Early Day
in Lincoln County

Lincoln Sentinel-Republican,5 November 1970

By Annette Helus

In 1870 as Lincoln County became separated from Ottawa, the first thought of the settlers was education for their children. Unlike Festus of “Gunsmoke,” most of the settlers had some education. School attendance was not compulsory back east but the desire to read ran deep in the settlers.
Mrs. D.C. Skinner of Beverly taught her three boys and the two Zieler [sic; Ziegler] boys, without pay, in her dugout. The Skinner family was one of the early settlers who came to Beverly in 1867. Her husband had come to Beverly the year before and claimed a homestead. He then wrote his wife telling her he had a home prepared for her. Upon her arrival she found a dugout waiting for her. It must have been a bitter blow. Even Salina had wooden houses. However, she made the best of the situation and quickly turned her attention to making life easier for the children.
The second school was being taught by Marion Loy, one of the Forsythe scouts, at the dugout of Martin Hendrickson, just north of the Baker Bridge, west of Lincoln.
With Lincoln, now, a part of the state school system, John Lyden, a well-educated Irishman, was named superintendent of public instruction. Much authority was delegated to each local school district, which was headed by the superintendent. The curriculum was taught by a single teacher for all eight grades. Reading, writing, literature, history and math were taught.
Then by disturbing circumstances John Lyden was murdered and his body thrown down a well. The next superintendent refused to serve.
The first school building in Lincoln County was a small two-story stone building a little west of the present Central School, now the grade school building [sic; I believe she means it was on the site of what is now the grade school building]. It was built at a cost of $4,000. In a short time the school was so crowded school was held for a half a day per pupil.
The first hired school teacher was Miss Flora Baker (Mrs. Alfred Woody). She taught at the Sunnyside school, near what later became the Woody Ranch. Miss Baker, a well-educated young lady, had no desire to teach school. However, her father insisted and being the gentle lady of that time, gave into her father’s wishes.
The first teaching contracts were for three months of teaching, usually for the months of January, February and March. If it was a late spring, children went the month of April. The teacher was boarded at different homes, two weeks at each home.
The Sunnyside School had slate walls, small windows and furnished with one long bench, some stools, sawed off logs for crude chairs, served as a Sunday school meeting place and social gathering. The dugout could accommodate 60 persons.
Schools were conducted along simple lines, without many books or fine clothing. The teacher was to be paid $10 a month but the teacher was seldom paid in cash. Meat, wheat, flower were wages. Dinner pails consisted of corn bread and buffalo meat for both teacher and pupil.
Teachers were hard to come by. Many of the new, inexperienced teachers soon quit. Even a handful of students WAS a handful. Many of the teachers were a year or two older than her students. A teacher could begin teaching when she graduated from the eighth grade. Even in the 1930s a high school graduate could teach by going to the court house, taking a state test and be given a Second Grade County Teacher’s Certificate.
School teaching was not under the most ideal conditions. Lack of funds, lack of books, added to an already overtaxed school teacher. Corporal punishment was accepted. Tardiness was not accepted, nor sloppy homework.
Yet, most of the students learned modern history, penmanship, geography, arithmetic, algebra and geometry.
The school teacher lived by a strict code. A teacher’s certificate was not issued to anyone using profanity, intoxicating liquors or tobacco.
At one time there were 78 schools with 3,600 pupils in the county. The new high school was built in 1882 at a cost of $18,000. Today there ware about 10 schools in the county with 1,000 pupils and 75 teachers teach them. This year there will be 57 graduates.

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