The following text was transcribed from chapters on the history of education in individual Kansas counties found on pages 105-107 in:
COFFEY COUNTY -- The first schools in this county were supported by subscription. Very little time was allowed to elapse after the first settler's cabin was built, which was in 1854, until educational matters were attended to. In 1857, three schools were in session. In Hampden, Miss Emily Ela, a graduate of the famous Mt. Holyoke Seminary, was the instructor; in Ottumwa, A. L. Storms wielded the rod; and in Le Roy, a young man by the name of Stacey nursed the tender buds of genius. To which of the three the honor of precedence in the time of opening school is due, history does not say. Several of our pioneer teachers were graduates of colleges and universities of high rank, though their positions were not very lucrative, as may be seen below.
The claim in the schools of the county which Miss Ela preempted for her sex has been ably held, so that, in this year of our Lord 1892, four-sevenths of those teachers are ladies. The right of the women to a freehold in educational matters was further defended by Miss Mary P. Wright, of this county, who was the first lady elected in the State to the office of county superintendent. This occurred in 1874. Her election was contested by her opponent, on the ground of ineligibility by reason of sex. The contest was finally decided in her favor by the Supreme Court, but as her term had nearly expired before the decision was made, she did not assume the duties of the office.
Districts were organized and taxes levied soon after Kansas became a State. The records of those early schools are far from complete. The oldest reports from district clerks now extant are dated 1862. These indicate the number of districts to have been 18; school population, 800; average term of school, three months; average salary, $11.35 per month.
The reports for 1892 make the following showing: Number districts, entire, 93; number districts, joint 11; school population, 5,708; enrolled in school, 4,752; average age attendance, 2,926; value of school property, $100,000; bonded debt of school districts, $36,250; number male teachers, 45; average salary, $44.91; number female teachers, 79; average salary, $33.42; average term of school, weeks, 28 1/4; paid out during year for school purposes, $50,000.
The tax for school purposes is fully 40 per cent. of all taxes levied. There are four graded schools in the county having high-school departments.
A normal institute of four weeks' duration has been held each year since 1877; these institutes are kept at a high standard by securing the best talent for instructors, and by the active interest of the teachers and pupils of the county. The effect of these institutes is shown in the superior efficiency of the teachers, and in the large number who are led thereby to seek a liberal education in the higher institutions of learning.
At an early day the Methodist Episcopal Church began the erection of a building for a college at Ottumwa, but, owing to a change of plans, it was turned over to the Christian Church, by whom the structure was completed. It was opened in 1863, under the name of the Western Christian University, with a collegiate course of study and an attendance of 130 students. This institution gained a high reputation for efficiency and thoroughness under the administration of Rev. J. M. Rankin. The building was destroyed by fire in 1871, and the university has ceased to exist.
List of county superintendents, with date of election: H. H. Johnson, 1860; Lewis W. Morey, 1861-62; John M. Rankin, 1864; B. Wheat, 1866; William Crow, 1868; J. S. Kline, 1870; George N. McConnell, 1872; Mary P. Wright, 1874 (did not serve); John M. Rankin, 1875; P. K. Wadhams, 1876; Joshua Robinson, 1878; J. C. Gray, 1880-82; Mary C. Williams, 1884; J. B. Manley, 1886; W. R. Cone, 1888; Geo. Schenck, 1890.
H. H. Johnson received for his year's salary county orders for $100, worth about $40; L. W. Morey, for his three year's services, received $150 in orders, worth $60; the present salary is $1,200 per year. Nearly all the schoolhouses in the county are comfortable, commodious buildings, with good furniture, and most of them fairly supplied with apparatus. A great variety of text-books is used. Only a small part of the pupils live over two miles from school. No children of sound mind grow up without learning to read and write. No other tax is so cheerfully paid as the school tax, and no other investment of money gives such general satisfaction as does that used in maintaining the free schools.
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