A HISTORY OF COWLEY COUNTY SCHOOLS
(from a book written in 1893)

The following text was transcribed from chapters on the history of education in individual Kansas counties found on pages 111-115 in:

THE COLUMBIAN HISTORY OF EDUCATION IN KANSAS...
compiled by Kansas educators and published under the auspices of the Kansas State Historical Society, for the Columbian Exposition.
(Topeka, Kan. : Hamilton Printing Company : E. H. Snow, state printer, 1893)

HISTORY AND GROWTH OF SCHOOLS, BY COUNTIES

COWLEY COUNTY

by A. H. Limerick

COWLEY COUNTY -- The winter of 1869-70 witnessed the first white settlement of Cowley county. Steps were at once taken for the organization of schools. Governor Harvey organized the county in 1870. In November of the same year, L. B. Waumsey was elected county superintendent, and the following winter he died. E. P. Hickok was appointed to fill the vacancy. The spring following, district No. 1, including Winfield, and district No. 2, including Arkansas City, were organized. In 1871, 37 districts were organized, the school population being 659; enrollment, 122; average daily attendance, 70, for the whole county.

The schools were taught in such houses as could be secured; even at later dates unoccupied claim houses were utilized as "temples of learning." A description of one might be taken as a type of the majority. The first school in Rock township was taught in the claim house of Mr. Frank Akers, on the south side of section 28, being 12x14 feet, built of green hackberry, with roof and floor of the same. As the boards seasoned, the cracks between them opened to an inch and a half. The roof was not waterproof, and the strips caused the rays of the sun to reflect upon the heads of the sweltering urchins within. The building boasted no windows—the cracks serving that purpose. The doors were not hinged to the building; but at night, or when storms approached, they were held in place over the apertures by a prop. The furniture was in harmony with the building. Blocks, sawed to the length of stovewood and placed upon end at proper intervals, supported planks fresh from the sawmill. Such were seats. The teachers sat upon one of the blocks, making up his record of the day with his register on his knees. Be it said to the credit of the early settlers, that this little room accommodated 42 pupils; and so earnest was the spirit of improvement that absence and tardiness were hardly known.

In 1872, there were 77 organized districts and 16 schoolhouses, many neatly built and well furnished; in 1875, there were 108 districts, with 58 schoolhouses; in 1880, 125 districts, with 108 schoolhouses; in 1890, 150 districts and 150 schoolhouses, having 175 rooms, with belongings, all valued at $126,450, employing 191 teachers, enrolling 6,590 scholars, expending for the support of schools, $70,000. This is exclusive of the two cities of the second class.

In 1872, Thos. A. Wilkinson was elected to succeed Mr. Hickok. R. C. Story was elected county superintendent in 1874; A. H. Limerick, in 1882; Ella S. Kelley, in 1886; Julia L. Caton, in 1888; and Lida S. Brady, in 1890. In each instance the superintendents have been selected from the first teachers of the county, and have taken into the office a broad experience, that has made the administration of the affairs of the office a potent force in the upbuilding of our educational system, and has given to Cowley an enviable place among her sisters counties.

The first normal institute was held at Winfield in August, 1877, the first year under the law providing for the same. While the holding of institutes was an experiment, 76 of the 148 teachers in the county enrolled at the first session. It was conducted by L. B. Kellogg, with G. W. Robinson, Ella Wickersham and George H. Buckman as instructors. Cowley county has held its regular annual institute since this initial meeting. John H. Holbrook conducted the session of 1878; William Wheeler, 1879; R. C. Story, 1880; P. J. Williams, 1881; J. W. Cooper, 1882; B. T. Davis, 1883, ‘84, 89; J. N. Wilkinson, 1885; L. M. Knowles, 1886; J. E. Earp, 1887; John Buchanan, 1888, ‘91, ‘92; and Julia L. Canton, in 1890. The sessions have usually been well attended, about 200 enrolling. In 1888, the enrollment reached 251. All the sessions have been held in Winfield, except the one of 1891, which was held in the new high-school building in Arkansas City, it being the first meeting held in the building.

Arkansas City Schools -— In 1871, on the picturesque peninsula between the Walnut and Arkansas rivers, was founded the town now known as Arkansas City; and scarcely were the streets defined and locations determined, when the attention of the intelligent and energetic home makers was turned to providing means of instruction for the children that were to inhabit the new city.

To Miss Lizzie Swartz (late Mrs. C. R. Mitchell) belongs the distinction of presiding over the first school in this section, in her log claim house in part of the city now known as "Swartz addition." Miss Swartz gathered about her children of "Creswell," as it was then called, and began the making of educational history for a new city.

In June, 1871, school district No. 2 was organized, and steps were at once taken for the erection of a schoolhouse, at a cost of $400. A wooden structure of one room was erected on the west side of South Summit street, which was, indeed, quite a neat affair for its time. Here Thos. A. Wilkinson, since county superintendent of schools, began the winter term of 1871-72. During the summer of 1872, Miss Collins taught the village school in the old wooden building, but since that term the school has been too large to be managed by one teacher. Since 1872, the principals or superintendents have been: E. W. Hulse, H. M. Bacon, E. R. Thompson, J. H. Sylvester, Orlin Phelps, C. Y. Atkinson, J. C. Weir, D. R. Boyd, and C. P. Hendershot. During the first years of the settlement, comparatively few children were among the settlers, as many who came to the frontier were young men in search of homes. In 1878, there were but 207 children of school age in the district, but 143 of these were enrolled in the schools, and the average daily attendance was but 73; but, in the decade that followed, the comparison gives some index to the rapid strides a Western city makes in growth. In 1888, the school population was 2,271, the enrollment 1,464, and the average daily attendance 1,341. In 1890, there were 2,528 children of school age, the enrollment was 1,848, with an average daily attendance of 1,231; while 1892 shows the school population to be 2,800, and the enrollment to be 2,100.

No improvements in building were made until 1874, when the first-ward building was erected, at a cost of $10,000. While we now remember this old first-ward building with a sort of condescension, it is with no little pride that we observe that, in those days of more humble conditions, it was so distinguished a landmark of our State's advancement that a full-page cut of it embellishes the report of the State Superintendent for 1878.

In 1885, the old building, with its two primary rooms on the same site, with the use also of the basement of the large building, was inadequate to accommodate the rapidly-increasing population, and the fourth-ward building was erected, at a cost of $10,000. This, as soon as finished, was crowded to overflowing, and, during the next year, the second-ward building was erected, costing, with the grounds, nearly $9,000. In 1887, the third-ward building was erected, and the stone building in the fourth ward enlarged, the two costing $25,000. In 1888, the old first-ward building was enlarged and improved, heating and ventilation being the supplied by the "Smead system," with dry closets.

In 1890, the new high-school building was erected, at a cost, with its environments, of $38,000. In point of architectural design, taste, and neatness of finish, it is amongst the best in Kansas. Its elegant chapel is seated with 600 opera chairs; its blackboards are of superior stone slate; its recitation and study rooms accommodate 450 pupils. In the spacious hall way is a foundation of bright, pure water, about which is a choice collection of plants. In the basement is a roomy laboratory, with modern conveniences for heat and water. The offices of the board of education and superintendent are finished in hard wood and marble, furnished with upholstered furniture, and neatly carpeted with Brussels carpet. It is heated throughout with the "Smead system," and is supplied with a fine library and the most-approved apparatus.

It has always been the good fortune of Arkansas City to have an efficient school board. While it was only a school district, the men who managed its affairs were fully alive to the demands of the time, and since the organization of the board of education, nothing has been neglected or overlooked that meant for the improvements of the schools. During these years, many of our busiest citizens have taken places on the board, and given cheerfully of their valuable time, with no hope of reward save that of seeing the educational interests of the community well administered. During the time of active building, the president of the board, Maj. L. E. Woodin, and the clerk, Mr. A. Wilson, gave much time and personal attention to the erection and improvement of buildings. The present officers, H. T. Roberts, president, Mr. James Benedict, clerk, are enthusiastic schoolmen, and are leaving nothing undone to secure the best results for the annual expenditure of nearly $30,000. There are, at present, 33 rooms, employing 35 teachers, besides the superintendent. The school year has usually been nine months, of four weeks each.

These elegant surroundings are in striking contrasts with the humble conditions of 20 years ago, and the pittance paid to Miss Swartz for her services bears a curious ratio to the $24,000 paid to teachers in the year ending August 1, 1890. Yet these startling developments of a score of years portend the colossal future of our new Southwest.

Winfield Schools -— Hardly had the echoes of the axe of the first settler of 1869 died away, when the public-spirited citizens of Winfield, with that unity of purpose which was a marked characteristic of the early residents, set about establishing a school, where their children might enjoy the facilities for an education. A structure 20x30 feet and 20 feet in height, consisting of two stories, was erected by the citizens from logs cut from the trees growing along the Walnut river. This building served a variety of purposes. At times the hewn logs reverberated to the eloquence of aspiring young attorneys, who had delved deep into the mysteries of Blackstone. Again, some adventurous young man, who had wearied of the humdrum of some quiet village farther east, and longed for the more exciting life of the frontier, condensed his collegiate lore into flowery language, hoping thereby to replenish his not over-corpulent purse, by delivering to the mentally-hungry Westerner a "scientific" lecture. In the same room, on Sunday, all of the town might be seen listening to the earnest prayer and exhortation of some divine, whose only thought was to lead to a higher and better life those who sat under his ministry.

This building was located on the present site of Manning's opera house. It was afterward removed to the ground where the Telegram office now stands, and was reduced to ashes a few years since. The upper room of this building was used for a private school during the summer of 1870, being presided over by Miss Anna Marks, later one of the leading teachers of the county. Her work was marked by earnestness and thoroughness. Rev. Mr. Parmelee, of the Congregational Church, followed Miss Marks, teaching during the week and preaching on Sunday. In the spring of 1872, bonds were voted, by which the people of Winfield were enabled to take steps toward the erection of a substantial stone edifice 36x36 feet, at a cost of $10,000, and consisting of two commodious rooms, which, however, did not meet the demands of the rapidly-growing population. Later, the long, low building, familiarly known as the "barracks," was built for the accommodation of the children of the primary grades. The basement of the Presbyterian Church was also used for school purposes.

When the place was chosen on which to build the schoolhouse, many protested against its location, as it was considered too far "out upon the prairie," most of the residences being then west of Main street. Notwithstanding these objections, the leaders, with keen foresight, saw a bright future for the city, and proceeded to erect on the chosen site the building which constitutes the north wing of the handsome structure, which is now the Central building. Rev. E. P. Hickok was employed as principal during the fall and winter of 1871-72, and continued to fill the place very efficiently until his resignation in 1875. A. B. Lemmon, afterward State Superintendent of Public Instruction, succeeded him. W. C. Robinson taught in 1876-77. G. W. Robinson taught in 1878-79, at which time there were 510 children of school age, 385 enrolled, and an average attendance of 230. By reference to census reports in 1887, we find that there were 1,693 pupils of school age, 1,311 enrolled, and an average daily attendance of 884. E. T. Trimble became principal in 1880, remaining until 1884. Ansel Gridley, jr., was his successor, who remained until his removal to Harper. J. H. Hays followed him, remaining until 1891. The present principal, J. W. Spindler, began work in the fall of 1891. The remarkable growth of the schools for the last 20 years can be better understood by comparing the number of pupils of the earlier and later dates. In 1870, the pupils numbered less than two score, with an attendance of 30. In 1892, the total enrollment was 1,390, with an average attendance of 984.

The fine stone structure in the first ward is known as the Central school building, and, with the grounds, occupies a block. The latter are covered with a beautiful greensward, and are ornamented with a variety of trees. While no useless expenditure and grounds attractive, and, at the same time, keep within reasonable limits as regards the use of money. The results are, that citizens feel a pardonable pride in pointing out this lovely spot to visitors in the city; the total cost, with grounds and buildings, amounting to $25,000. In the remaining wards, the expenditure has been sufficient to make the entire school property of the city worth over $60,000. The high-school room is located in the Central building, and has a seating capacity of 120. At present, the enrollment is 91. There are 14 rooms in the Central building, 10 in the other wards, making, in all, 24 rooms, employing 27 teachers. The Central building is provided with a well-equipped library of 400 volumes, carefully selected to meet the needs of high-school students. Three years since, the school board very wisely decided to appropriate money from the tuition of nonresident pupils for replenishing the library and purchasing philosophical and chemical apparatus. Besides these appliances, may be mentioned globes, maps, and models for drawing. The plan adopted by Supt. J. W. Spindler for the advancement of teachers is that of holding meetings the last Saturday of each month. A course of study for teachers having been previously assigned and several teachers chosen to prepare on the subjects studied, discussions follow, and, if time permits, suggestions are made relative to the regular school work. As often as once a week, or, when occasion demands, he calls his primary teachers together, to talk freely of the little annoyances which naturally arise in the work, of the best methods of instruction, of discipline, and, in short, of the variety of subjects which pertain to practical school work.

Southwest Kansas College -— At its March session, 1885, the Southwest Kansas Conference determined to locate a college somewhere upon its field, and appointed a board of trustees and a committee on location, and announced its readiness to receive proposals from towns desiring the location. Winfield at once became an active competitor for the location, and on the proposition that 40 acres of land should be given for the site, $60,000 for the erection of a building, and an annuity of $2,000 for two years, for the support of faculty, Winfield was chosen. In the summer of 1886, the foundations of the main building were laid, and plains were made for the opening of the school. Rev. John E. Earp, D. D., of Indiana, was elected president of the institution, and the first term opened in September, in the rooms now occupied by the Winfield Tribune. The attendance was far beyond the expectation of the trustees, and was quite phenomenal for a new institution. The next winter and spring the main building was completed and furnished. Near the college is a commodious three-story dormitory for ladies, and in a nice grove adjoining the campus is the president's residence, a comfortable home.

In 1890, Rev. M. E. Phillips, D. D., was elected to succeed Doctor Earp, and in the two years that he has been in charge of the school, the growth in attendance has been all that could be desired, the net enrollment for 1891-92 being 513. There are 13 teachers employed, and, for an institution of so recent a date, it takes high rank, there being a steady increase of students, and its moral and religious, as well as educational influence, is becoming a stronger factor among those daily associated with it, and in its immediate community.


Transcribed by Rita Troxel, Kansas State Library -- January, 2003

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