History of Education in Wapello County, IA
From: History of Wapello County, Iowa
By Harrison L. Waterma, Supervising Editor
The S. J. Clarke Publishing Co. Chicago 1914


Nowhere in the United States were public educational foundations laid with more breadth and care than in Iowa. From the days of the first message of Governor Lucas, the first of the territorial governors, careful provision was made for the instruction of Iowa youth and their training for good citizenship. The foundations long preceded the superstructure. In an article upon the topic, "Institutional Beginnings," in the Annals of Iowa, July, 1898, Prof. Jesse Macy of the chair of history in Grinnell College, treats of this feature of Iowa educational history.

"As an instance of discrepancy between statutes and history the early school laws may be given. If you ask an early settler in Iowa when this state introduced public schools, he will tell you that the public school system did not become thoroughly established till about 1854 or 1855. But were there not schools earlier than that? Yes, but they were private schools; or they were partly private and partly public. In each neighborhood, as soon as there were enough children of school age a meeting of the citizens was called, a place and plan for a schoolhouse determined upon, a day set for building, and at the appointed time they all came out and built. Then they hired a teacher and kept up the school as 'best they could. From the earliest territorial statutes one would infer that schools were then established in Iowa free to all white persons between the ages of four and twenty one. Counties were organized into districts on petition of a majority in the proposed district. School districts were elaborately officered with seven officials for each district, and there were minute provisions for the management of schools. According to the statutes of Iowa, the territory and afterward the state was abundantly and thoroughly supplied with the privileges of free public schools for all white children. The statutes are abundant and, as they are closely examined, one is convinced that they are not merely formal acts which had made their way into the reeords and been forgotten. They are real, living laws, prepared with great care, and revised and made more elaborate at each session of the Legislature. Yet, if you turn from those records and study the actual school system of the territory and the state, you will find that the free school was a plant of slow growth; that for years there were no free schools; and the great body of our citizens are under the impression that our public school system dates back only to about 1854.


"Prof. T. S. Parvin, who was the first man appointed to the superintendency of public instruction in Iowa, states that those early law makers knew quite well, at the time they framed their laws, that there were no public schools, and could not be in the greater part of the state but they expected to have the schools some time, and they believed that the passing of good school laws would have the effect of encouraging immigration. These statutes expressed a longing of the people for a time when there would be seven persons living near enough together on these prairies fitted to hold school offices and manage a public school in their various neighborhoods. In the meantime such statutes could be made immediately available for purposes of advertisement in the East, and thus assist in bringing about the state of society desired."

The earliest schools in Iowa were supported by the contributions and tuition of the pioneer settlers. The first school taught within the present limits of Iowa was presided over by Berryman Jennings, who opened a school in October, 1830, at what is now known as Nashville, Lee County. At this time Iowa was a portion of Michigan Territory. Mr. Jennings' school lasted through November and December and was held in a building which he describes: "This schoolroom was like all other buildings in the new country, a log cabin built of round logs or poles notched close and mudded for comfort; logs cut out for doors and windows, also fireplaces. The jamb back of the fireplace was of packed dry dirt, the chimney topped out with sticks and mud."

It was strange that the second school opened in the state was within a few miles of the Jennings School: It was taught by I. K. Robinson and dated from December 1, 1830, but two months after the pioneer pedagogue rang his bell at Nashville.

Realizing the importance of educating their children, the men and women, who came to this new county from long settled localities in the eastern and middle western states, as soon as they had constructed habitations and assumed community interests, built schoolhouses, but in many townships schools were in operation before houses were built for the pupils. A few children would be taught in a room of one of the log cabin homes, the parents in turn boarding the teacher and paying a certain stipend in addition. Then came the log school, many of which were built by the settlers, at no expense other than that of their own cheerfully given labor. Herein the children gathered during the winter months and were instructed from a motley collection of text books, in "readin', writin' and 'rithmetic." They stood on a puncheon floor to recite their lessons and used a board laid on pegs for a writing desk. Of the latter there was none. Seats were of hewn logs.

In Dahionega, Agency, Eddyville and Ottumwa, schools were taught in the early '40s. In 1847, a mill was built in Eddyville and the first work turned out was lumber for a schoolhouse. But who taught the first school in the county is not clear to the memory of those who made matters of this description a study. Judge Hendershott hesitated between Erskine Rush and a Mr. Tansey in giving the palm for the distinction. He rather leaned toward Mr. Tansey, who had a school at Dahionega.

The first courthouse was built and occupied in 1846 and children were taught the rudiments of an education within its walls, but according to the Courier, of issue, September 22, 1848, there was not at that time a school building in the county seat. There were, however, two private schools, and the one in the courthouse was of the number.

In The year 1850 Ottumwa had two frame houses devoted to school purposes, and in 1853 Miss Lavina Chandler opened a private school in one of these buildings, which stood in the eastern part of town. Two years later the Misses Hornby opened a school in the second story of a business block and shortly after W. A. Sutliff taught a select number of pupils at the expense of their parents. On October 8, 1855, the Ottumwa Seminary was opened, under the management of Dr. A. G. Lucas and O. R. Johnson.

A called meeting, the first of which there is any record obtainable, was held by "the directors of Ottumwa City School District" in the office of S. B. Thrall, May 15, 1858; J. M. McElroy was president; W. L. Orr, vice president, and S. B. Thrall, secretary. What the real purpose of the meeting could have been does not appear, as nothing was accomplished of any moment. At an adjourned meeting held on the 18th of the month, a committee was selected, who later secured from the trustees of the Methodist Church permission to use the church building for school purposes, free of rent.

Matters now began to look serious to the school board, as the number of children was increasing and in proportion thereto school facilities were lagging. When the board met in September, 1858, the secretary made the declaration that "if a school was to be kept any length of time during the following year, it would be necessary to levy a tax to pay the larger part of the expenses." Then arose the question as to the length of the school year to be maintained. One advocated ten months, another nine months, and still another six months. The members desiring nine months' school during the year prevailed.

No provision had been made for the construction of a suitable school building until the March meeting of the board in 1861. Then Charles F. Blake moved a tax to be levied, of five mills on the dollar, on the taxable property of the district, to build a schoolhouse. At this time Ottumwa had a population of 1,632 and was growing. Time went on and finally in the year 1863 excavation of ground on "College Square" for the proposed building was commenced. It was finished in 1865, at a cost of about $29,000. This was the old Adams Building, which was rebuilt in 1883, at an expense of $28,000. It was then that the present system of Ottumwa schools may be said to have properly begun. Previous to that the schools were scattered over the city, with as many systems as there were teachers. There had been no superintendent or recognized head of schools, but upon the occu pation of the Adams Building, Dr. C. C. Warden was elected president of the board of education, with L. M. Hastings, superintendent of schools. Prof. Wilson Palmer superseded him in 1873, and he, in turn, was followed, in 1876, by Prof. A. W. Stuart, who remained in the position many years, ranking as one of the prominent educators of the state.

Ottumwa has spent treasures upon its educational institutions. The old Douglas, on West Second, was built in 1874, for $6,000, and enlarged in 1877, at a further cost of $4,000. In 1909 a new structure was erected at a cost of $32,000.

The Lincoln School was built in 1879, and cost $30,000. An addition was built in 1901. The Irving School was erected in 1886, at a cost of $20,000. It also was given an addition in 1901, and the improvements on these two schoolhouses amounted to $25,000.

The Garfield school building, on Ash and Plum streets, was constructed in 1882, at a cost of $22,000; The Hedrick, located at Summit and Valley streets, in 1888, cost $20,000; the Agassiz, at Williams and Weller, in South Ottumwa, in 1882, cost $20,000; and the Franklin, situated at Walnut Avenue and Schworm Street, in 1893, cost $20,000. In 1912, the Franklin school building was given an addition at an outlay of $9,345.

In 1904, the Orchard School, on Orchard Street, was built, at a cost of $5,653, and the Fairview School, in Fairview Addition, was erected at a cost of $5,100.

Some time prior to the year 1907 the board of education took in the Star School District, and built in the year named, at a cost of $25,000, the Jefferson School. The building is outside of the corporate limits of Ottumwa. In 1912 the Stuart schoolhouse in South Ottumwa, on Ward and Wilson streets, was erected at a cost of $45,000. The High School, a magnificent building standing on West Fourth and Ottumwa streets, was erected in 1899 and cost the taxpayers $50,000.

Prof. A: W. Stuart, in whose honor one of the modern new school buildings was named, died in October, 1912, after having served as superintendent of the Ottumwa public schools thirty six years. The present incumbent, H. E. Blackmar, succeeded him December 11, 1912. Under the superintendent's jurisdiction is a corps of teachers, numbering 144.

The present members of the board of education are: M. B. Hutchison, president; J. A. Wagner, secretary; W. H. McElroy, treasurer; H. E. Blackmar, superintendent; G. B. Simmons, J. M. Majors, J. B. McCarroll, C. D. Evans, G. B. Heindel, H. B. Somers.


Throughout the county in the various townships are maintained district schools which give the children educational facilities of an order that is improving from year to year. Adams has six; Cass, three; Columbia, seven; Green, six; Keokuk, seven; Pleasant, nine; Polk, eight; Richland, eight; Agency, three; Center, nine; Competine, nine; Dahionega, three; Highland, eight; Washington, nine. Agency City has one schoolhouse; Blakesburg, one; Chillicothe, one; Eddyville, one; Eldon, two; Kirkville, one; and Ottumwa, thirteen. Most of the country schoolhouses are of frame construction, but there are exceptions to this. For instance, there is the Cross Roads schoolhouse in Agency Township, which is a substantial, modern, square brick building, with porch at the front entrance. The building was erected in 1906, at a cost of $2,000. The Competine Building cost $3,000. Center School building in Center Township, cost $2,000. There are employed in the county twenty six male teachers and two hundred and eighty one female teachers. The average compensation per month of female teachers is $43.55; males, $46.94.


Albion Wesley Stuart, son of Ezekiel Eastman and Emeline (Newcomb) Stuart, was born June 11, 1839, at Etna, Maine. His boyhood was spent at Orono, Maine, but his preparation for college was completed at Hampden Academy. At Bow doin he was a member of the Peucinian Society, and the Delta Kappa Epsilon Fraternity. Upon graduation he gave himself to educational work. He was principal of the academy at North Anson, Maine, for two years, of Parsonfield Academy for one year, and of the high school at East Abington, Massachusetts, in 1866 and 1867. The latter year he removed to Iowa and was superintendent of the public schools of Marion for two years. He was superintendent of schools at East Des Moines from 1869 to 1872, and at Fort Dodge from 1872 to 1876. In the latter year he was chosen to a similar position at Ottumwa, which he held with acceptance until his death. This occurred October 16, 1912, the result of a stroke of apoplexy.

Mr. Stuart received the degree of Master of Arts from his alma mater in 1866, conducted many teachers' institutes in his adopted state, and held several high positions in its educational associations. His marked success in his chosen work and the great influence he possessed in the community in which he labored for nearly forty years, was due to his own personality. A quiet, dignified, but unassuming gentleman, devoted and faithful in every department of his educational work, animated by the highest ideals of Christianity, his death evoked an expression of esteem and affection of which the greatest could have been proud.

Mr. Stuart married, August 25, 1868, Frances Augusta, daughter of Rufus and Phebe (Noyes) Brett, of Farmington, Maine, who survives. him with two of their four children, Edward E. Stuart, of Chicago, Illinois, and Emma Brett, wife of George C. Edgerly, of Omaha, Nebraska.

The Ottumwa Courier, under date of October 18, 1912, had the following to say:

"The huge assembly room of the Ottumwa High School, usually a place of life, joy and happiness, was today transformed into a place of death, sadness and mourning. The song of gladness and praise gave way to dirges and the usual words of instruction for the guidance of youth, gave way to testimonials by pastors and friends of a man's life that was well spent. Fully 5,000 persons passed through the assembly room and bid a last farewell to their chief teacher, Prof. Albion W. Stuart. The remains of Professor Stuart lay in state immediately in front of the rostrum in the assembly room and were viewed from 9.30 until 12.30, by the thousands of his friends in Ottumwa during the interval. The children of all ages from the various schools of the city came in a body to pay their last respects to their beloved superintendent. The entire block on West Fourth Street, from Cass to Ottumwa streets, was black with crowds that poured in a steady stream in and out of the high school while the remains lay in state."

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