(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 153-163 in:

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)



by H. E. Bruce, county superintendent

MCPHERSON COUNTY -- In the course of the dealings of Providence with the schools of our well-beloved county, many records of some historical importance have been lost and forgotten—- nothing save the moral effect, which will last forever, is now felt. In order to rescue from total oblivion many more such valuable facts and data, the author has herein attempted to collect and preserve them for future use and reference.

This should not be an attempt to criticise or praise any of the matters of fact, which are merely recorded in chronological order and in narrative style. It should be remembered by all that the early records of the office of county superintendent are very incomplete and defective, and that anything like a complete statement of names will be impossible at this late day. Our school system has enjoyed a steady growth since its inception, and this it is that ought to be carefully traced.

Imagine, if possible, a log shanty 18 feet long, 10 feet wide, and 7 feet high, with a nearly flat roof, through which protrudes a piece of rusty stovepipe. See those two single six-pane windows on either side. Observe the cracks daubed with mud and the yard of buffalo grass, and you will have some idea of the very first public building in the county. It was the schoolhouse in No.1. No sooner was any vicinity settled than a district was carved out, and some kind of a place to school the children was provided. The chronological order of settlement may be accurately traced by the numbers of the school districts. The records of these districts reveal a fruitful story. ‘Tis this story which I shall attempt to narrate in the following pages as fully as the records will permit.

In May, 1870, when there were fully 100 children of school age in the county, a Swedish minister of the Lutheran Church at Lindsborg was appointed county superintendent. He is now president of Augustana College, Rock Island, Ill. A learned man, a true minister and an earnest worker was Rev. Olof Olsson, the first superintendent of McPherson county schools. He was elected for two years, in September, 1870, but in 1871 the people sent him to the Legislature, and Mr. John Connor was appointed to fill the vacancy. It was soon discovered that Mr. Connor was holding the office of county surveyor in Ellis county, and was teaching school in Saline county, and he was asked to resign. Mr. Phillip Wichersham, of Roxbury, was appointed in his stead January 1, 1872.

Mr. Olsson organized the first eight districts, as follows: Nos. 1 and 2, in Gypsum Creek valley; Nos. 3, 4, 5, and 6, in Smoky Hill valley; and Nos. 7 and 8, in Sharp's Creek valley—all located in the northern part of the county. Mr. Connor organized No. 9, northeast of Lindsborg. These were all very large districts, modeled without the least suspicion that there would be a future, and that order was nature's first law. Taxable railroad lands and private contributions were the sources of financial support. There is no record left by either of these gentlemen to show that they ever made any real effort to visit schools or to supervise the work of the teachers. It seems there were but few school laws until 1876, for every man obeyed the laws of the State from whence he came.

Ex-Superintendent Wichersham is still an honored citizen of McPherson. His entire time must have been occupied with the organizing, bond voting, site locating and boundary changing of the rapidly-settling county. He records that 73 districts were organized by him in five years. He deserves a pension. Under Mr. Wichersham, nearly the entire area of the county was included in the 82 school districts. Later and higher numbers are but subdivisions of the older districts.

M. P. Simpson and Mrs. Mattie Murphy were members of Superintendent Wichersham's examining board. Perhaps the first regular certificate ever issued in the county was signed by Philip Wichersham, March 30, 1872. It was issued to Barbara Wynn, of Lindsborg, and was good for six months. Her grades were as follows: Speling, 8; reading, 7; writing, 8; geography 7; grammar, 7; arithmetic, 7. It was called a second grade. C. W. Banks appears to have received the first first grade, in October, 1872, valid one year. His average on the six branches required was 80 per cent. Many certificates were issued with averages of 50 and 60 per cent. Salaries were $25 and $35 per month. Schools were formally visited occasionally by the superintendent; a kind of county association was held; no normal institutes were heard of; and examinations for certificates were very irregular. Superintendent Wichersham served five years, and started the first record books in the office. He attempted to organize districts so that they might be divided in the future and form two or three good districts. His work was more of a legal character than of a professional one.

Mrs. Mattie Murphy, wife of Dr. W. W. Murphy, became superintendent in 1877. She is now one of our leading members of society in the county seat. Twenty districts were organized by her during the four years she served. These were located in various parts of the county. In 1880, she edited six numbers of the McPherson County School Journal, which contained essays by pupils, teachers and superintendent on school matters. In one editorial we find these words: "Through feeling a just pride in our schools, I do not overlook their defects, nor consider them trifling, but hope and believe that the time is not far distant when McPherson will be the banner county in the State, so far as her educational standing is concerned." This was written 12 years ago. Her work at organizational and increased qualification on the part of teachers is still remembered, and its influence is still potent for good. None can successfully deny that the only lady superintendent the county has ever had began to lay the foundation for a system of educational advancement and power which has developed until no other county can excel it.

Superintendent Murphy's assistant examiners were: M. P. Simpson and E. C. Minton, first term; C. W. Vittum and M. M. Carter, second term. "As is the teacher so is the school," is a fact which constrains the author to be somewhat minute upon the qualifications of teachers. Mrs. Murphy's first "A-grade" certificate was issued to Mr. E. C. Minton, in August, 1877, with an average of 90 on the following branches: Orthography, reading, penmanship, geography, map drawing, arithmetic, grammar, history, constitution, physiology, music, theory and practice, bookkeeping, industrial drawing, botany, entomology, geology, and neatness of penmanship—- 18 subjects. The certificate was valid for two years.

The first normal institute was held in 1877, with S. B. Zimmerman as conductor. The enrollment was 60. Miss Jennie McKinstry, Mrs. Perine and E. L. Loomis were instructors. Mrs. Murphy's last institute, conducted by R. S. Iles, was a six-weeks term, with special academic work for A-grade teachers. Her work was largely professional.

January, 1881, found Mr. John A. Myers in the superintendent's chair. At the expiration of his term, in 1885, he became one of our leading business men. He moved to Joplin, Mo., in 1891. Twelve districts were organized by him. Innumerable boundary changes and the examination of teachers harrassed his peace of mind. His assistant examiners were Cyrus Cook, Miss Millie Hodges, Mrs. S. M. Whitzel, and Prof. E. W. Hulse. Examinations were held frequently, and three grades of certificates were granted: First grade, valid for two years; minimum 70, maximum 90; no theory and practice of teaching. Second grade, one year; minimum 60, maximum 80; no theory, physiology, bookkeeping, or physics. Third grade, six months; not less than 16 years of age; minimum 55, maximum 70; branches—spelling, reading, writing, grammar, history, geography, and arithmetic. Forty-five of the above first grades were issued in four years. The board asked all the questions. It would seem needless to remark that there is a very considerable difference between the questions propounded by the State Board now and those asked by the county boards in the halcyon days of yore.

Superintendent Myers supplied his office with a complete set of record books, and hence few records can be found prior to his term, except in manuscript form. There is one volume on district boundaries, kept since 1870, but of recent years it is very unreliable, owing to carelessness in keeping it. School visitation was made one of the special duties of the superintendent by Mr. Myers, and his records show that he canvassed the county annually.

Superintendent Myers was very fortunate in selecting good normal conductors and instructors, and in imbuing his teachers with higher moral and professional ideals. Many of the leading teachers of the county to-day began their pedagogic career under his supervision. His normal enrollment was large, and teachers' salaries gradually increased. The schools were left in a most prosperous condition for his successor.

Charles W. Vittum was elected county superintendent in 1884, and took the oath of office in January, 1885. Mr. Vittum is one of our business men at present. He organized four districts, bringing the number up to 118. He made the normal institute a powerful auxiliary in the training of his teachers. The county teachers' association, as far as numbers and enthusiasm were concerned, was a failure, mainly for lack of an interested leader. The school-land business, the organization of new districts, the settlement of legal questions, the preparing of examination questions, the changing of boundary lines, and such other routine work, almost disappeared in this administration. The superintendent devoted his time largely to a systematic overhauling of the schools per se. Two days each week sufficed to attend to all office work, and the superintendent was thus given opportunity to visit, to observe, to plan, and to execute; all in the direct interest of solid, systematic school supervision.

In 1885, the State Board began to formulate all questions for teachers' examinations. The present legal requirements obtained for first- and second-grade certificates. Third-grade certificates required nine branches, with a minimum of 60 and an average of 70 per cent. Applicants must be 16 years of age. Under the new law, many experienced teachers, who formerly held the best certificates, could obtain none save third grades. It was a sweeping change. Immediately teachers became students, and the effect of the new order of things was felt to the utmost bounds of the county, in every schoolroom. I. N. McCash and R. M. Conklin, A. Chatterton and I. G. Law, were assistant examiners for Mr. Vittum. Alvin Chatterton secured No. 1 of the first grades issued under the new regime, with an average of 96 per cent. C. M. Enns also secured the same average, followed by the author of these lines, who had taught but seven months and hence could not legally receive the certificate he had won. Miss Lydia Chatterton and Miss Sue Griffith have the honor of being the first ladies to hold such certificates. There were 18 issued by Superintendent Vittum.

In the latter part of his second term, with the financial aid of the county and the moral support of leading educators, he secured the adoption and successful introduction into nearly every schoolroom of Welch's common-school system of gradation and his classification record. Before the use of these progressive measures, no teacher had any definite aim or end in view. Each term forced pupils to begin each book anew. To complete a branch was to become the special comment in the district. Uniformity of work between schools was unknown. Pupils were not required to study any regular number of subjects. Having no objective point to strive to attain, they naturally became seriously affected with mental ennui. One month of each term, where teachers changed schools—- and changes were often as frequent as semi-annual—- was absolutely fruitless in its results. In the light of present attainments, our schools were in a state of chaos—- so unlike the State of Kansas.

Under the inspiration of this wise system of gradation and classification, which is constantly developing into a more perfect organization, each pupil has a true incentive to labor and to advance. It is called promotion from grade to grade and finally graduation, with a county diploma. Teachers, as well as pupils, labor intelligently and progressively. A new teacher is guided by the record left by his predecessor, and good work may be accomplished without loss of time or energy. This is system. It will be understood that the success attained now is the result of growth since 1888, and that pupils are growing into graduation gradually. The system has been a powerful agency, incidentally, in raising the percentum of enrollment and attendance.

For the introduction of this system, Charles W. Vittum will be remembered and congratulated by the pupils, teachers and officers of the county. Its present fruits are very satisfactory and encouraging; and its future, who can portray?

Mr. Alvin Chatterton became superintendent in 1889. Coffey county is now the place of his habitation, where he still pursues his profession. He organized district No. 119, and made no changes in the qualifications required for certificates. He pushed the classification and grading of the schools with indefatigable perseverance and energy. His school-visitation record was far in advance of his predecessors, and he had the honor of having the most largely attended normal institute on record for McPherson county—- 221 enrolled.

In 1889, a new constitution was adopted by the teachers' association, and H. E. Bruce was elected its first president. Under his energetic management the organization began to assume successful appearances in attendance and enthusiastic discussions, Superintendent Chatterton always being present and taking part in the exercises—- a good departure former precedent. S. L. Armstrong became its second president, followed by R. N. McConnell, and then by E. M. Rider, who is now in charge. District associations were first organized by Mr. Chatterton. They were fairly successful from the start.

I. G. Law, E. W. Myler, H. E. Bruce, J. J. Caldwell and H. J. Duvall served at different times as associate examiners. Thirteen first-grade certificates were issued, and scores of progressive teachers became earnest aspirants for the high honor. The graduation of pupils from the district schools having assumed gigantic proportions, the superintendent introduced a graduates' examination and a series of separate commencement exercises, all of which were executed with very gratifying results.

Mr. Chatterton will be remembered for the advanced ground he took in regard to two matters of vital importance affecting our school system. It was mainly owing to his advice and guidance that the people were induced to adopt county uniformity of text-books. Formerly there were many series in use. Those children whose parents moved frequently were compelled to use old books or as often purchase new ones. Teachers changing schools must needs become acquainted with the arrangement and ideas of many widely different authors before they could teach successfully. Cost of books at retail was exorbitant. Many series were 20 years old. Often one class would use several different authors. All these gross evils were remedied at a single stroke by county uniformity.

Our teachers soon knew each book thoroughly, and the uniform grading of schools was better accomplished. The books adopted by a committee of leading citizens and teachers are as follows: New National Readers, Ray's Mathematics, Reed & Kellogg's Language, Hutchinson's Physiologies, Reed's Word Lessons, Spencerian Penmanship, Eclectic History, Butler's Geographies, and Young's Constitution. Retail prices were lowered. Through the efforts of the superintendent, each district was donated a reading chart and a writing chart—a nucleus for a complete set of apparatus. The above books were adopted for five years, beginning January 1, 1891.

The second line of special effort on the part of Superintendent Chatterton was an endeavor to obey the law as regards educational lectures. He held many public evening meetings, at which the entire neighborhood gathered. The children and the teachers rendered a short program, and the superintendent delivered a lecture upon one of various topics, such as school law, keeping records, duties of the county superintendent, duties of officers and parents, explanations of methods now in use. These meetings soon proved a wonderful aid in awakening an interest in school affairs. It may be worthy of remark that no superintendent in the future can afford to omit this part of the work. It offers an inviting field for a very useful sort of "university extension" among the common people. Superintendent Chatterton edited a useful and effective educational column in the McPherson Republican for two years. He retired with the schools in excellent operation, after making a record which many taxpayers will partially fail to appreciate, and therefore give him credit for. His administration was a decided success in many important particulars.

The second Monday of January, 1891, the author of this sketch began the laborious task of supervising the rapidly-developing schools of the county. His administration was made a novelty in numerous respects. New exigencies demanded new methods of treatment. His work was almost entirely professional in its nature. He organized two new districts and made several minor changes in district boundaries. His assistant examiners were: J. J. Caldwell, H. J. Duvall, and E. M. Rider. They issued 26 first-grade certificates, and raised the standard until no other county requires more of its teachers. A full single examination is now necessary. Study this table of legal requirements for certificates in McPherson county:

Age must be over 17 17 18
Months must have been taught 0 3 12
Numbers of branches must take 9 10 12
Must not fall below 60 60 70
Must average at least 75 80 90
Number years valid 1 2 3

A more complete grading of the country schools was vigorously advocated, and many new schemes were introduced successfully to increase the attendance and regularity of pupils. It might be well to refer to the system of monthly reports from teachers. The school reports of the entire county, containing enrollment, average attendance, cases of tardiness, number of visitors, and names of pupils neither absent nor tardy, were received by the superintendent and published each month. The reader will at once observe what a powerful incentive was thus offered to teachers and pupils to excel in these vital matters. The medium of intercommunication referred to above was called Our Organizer, a three-column monthly folio, issued ten times in each year, with the county superintendent as editor. Two complete volumes of this school paper were issued, and it would seem superfluous at this time to add that no other single contrivance ever employed by a superintendent accomplished more satisfactory results in so short a period of time. The 121 districts, the 200 licensed teachers,. the 370 school officers, the 8,000 school children and the host of parents and patrons of the district schools were brought into a closer acquaintance and into an army of co-laborers by this single agency. Every conceivable item of common interest, official and otherwise, was boldly discussed in its columns. Its circulation at one time was 3,000 copies, and its influence was felt everywhere.

Superintendent Bruce conducted his own normal institutes, and was, with a single exception, always assisted by home talent. Prof. A. Ludlum, Pres. S. Z. Sharp and Mrs. M. A. Ludlum were instructors. The institutes was held in June each year, the last one being a five-weeks term. Attendance was rewarded by giving teachers normal recommendations asking school officers to give the holders preference.

A school calendar was successfully used, and school boards required to report the proceedings of the annual meeting in regard to teachers immediately, thus aiding teachers in seeking employment. Teachers' association programs were issued in pamphlet form, giving the work of the entire year, together with much useful information. Rarely did an association converse with less than 100 in attendance. District institutes were continued, the county being divided into from five to seven districts, each one having a regular organization.

Common-school graduates were required to pass three examinations—one in December, one in February, and one in April. The standard was thus materially raised. The grades required were 60 and 75 per cent. on the final examination. The questions were all prepared by the superintendent, and the manuscripts graded by a special committee of eight teachers. Commencement exercises were held during May in various village and rural districts, the county superintendent always presenting the diplomas. During this term, the superintendent's office was supplied with an improved set of blank forms in nearly every department of the work, specially prepared by the author. These new forms will be used for years to come.

The Kansas teachers' reading circle was an object of especial favor and solicitude on the part of the superintendent and the leading teachers. It is a two-book course, and requires no admission fee. The books were purchased by teachers, through the superintendent, read and discussed at teachers' meetings, and an examination held therein during the county normal. Barnes's General History and Page's Theory and Practice were the first set, and Hawthorne's American Literature and Compayre's Lectures on Teaching, the second set. The circle was a grand success, having 115 members the first year, and about the same number the second year. It bids fair to prosper in the future.

Mr. Bruce made the banner record on school visitation and number of lectures delivered. He made nearly 300 visits in two years, and delivered to schools, associations and educational meetings over 230 lectures, ranging from 10-minute talks to two-hour speeches on dozens of subjects of special interest and importance to the schools. School laws were distributed to every board in the county as the schools were visited, and common-school diplomas were presented to 132 graduates. He was the first superintendent of the county to hold a State certificate, which he secured while in office.

The author was succeeded January 9, 1893, by Mr. I. G. Law, a cultured and conservative gentleman, old in the profession and thoroughly identified with the schools of the county. He will undoubtedly make the next chapter of our county's school history interesting. Our teachers, officers, patrons and taxpayers will permit no retrogression in school matters. They will "upward still and onward to keep abreast of truth" in all matters pertaining to the education of our youth. The most charming and significant chapters of the educational history of this county are yet to be recorded. These pages, by the way of prediction, are but the beginning of a fruitful future.

It is barely possible that a condensed summary of what the schools now possess and are, will be of historic value some day.

Our schools are a little over 22 years old. There are now 122 school buildings, most of which are provided with proper apparatus. The value of school property is estimated at $173,000. The last census showed nearly 8,000 school children. There are 150 teachers employed. The sum of $60,000 is spent annually to support the public schools, or about $10 per pupil enrolled. The following table will reveal something interesting. The general record of each superintendent is reported:

O. Olsson 1870 21 32 2 $28 12 ....
P. Wickersham 1873 58 42 19 $32 16 ....
Mrs. Murphy 1878 61 51 91 $28 18 ....
J. A. Myers 1882 67 54 116 $30 20 ....
C. W. Vittum 1888 72 64 137 $44 24 12
A. Chatterton 1890 74 67 144 $41 25 88
H. E. Bruce 1892 78 73 150 $43 26 132

God grant that the schools may continue to develop in the direction indicated by the figures in this table.

With our system of close supervision, county uniformity of text-books, and educational lectures, who will dare to deny that progress is inevitable? Citizens have a fair understanding of school law, teachers will compare favorably in culture, ability and experience with their colaborers in the profession, their moral example is superior, schoolrooms are being transformed from the public house into the parlor, and supplied with every comfort and necessity, libraries are becoming fashionable, visitation has enormously increased, records are being kept better than ever before, annual meetings are more numerously attended, few schools take pride in maintaining an old reputation for general wickedness, good lyceums are common, many teachers are retained indefinitely, school terms are regulated as to time of closing, there are a few more teachers than schools, true incentives abound, teachers' meetings are enthusiastic and profitable, the normal-institute season is the gladdest of the year, and it is devoutly hoped that teaching will speedily be recognized as a profession, and that teachers will rank in society, politics and business with lawyers, physicians, dentists, and ministers of the gospel.

McPherson City Schools—-- The following data are kindly furnished by Supt. Addison Ludlum, one of the best educational workers the county ever had. The normal and the association are fields where he has sown the best of seed. The influence of his mind and enthusiasm is felt in every school. He has made McPherson city schools, the State over, synonymous with advanced ideas and methods.

The city schools have passed through the different phases of growth incident to a new country. The beginnings were, of course, humble. One room on Main street, near the post office, was first used. George Shepherd was the first teacher. This was in 1870. In 1876, a frame building of one large room was built on the site of the West building. This was at a cost of $1,600. Harrison Bowker, William West and Benjamin Smith constituted the first school board.

In 1879, 1880, and 1881, C. W. Vittum had charge of the schools. The enrollment increased in these years from 191 to 326, and four rooms were required. In 1883-‘84, E. W. Hulse was superintendent and principal. The census showed 875 children of school age. The enrollment had increased to 610, and eight teachers were employed. A high-school course was outlined, and the first class, numbering four, was graduated in 1883. J. H. Everest took charge the two following years. Nine teachers were employed, and the school property was valued at $15,000. W. D. Gardner was superintendent during the school year of 1886-‘87. The enrollment was 700, and 10 teachers were required.

A. Ludlum was elected superintendent in 1887, and has continued in charge until this time. Fifteen teachers are employed, and 900 pupils enrolled. Two magnificent buildings, containing 17 rooms, are in use. Both are commodious, and a credit to any city. The school property is valued at $70,000, and furniture and apparatus at $3,500. A carefully-prepared course of study is followed in all grades, and teachers chosen on account of special fitness have charge of the upper-grade work in reading, grammar, arithmetic, geography, and history. Mrs. Mary A. Ludlum, also an effective normal instructor, for the past six years has taught the high school. Pupils are fitted to enter the freshman year of colleges and the State University. Sixty students have graduated from the high school. The present class numbers 13.

The examination of city teachers is independent of the county. The examining board consists of the city superintendent and two persons elected by the board of education. Certificates are issued for one, two and three years. The latter is renewed without examination. Scholarship is recognized as of the utmost importance. At an examination subsequent to the first, the special teacher of reading is required to pass an examination in elocution, English and American literature; the teacher of grammar is required to take an examination in rhetoric, history of the English language, and literature; the teacher of geography, to pass in physical geography and general history; and the teacher of arithmetic, to pass in algebra. Examinations held at the option of superintendent.

Those who have been high-school principals are Mrs. S. M. Whitzel, F. A. Hutto, Mr. Stanley, and Mrs. M. A. Ludlum. Those who have had charge of the special work are Miss Valorie Patterson, Elva Field, Addie Heitz, Fannie Patterson, Elnora White, Lalla Milligan, Lottie E. Montrose, J. E. Tyler, S. L. Lowrey, Jessie Hill. It has been the invariable policy of the school board to recognize scholarship and ability, and to retain deserving teachers. The wisdom of this was made apparent, and those teachers who developed a special fitness for their work and remained in the schools became a great power for good.

Necessary apparatus is provided, and 600 carefully-selected volumes are in the library. There are few better arranged, equipped or more cheerful high-school rooms. Those presidents of the school board who have done much in the interest of the schools are G. M. Stabler, M. P. Simpson, J. Q. Barnes, J. R. Wright, E. P. Williams, G. H. Maltby, and D. C. Welch. The board at present consists of 10 members—two from each of the four wards, and two from sub-district territory. They are all active workers, interested in school affairs. The citizens of McPherson can well be proud of their schools and of those who toil therein.

transcribed by Rita Troxel, State Library of Kansas



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