(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 186-190 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 Jacob Zerlie

RICE COUNTY -- The school system of Rice county had its beginning during the autumn and winter of 1871-72. On November 7, 1871, at a general election of the county, in which 98 votes were cast, E. C. Jones, who was also deputy county surveyor, and practically in charge of that office, was elected superintendent of public instruction for the county. He proceeded to organize the county into 26 school districts, only five of which were able to have any school during the winter of 1871-72. The next year that population had increased, and 253 votes were cast. R. D. Stephenson was elected, and began at once to lecture in different parts of the county, urging upon the people the necessity of making the schoolhouse "the center of attraction, the band of social union, and the progenitor of material, social and moral worth." His energy and faithfulness were not appreciated, and in 1874, J. Frazier was elected to succeed him. I find no records throwing any light upon the next two years. The population was rapidly increasing, and the organization of municipal towns and of townships seems to have absorbed the attention of the people.

In November, 1876, R. D. Stephenson was again elected. At this election, 814 votes were polled. Mr. Stephenson now seems to have taken up the matter of more thorough organization of the schools, and founded the first teachers' association of the county, and striven to inspire the teachers with a professional spirit. Tradition says that this association held a four-days session, December 25-29, 1876, which is, in a sense, the beginning of the Rice county teachers' institute. At this meeting, Mr. Stephenson gave valuable instruction on the theory and art of teaching, while Mrs. Nancy E. Harley, the secretary and treasurer of the association, gave lessons in the best methods of teaching the branches then enumerated in the common-school course. Mrs. Harley thinks that this association held another long session during the holidays of 1877, but I am unable to learn any particulars concerning the session.

During Mr. Stephenson's second term, the number of school districts was more than doubled, and many districts built schoolhouses. Mr. Stephenson, recognizing the unwritten law, refused to be a candidate for a third term. He was succeeded by the efficient secretary of the association, Mrs. Harley. She went to work with all the energy of her noble soul. She was a born educator, an ardent student, and a faithful friend.

"But to know her was to love her."

She died during her incumbency, a martyr, as many believe, to her faithfulness, leaving her children, three of whom are now teaching in this county, that best of legacies, a hallowed memory.

At her death, April 24, 1879, the county commissioners appointed C. W. Silver, a merchant of Lyons, to fill the vacancy until the next general election, and in November, 1879, Mr. Abbott was elected to fill the remainder of the term.

The county was now rapidly filling up, actual residents settling upon the school and University lands, bringing them into the market and placing them upon the tax list. The people now became restless, and demanded a reorganization of nearly all the districts. Many petitions seem to have been presented to change boundaries, organize districts, etc. In 1880, J. K. Farrar, one of Sterling's efficient teachers, was elected to superintend the schools.

The first teachers' normal institute of which I can find any record was held at Lyons in 1881. W. G. Hamrick, principal of the Sterling schools, was conductor, and H. Silver instructor. This institute seems to have furnished a course of four weeks, limited strictly to the three Rs., English grammar, and geography. There were 51 teachers in attendance.

The normal of 1882 was held at Lyons. J. P. Bickerdyke was the conductor, and C. M. Balfour and Belle Larrimore were the instructors.

In November, J. K. Farrar was reelected with very little opposition, and secured, for the normal of 1883. H. A. McClean as conductor, and C. A. Weaver and Miss Annie Carll as instructors. The attendance at this institute contained a much larger number of women teachers than did that of former ones, and a large number of the pupils of Lyons high school were also enrolled. The course of study by the State school board was more closely followed, and the normal was pronounced a decided success by all competent judges.

Up to this time, the office of county superintendent of public instruction appears to have been nonpartisan, the teachers' favorite being indorsed by the political convention.

The normal of 1884 was conducted by Miss Annie Carll, with Miss M. B. Brown and Mrs. A. W. Sollitt as instructors. At its close, resolutions were adopted favoring (1) longer terms of county certificates; (2) uniform list of questions throughout the State; (3) that first-grade teachers have their certificates reissued, upon proof of having been engaged in active school work, and of having been examined in at least three additional studies to those appearing upon the certificate. The first two of these, meeting the approbation of our leading educators, were soon enacted into law. The third, and, as we believe, most important, was opposed by the faculties of our State institutions, and rejected. This law would have given the country teachers, who are taking advantage of the county normals, an opportunity to secure a professional certificate, thus, giving our better teachers an incentive to attend normals, not only benefiting the teachers themselves, but also greatly increasing the efficiency of the county normal institures.

Rev. J. B. Schlichter was chosen superintendent in 1884. Mr. E. E. Hubbell conducted the normal of 1885, and Annie Carll and Mrs. A. W. Sollitt were instructors. In 1886, E. E. Hubbell was conductor, and I. N. McCash and S. P. Nold were instructors. This normal was held at Sterling. Mr. Nold made quite a reputation as an elocutionist.

In 1886, Mrs. May Terry Luce was elected superintendent. She was a practical teacher, and was well liked by the teachers and patrons of the schools.

I. N. McCash conducted, and A. Docking and S. P. Nold instructed, in the institute of 1887.

I. N. McCash conducted, and S. B. Todd instructed, in the normal of 1888.

In November, J. H. McBride was elected superintendent.

J. N. Wilkinson conducted, and Jennie H. Brazil and S. B. Todd instructed, in the normal of 1889.

C. Y. Roop conducted, and W. S. Slough and Chas. Vickrey instructed, in 1890.

The Republicans were beaten this year, and Mrs. Jennie Smith, People's Party candidate, was elected.

W. S. Slough conducted, and H. G. Woodrow and E. B. Bachelor instructed, in the normal of 1891.

Supt. J. W. Quay, conductor, and B. M. Southgate and Miss Ida M. Hodgdon, instructors, were the faculty of the normal of 1892.

Cooper Memorial College-- In the spring of 1886, a number of business men organized the Sterling Land Investment College. This company platted what is known as the "College Addition to Sterling," and decided to erect a college building upon a site of 10 acres in the addition, donated by Mr. Pliny F. Axtell for that purpose. In October of the same year, the company offered the site and building to the United Presbyterian Synod of Kansas, on condition that the synod endow, operate and maintain the college. This offer was accepted October 7, with the proviso that five years be allowed in which to raise the endowment fund of $25,000. The company accepted the condition made by the synod, and on October 22 a contract was drawn up between the company and synod's committee. This contract was signed on the part of the investment company by J. H. Ricksecker, president, and W. H. Page secretary. The committee of the synod were: Rev. O. J. Campbell, Rev. H. T. Ferguson, J. L. Acheson, and J. O. Stow.

A charter was prepared on the same date. By this charter, the control of the college is vested in a college senate, composed of seven trustees and 14 directors chosen by the synod. The name "Cooper Memorial" was given to the college in honor of the late Rev. Jos. T. Cooper, D. D. LL. D., of Allegheny, Pa., a man loved and honored in his church.

The senate named by the charter met in Sterling in July, 1887, and in Americus in October. At these meetings, teachers were elected, a partial curriculum was prepared, and direction was given that the school be opened November 1, 1887. Accordingly, the doors were opened to students on that day, with a corps of teachers consisting of A. N. Porter, acting president and professor of mathematics and English literature, S. A. Wilson, professor of languages, and Miss Flora Harriman, instructor in music. Mr. E. B. Cowgill taught a class in mathematics for a short time, at the first, but press of other business forced him to relinquish it.

The story of the first few years is one of doubts and struggles. At the time it seemed as thought the enterprise must be abandoned. There were special difficulties to meet. The college began work without a dollar of cash on hand to meet current expenses, and, during these years of beginning, but very little money was available for carrying on the work. Several efforts were made to secure a president, but they did not succeed, until the election of Dr. F. M. Spencer, a former president of Muskingum College, Ohio. Doctor Spencer accepted, and was inaugurated September 4, 1889. Under his administration, the history of the college has been one of uninterrupted growth in all that goes to make a college a success. The number of students has steadily increased, new departments have been added, additional teachers have been employed, and all college classes and departments have been fully organized. Under efficient financial agents, the endowment required was raised, and, on the 7th of October, 1891, with appropriate exercises, the deed to the site and building was transferred to the synod, under whose control it is. The first class was graduated June 8, 1892.

The art department was organized at the beginning of the second college year, by Miss Alice M. Brown, who is still at the head of the department. By the energy infused by Miss Brown, and by the hearty cooperation of the citizens, Sterling is becoming something of an art center, for Kansas. Miss Brown has given a number of art receptions, at which her own and her pupils' work have been open to general inspection. These receptions have always brought credit to the department.

The business department was organized September, 1889, under Mr. W. G. Houston and Mr. W. S. Liston. In February, 1890, Mr. Houston resigned, to accept work elsewhere, and the department has since been in charge of Mr. Liston and his assistants.

Miss Flora Harriman continued instructor of music from the opening of the college until her death, December 4, 1890. Mr. S. W. Van Deman now has charge of that department.

Prof. A. N. Porter, who had given three years to the college in the most critical part of its life, and to whom it is largely indebted for its present existence, gave up the work to study theology, and the professorship of mathematics has since been filled by Prof. G. A. Gordon.

The list of teachers at the present time, September, 1892, is as follows: Rev. F. M. Spencer, D. D., president; S. A. Wilson, A. M., professor of Latin and Greek; G. A. Gordon, A. B., professor of mathematics; Alice M. Brown, lady principal and instructor in French and German; Talmon Bell and Lena Porter, instructors in normal branches.

Rev. R. J. Thompson was the first financial agent, and secured $1,700 of the endowment. Dr. W. M. Ewing followed, securing some $6,700. The work of completing the $25,000 was then undertaken by Rev. W. L. Garges, and brought to a successful conclusion. Rev. H. T. Jackson rendered efficient aid during the last three months of the time. No sketch of the college would be complete unless reference were made to the many friends East and West who have so willingly contributed of their means toward raising the endowment. Special credit is due to Rev. Alex. Young, D. D., of Parnassus, Pa., and Mr. William McCracken, of Sunny Dale, Kas., for large contributions.

The college stands in a campus of 10 acres. The building is 120 feet front, 50 feet deep, and three stories high. The entire structure is built of Strong City limestone, and is one of the finest college buildings in Kansas. Its chapel and recitation rooms are large, well lighted, well finished, and especially adapted for carrying on college work. Several hundred trees have been planted on the campus. Sterling is a "forest city," admirably located as a seat of a higher institution of learning.

President Spencer was born at Cedarville, Ohio, February 23, 1842. He was brought up on his father's farm, having the usual common-school advantages of rural districts. In 1865, he entered Westminister College, graduating in the class of 1868. His theological course was taken at Xenia, Ohio, graduating in 1871. He was pastor of a congregation at Leavenworth, Kas., until 1879, when he was called to the presidency of Muskingum College. He held this position for seven years. Under his management the college increased in numbers until it reached the highest enrollment it ever had. By his efforts an endowment was raised also. The degree of doctor of divinity was conferred upon him in 1886. Doctor Spencer has proved himself a fine scholar and an able educator. the faculty and teachers associated with him are experienced in their work. The college under their car, with its building, its endowment, and its field of work, is developing into an institution worthy of the man whose name it bears, worthy of the progressive commonwealth in which it is located, and, above all, worthy of its expressed mission as a Christian educator.

transcribed by Rita Troxel, State Library of Kansas



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