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The History of our Public Schools
Wyandotte County, Kansas

1844
2012

 

 

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

Return to Previous Section 1931

1932

Fourteen years after the close of World War I and during the depression that followed the crash of the stock market in 1927, the western world was shocked at the Japanese shelling of Chinese fortresses. Taxpayers, hit by loss of jobs and business, were unable to meet assessments. Chicago and other large cities found themselves in financial difficulties and had to curtail services. Prohibition celebrated its 12 birthday while "speakeasies" carried on a thriving business in illicit sales of liquor.

On February 22, the bicentennial of the birth of George Washington was heralded by the blowing of whistles and ringing of bells. The inauguration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt introduced the New Deal to the country, with an accompaniment of alphabet organizations, closing of banks, and the turning in of gold coins to the government.

Building was at a standstill. The board of education had issued no bonds for eight years. Lack of money caused the board to warn teachers of impending salary reductions. In Chicago, school board employees had received only six week's pay since April 15 of the preceding year, and Kansas City teachers considered themselves fortunate to have a regular salary paid them. Mrs. Bertha McMann, librarian, had the only cheerful news to report at the beginning of 1932. The library had experienced its greatest year in 1931. People out of work, she said, read more than when they were busy.

On Monday, January 18, the teachers of the city were called to a meeting at Wyandotte High School. When Superintendent Pearson announced that he had unpleasant news, everyone assumed it concerned salaries. Instead he tossed what the newspaper the following day called a "verbal bombshell."

"I am getting tired, as any old man will," he told the assembly. "There is to be a change in our relationship."

He went on to explain how inaccuracies came with age and that he preferred not to burden the system. He was turning his responsibilities as superintendent over to his assistant of the past eight years, Frank Leslie Schlagle, and asked for his successor the loyalty which had been given him.

During the following days, the Star and the Kansan reviewed the life of this man who had spent 46 years in the Kansas City schools. Matthew Edgar Pearson was born in Plainville, Indiana, on March 8, 1862. When he was ten years old the family settled in Leavenworth County, but moved two years later to Douglass County.

Lacking a high school diploma, the young man entered Kansa University and finished his preparatory work. He bought on horse and his father gave him another. For five years he raised wheat on a forty-acre farm, letting the horses earn their way by working on another farm during the winter. Serving as a janitor at a Quaker church, young Pearson was given a room for lodging. By 1885 he had earned a degree and was ready to teach. He married Miss Carrie Davis of Leavenworth.

Mr. Pearson taught 60 pupils in his first class at Wallula, Kansas, in 1885-86. During that first year he joined the Kansas State Teachers Association and continued his membership for the remainder of his life. He had the distinction of attending the only meeting of the National Education Association ever held in Kansas. This was in Topeka in 1886, when the state militia set up all its tent equipment on the state house grounds for sleeping quarters for the delegates.

After one year at Wallula, Mr. Pearson came to the newly consolidated city of Kansas City, where he was assigned to old Wood, later Cooper School in old Kansas City, Kansas, serving for several years as principal there. He was transferred in 1891 to Armourdale School, remaining there as principal until 1894. From 1894 to 1902 he was principal at the Long School (Longfellow) combing the supervision of drawing throughout the system which his other duties. In 1902, he became superintendent, a position he held for 30 years.

In 1886 when M. E. Pearson came to the city 56 teachers made up the teaching force. Of the 55 others, one remained in 1932 to hear his resignation announcement. She was Miss Sadie Parsons, who at Mr. Pearson's request, put off retirement for a year to leave when he did in 1932. Miss Parsons was the only teacher in the audience that day who had not received her original Kansas City teaching contract from him.

When M. E. Pearson as a new superintendent addressed teachers at this first convocation in 1902, the number had increased from 56 to 182. About 700 attended the meeting on January 18, 1932. The enrollment when he joined the school system in 1886 was 1200. When he left, it had grown to nearly 25,000.

Only one other person in the early schools has a state certificate. Because Mr. Pearson was not required to take the customary examination, jealous teachers said he was afraid of failure. To prove them wrong, he took the next examination and silenced them by making a score of 99 plus, a record not surpassed in 1932. In 1932, every teacher had a state certificate.

The superintendent often wondered after so many years how the old schools had any efficiency. Teacher qualifications had changed greatly. The only passing requirement to teach in the early schools was a certificate awarded for passing an examination conducted by a school board member, a lawyer and a minister. Parents in the old days expected and wanted severe punishments for their children. In later times, he said, a teacher was in trouble with the parents if he chastised their children. The superintendent often remarked that a teacher's disposition governed his or her success.

During his long career, Mr. Pearson was known for his fine penmanship and drawing. He liked to sign diplomas and estimated that he had written his name on 35,000 diplomas since 1902. When he visited classes, he delighted children by sketching a picture for them on the blackboard. In 1932 it was his strong belief that the next step in education would be the adapting of the course of study to the needs of the child. He thought, too, that modern society wanted culture for girls as well as boys.

As a sign of changing times the superintendent told of the man who asked to give lessons in bridge to teachers, so that they could instruct their pupils. Many women, he said, considered their education neglected if they were not taught to play bridge.

Many honors wee bestowed on M. E. Pearson in recognition of his contribution to education. He was a charter member of the Kansas Schoolmasters Club and served several times a president. He was a former president and member for twenty years of the board of directors of the Kansas State Teachers Association. For twelve years he was on the board of directors of the National Education Association, whose meetings he had attended for 30 years without absence. Part of the time he served as state director for the NEA.

Locally his interest drew him into youth groups. He was present when the Boy Scouts of the city applied for their charter and was given their highest award, the Silver Beaver honor. For seven years he was president of the Wyandotte Chapter.

Mr. Pearson was a charter member of the Board of Directors of the Camp Fire groups here. He was president of the local Red Cross for six years and on the Bethany Hospital board for thirty years. At a meeting at his home in 1923, the London Heights Methodist Church was organized.  Baker University awarded him a master's degree in 1907.  His Kansas Speller, published in 1917, was used throughout the state.

F. L. Schlagle, who upon Mr. Pearson's recommendation, became the new superintendent, was born on a farm near Linwood, Kansas, and graduated from the KCKs High School in 1909.  After teaching in Syracuse, KS, two years and at Wolcott, KS, for one year, he entered the city system in 1912 as principal of Kerr School.  When the new junior high school opened in 1916, he was appointed assistant principal.

After serving as an ensign in the Navy during World War I, he returned in 1919 to take over the principalship of Argentine High School.  When Mr. Pearson requested an assistant in 1924, Mr. Schlagle was selected for the position.  After eight years, he became superintendent.  Floy McMullin, a board member, had been a student in 1916 in the junior high school.  He was given the privilege of placing Mr. Schlagle's name in nomination for superintendent.

Mr. Pearson began his last round of visits to the schools in February.  Younger administrators sought his advice when he came to their schools where he spent a half hour in each room.  On February 10, the Hawthorne PTA held a reception at the Western Highlands Presbyterian Church.  Two hundred fifty people attended.  Instead of retiring to a life of rest and travel as he announced he would do, Mr. Pearson continued as a teacher of education and psychology at Junior College.

When F. L. Schlagle, new superintendent, addressed the teachers at his first convocation on September 10, 1932, at old Wyandotte High School, he told a grim story of economy and retrenchment in the schools.  From the end of WWI to 1929 the country had undergone a period of great prosperity.  By 1932 it was living in the valley of a great depression, the worst in history.  After increments had been added to salaries, the board was forced to make a cut of 10% from the scheduled amounts.

There were 22 fewer teachers for the year, for no replacements had been made for those leaving the system.  The two open air rooms were closed, as were the opportunity, deaf and night schools.  For the first time since the establishment of the school system, there was not one new teacher to introduce to the assembly.  Even the girls from the Teachers Training Class were without contracts.  The schools faced a loss of $465,000 for operating expenses.

Mr. Schlagle explained that schools were in the midst of an economic breakdown with increased responsibilities and decreased resources.  Young people, unable to find work, were returning to high school.  Only 5% of the national income went to the support of schools.  Many people, however looked on public education as a luxury, not as a social and economical necessity.  Free public education, procured for the common people with great hardship, was facing destruction, he told the teachers.

The PTA was asked to collect used clothing and textbooks for needy children.  Teachers were urged not to let down in their taking of professional work every three years.  When fewer young people could attend college, standards must be kept high in the other departments.  By high standards, the superintendent said, he did not mean a high percentage of failures.  Schools should fit the children by adjusting the curriculum to the need and abilities of the students.

Weekday church schools grew under the direction of Mrs. Ethel Higby.  Religious Education Week, observed in September, brought praise to Mrs. Higby for the success of the Negro church schools.  In the spring an "expressional" exhibit was held.  The World Sunday School Conference held in Rio de Janerio in August, 1932, requested that the display be sent there.  Workshops were conducted in the city for teachers in the weekday schools.

Miss Bessie Miller, music supervisor, chose "George Washington" as the Music Week theme, in honor of the bicentennial.  George M. Cohan's "Father of the Land We Love" and "The Toast" by Francis Hopkinson, 1778, first American composer, were added to featured colonial songs.

Deaths of several people well known in the schools occurred.  On January 7, Miss Cora May Showalter, Central teacher, died.  She had directed practice teachers and had served as president of the Grade Teachers Club of the Council.  Dr. Mary A. Dougherty, associate professor of education at John Hopkins University in Baltimore, died on January 8.  She taught at Longfellow School from 1894-1915 and was known for her work with primary children and her skill at story telling.  A former teacher of mechanical drawing at the high school, Ray Stone, died in Chicago.  He was general manager of the American City Bureau Headquarters.

The Buick Company held a nationwide contest.  Dr. Edward W. Walker, a teacher here in the late 1800's made headlines by winning $25,000 first prize.  Miss Grace Roberts, Longfellow principal, was also one of the winners.  Two pin oaks, one in honor of Mr. Pearson and one for Miss Hazel McCallum who died in 1932, were planted in the McKinley School Memory Garden.  Miss Leona Sheppard, supervisor, had begun the garden as part of a beautification project when she was principal at the school.

Mr. and Mrs. W. R. Honnell invited all school personnel to attend their 30th wedding anniversary on January 24.  The night school honored graduates with four years of perfect attendance by electing them to a Hall of Fame.  Dean J. F. Wellemeyer sought federal assistance for his students in Junior College, as depression years had brought a drop in enrollment.  The govern promised some Civil Works Administration jobs for young people.  Club women of the city founded a scholarship fund for Carrie Davis Pearson, who had died in 1924.

Miss Edith Hopkins, primary supervisor, established a Junior Primary Department in ten or twelve schools to create "reading rediness" for children too immature for regular work.  The plan originated in California where much research and study had preceded it.

The PTA groups of the city continued the operation of a Thrift Shop at the Louisa M. Alcott School, where clothing was repaired and given to families unable to purchase new garments.  The board saved money be operating on a cash basis and limiting outlay mainly to maintenance and repairs.

The Sumner Athletic field on 8th Street was dedicated on October 28.  A small plot of ground on the northwest corner of 8th and Oakland was purchased for a future Sumner building.

The old Court House on 7th and Minnesota made way for a new department store.  [Annotation:  This location was to house only three different organizations over the next 100 years.  The old Court House, Montgomery Ward, Board of Public Utilities and then back to the city government with the KCKs Police Dept.]   The 7th Street Trafficway was finished from Quindaro Blvd south to the Kaw River.  When a new bridge was built, the last gap between Rosedale and the rest of the city would be filled.

Next Section   1933

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

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