gardening efforts.  Other organizations interested adults and children.  The Rotary Club wanted a Boy Scout Council with headquarters in the city.  A Grand Council Fire was held in November at the YMCA.

The Boy's Chamber of Commerce at the high school had 300 members, and a group of girls formed a similar organization.  Other cities, beginning to turn their attention to boys, sent inquiries when the Junior Chamber put over the Red Cross membership drive successfully.

The Wyandotte Boys Clubs waged a losing battle against cigarettes.  The women backing the movement were glad to learn that the "soldiers' solace" was taboo at the KU canteen.  At least while in Lawrence all of the men had to go without cigarettes.  Many of the boys, however, returned from the war with the habit fully established.  The club eventually was another casualty of the war.

The state director of vocational education visited classes in October.  Allen and Bayne displayed in their windows hats made in class under the direction of Louise Greenman.  Mr. Pearson notified teachers in December of the classes being held in government, playground supervision, science and English.  Anyone over 16 could attend under the provisions of the Smith-Hughes Bill.  Bancroft and John J. Ingalls had classes for the foreign born.

In spite of the tragic consequences of the flu, somebody started a four-line verse that every school child in 1918 learned and repeated:

I had a little bird,
Its name was Enza.
I opened the door
And in-flu-enza.

The death rate in 1918 went up 42%.  In three months there were 8426 reported cases of influenza and 563 deaths.  Young adults and wage earners seemed to be the hardest hit.

Next Section 1919

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History Site created on December 02, 2002
Page last updated: 02-Jan-2012

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