William G. Cutler's History of the State of Kansas


[TOC] [part 20] [part 18] [Cutler's History]



Kansas Territory having been organized May 30, 1854, its first Territorial Legislature passed a school law August 30, 1855, and from that date the history of the public school system of Kansas properly began.

The Territorial System. - Its object is indicated by the statues of 1855, Chapter 144, Article 2, Section 1, which reads as follows:

There shall be established a common school, or schools, in each of the counties of this Territory, which shall be open and free for every class of white citizens between the ages of five and twenty-one years, provided that persons over the age of twenty-one years may be admitted into such schools on such terms as the Trustees of such district may direct.

No Exclusion Because of Color. - Section 71 of Chapter 8 of the laws of 1858, declares:

All school districts established under the authority of this act shall be free and without charge for tuition to all children between the age of five and twenty-one years, and no sectarian instruction shall be allowed therein.

This section continued in force during the remaining period of the Territorial existence of Kansas.

The law of February 12, 1858, provided that the Governor should appoint during that session of the Legislative Assembly, by and with the advice of the Council, a Territorial Superintendent, whose term of office should commence March 1, 1858. This was amended by the law of 1859, which provided that at the general election in the year 1860 and every one year thereafter, there should be a territorial Superintendent of common schools elected.

The following-named gentlemen served as Superintendents: James H. Noteware served from March 5 to December 2, 1858; Samuel W. Greer from December 2, 1858, to January 7, 1861; John C. Douglas from January 7, 1861, until April 10, 1861, Kansas then having completed the organization of her State government.

Superintendent Greer presented a report to the Legislature January 4, 1860, which embraced returns from sixteen counties and 222 school districts. The county of Douglas led, having thirty-six organized school districts, Osage ten. There were 7,029 persons of school age ranging between the years of five and twenty-one. The amount of money raised to build schools houses was $7,045.23; amount of money raised by private subscriptions, $6,883.50; amount of public money for schools, $6,282.50.

County Superintendent of Common Schools. - Section 13 of Chapter 8 of the laws of 1858, provided for the appointment of a County Superintendent by the tribunal transacting county business, and the same law provided for an election of a County Superintendent to be elected at the same time, place, and manner that county officers are chosen, the term to commence on the first day of October and continue one year.

The duties of Territorial Superintendents and County Superintendents were defined under the Territorial laws. Township Trustees during the latter period of the Territorial regime, performed sundry duties that before had come within the domain of the Superintendent's office.

Formation of School Districts. - The Board of County Commissioners, by the law of 1855, formed the districts in accordance with petitions presented, that were signed by a majority of the voters, residing within the limits of any contemplated district. By the law of 1858, this duty was relegated to the County Superintendents. The law of 1859 provided that "each organized township in the county shall be an original school district, until the same shall be divided into separate districts by the County Superintendent,"

The School District Board. - By the school law of 1855, the affairs of each district were managed by three trustees and one inspector. Under the law of 1858, the Board consisted of a director, clerk and treasurer.

Qualifications of Teachers. - The law of 1855 provided that every teacher, before being employed, shall produce a certificate of his qualifications and morality from the Inspector. Section 2 of Chapter 144, laws of 1855, reads:

All teachers employed under this act shall use their best endeavors to impress upon the minds of the scholars the principles of morality, justice, and sacred regard for truth.

Course of Study. - Under the act of 1855, it was made the duty of Inspector to examine candidates for teaching in spelling, reading, writing, English grammar, geography, history, arithmetic, and all branches usually taught in public schools. In 1858, the law required that there should be taught in every school district, orthography, reading, writing, English grammar, geography and arithmetic, and such other branches a may be determined by the board.

Uniformity of Text-Books. - By the school law of 1858, it was made the duty of the Territorial Superintendent "to recommend the introduction of the most approved text-books, and, as far as practicable, to secure a uniformity in the use of text-books in the common schools throughout the Territory;" but it was provided "that the Board in each school district shall have power to determine what school and text-books shall be used in the several branches taught in the school of such district."

Public Schools in Cities. - In accordance with the provisions of their charters, were the common schools in cities organized, governed and maintained. Ordinarily the City Council was empowered to divided the city into wards or districts for school purposes; to levy a limited tax for school sites and buildings, and it was authorized to appoint a certain number of suitable persons to examine into qualifications of teachers, and to inspect city schools.

Revenues for School Purposes. - The first Territorial Legislature made provisions for the support of schools as follows:

The lands and lots which may be granted by the United states to this territory for the use of schools shall remain a continual fund, the interest and income of which shall be inviolably appropriated to the support of common schools in the said Territory. Second - Half of all the fines or penalties incurred by breaches of the peace, shall be paid into the county treasury of the county in which the offense is committed, to form a portion of the school fund of said county. Third - All shall be held and accounted for as county school moneys. Fourth - The proceeds of the 16th and 36th sections, or other land which may be donated or selected, the interest of such proceeds, the rent and profit of such lands, and all fines, penalties, and forfeitures, and damages for waste, trespass or injury thereto, constitute a township school fund for the township to which it belongs, and any Territorial school moneys which may be apportioned to any township which shall not be organized, are to be added and become part of the township school fund for such township.

By the law of 1857, "The Board of County Commissioners in each county shall appoint a school treasurer, who shall receive and keep the school fund of the county and of the several townships." It was provided that the commissioners should at their October term of each year, apportion the income of the school fund of the several townships among the schools districts in proportion to the number of children in each district.

The law of 1858 made quite ample provisions for the maintenance of common schools, a part of which law is as follows:

For the purpose of raising a revenue to assist in the support of common schools, until there shall be a distribution from the income of the school fund, the Board of Supervisors in each county, may, in each year, until such distribution is made, raise a tax of two and a half mills on the dollar, to be appointed by them upon the taxable property of the several towns and wards in their county, and the same shall be collected as other taxes, and applied to the support of common schools in such towns and wards respectively.

Annual Reports. - The law of 1855 made it the duty of each board of trustees to make out and deliver to the Secretary of the Territory, a report in writing, showing the whole number of white children in their district between the ages of five and twenty-one years, the number taught during the year last past, the length of time a school was taught, and whether by a male or female teacher, the amount paid for teacher's wages, what portion thereof from public moneys and such information as may be necessary for the Secretary of the Territory to enable him to make a satisfactory report to the Legislature of the Territory.

The law of 1857 provided that the trustees of each of the school districts of the several counties, should make out and deliver to the clerk of the Board of County Commissioners, in their respective counties, on or before the first Monday of September, in each year, a report of their school districts. The clerk was directed to submit a summary of these reports in a general report made out to the Secretary of the Territory, to be forwarded on or before the first Monday in December of each year.

The laws of 1858 and of 1859 made it the duty of County Superintendents to submit their reports from the 1st to the 15th days of October in each year, to the Territorial Superintendent, and he to furnish a report to the Legislature, bearing date the 31st day of December of each year.


Section 2, Article 6, of the Wyandot'e (sic) Constitution, reads:

The Legislature shall encourage the promotion of intellectual, moral, scientific and agricultural improvement, by establishing a uniform system of common schools and schools of higher grade, embracing normal, preparatory, collegiate and university departments.

Section 23 of Article 2, of the Constitution reads"

The Legislature in providing for the formation and regulation of schools, shall make no distinction between the rights of males and females.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction. - This officer is elected in the even years for a term of two years. In the occurrence of a vacancy, the Governor appoints and the appointee holds until the next general election, and until his successor is qualified.

Under the Constitution, the superintendent has general supervision of the common school funds and educational interest of the State, and performs such other duties as may be prescribed by law.

His duties are defined by the statues of 1861, 1864, 1867, 1869 and 1879.

There have been eight incumbents of this office since the State was organized, as follows:

William R. Griffith, from April 10 to February 12, 1862; S. M. Thorp, from March, 1862, to January, 1863; Isaac T. Goodnow, from January 1863, to January, 1867; Peter McVicar, from January, 1867, to January, 1872; H. D. McCarty, from January, 1871, to January, 1875; John Fraser, from January, 1875, to January, 1877; Allen B. Lemmon, from January, 1877, to January, 1881; Henry C. Speer, from January, 1881, to January, 1885.

Mr. Speer's second term of office commenced in January, 1883. Mr. Lemmon is a newspaper man at Newton: Mr. McCarty is engaged in educational work; Mr. McVicar is President of Washburn College; Mr. Goodnow is farming at his home near the Agricultural College; Mr. Thorp was killed at the Quantrell massacre at Lawrence, August, 1863; Mr. Griffith died while in office, and Mr. Fraser died in Pennsylvania.


William R. Griffith, first State Superintendent, submitted a report to the State Legislature, December 31, 1861. The County Superintendents of Public Instruction when reporting, were from the counties of Atchison, Breckinridge (now Lyon), Brown, Douglas, Franklin, Johnson, Linn, Nemaha, Osage, Shawnee, Wabaunsee and Washington. The Superintendent reported this state of things:

In some of the counties the district organizations that were created under the Territorial Government had gone down for want of attention, a result to be attributed in part, to the change in the law in the winter of 1859 and 1860, transferring an important part of the duties of the County Superintendent to the Township Trustee. In some instances this produced confusion, and in others, neglect. In such causes the work of organization has to be gone over.

Another cause which has contributed much to divert the attention of the people of the State from the interests of education is the intense excitement which has existed in consequence of our National troubles. In some of the border counties no effort has been made to organize school districts, and very few schools of any kind have been taught. In other counties the work of organization has been begun, but not completed.

The report shows that Baker University, at Batavia, in Douglas County, had sixty students; the Topeka Female Seminary has thirty-seven.

The State University. - Referring to the Congressional Land Grant for the support of a State University, he spoke as follows:

The State has no pressing need of a State University at the present time. Sound policy would dictate, it seems to me, that the State first provide the means of a common school education for the children of the State. When this has been done, and our children are fitted for pursuing the higher branches of learning, let the State, in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution, and the spirit of the grant made the State, proceed to establish and put in successful operation, a State University. It should be an institution of learning, in which the young men and the young women of the State might pursue the branches of learning belonging to any one or all of these departments, to their farthest advancement in development and discovery.

Superintendent Thorp. - The successor of Superintendent Griffith, Mr. Thorp, in referring to the necessities of our progressive school system, said:

We need a permanent school fund, which is the main spring of power in a free school system like ours. Without money we cannot build schoolhouses, furnish apparatus or employ the services of competent teachers. We should work for the future as well as the present. Our object should be to render the common school - which must be the poor boy's college - more thorough in discipline and more comprehensive in range of studies.

Superintendent Goodnow. - In the report, December 31 1863, Prof. Goodnow in instituting a review of educational progress, said:

To retard the cause of education, we had first the border troubles of 1855 and 1856, the financial crisis of 1857, the drouth of 1860, and lastly, the rebellion of 1861.

If, with one-seventh of our population in the army, with the excitement and dangers from guerrilla raids, we can show continual progress in the work of education, no higher compliment can be paid to the virtue, intelligence and heroism of our citizens; and truly we can "thank God and take courage."

Sale of School Lands. - Superintendents Griffin, Thorp and Goodnow had recommended the expediency of the Legislature submitting to a vote of the people the question of selling a portion of the school lands. In reasoning upon the matter, Prof. Goodnow makes the following line of argument:

It is right and proper to provide educational privileges for the next generation, so far as this can be done without jeopardizing the interests of the present. The pioneer children of Kansas deserve special advantages, as they constitute the future rulers of the State, and every consideration urges that they have every means possible to prepare them for life's responsibilities. With the present generation properly educated, the means will be forthcoming for all future educational wants.

State Institutions of Learning. - The Legislature of 1863 made provisions for the establishment of the State Normal School at Emporia; the State Agricultural College at Manhattan; the State University at Lawrence.

The vote on the sale of the school lands, November 8, 1864, resulted in a majority for the sale of nearly 1,200.

Superintendent Goodnow in his report submitted December 15, 1866, reported the existence in the State of 83 select schools, with 113 teachers; three academies and institutes; seven colleges and universities; two commercial colleges.

The State Normal School had three professors and 90 scholars; the State Agricultural College, five professors and 150 students; the State University, in operation one term, three professors and 55 students.

Superintendent McVicar. - During the four years' administration of educational affairs of Rev. Mr. McVicar, he said nothing better than the following on United States history and Constitution:

If our Republican form of government and free institutions are to be perpetuated to succeeding generations, the youth of the State and Nation must understand the history and beauty of the structure of our Republic. To secure this desirable result, the Constitution and history of the Nation must be introduced as a distinct branch of study in our public schools.

To study the history of our Nation, its trials, its struggles for liberty, its triumphs and achievements, is one of the most effective means of inspiring the young with a love of country, and personal devotion to its welfare.

Superintendent McCarty. - On the matter of compulsory education, Prof. McCarty in his first annual report, December, 1871, said:

A law compelling the daily attendance at school of every healthy boy and girl, for a least four months in the year, between the ages of seven and sixteen years, would have a most salutary effect. It is not only the imperative duty of the State to provide a full and free education, but to see that every son and daughter receive the benefit of that education.

Compulsory Education. - August 1, 1974, an act took effect, requiring every parent, guardian, or other person in the State of Kansas, having control of any child or children, between the ages of eight and fourteen years, shall be required to send such child or children to a public school or private school, taught by a competent instructor, for a period of at least twelve weeks in each year, six weeks of which time shall be consecutive, unless proper excuses be furnished by parent or guardian of such child or children. A failure to comply with these provisions, upon conviction, makes one guilty of a misdemeanor, and subjects one to a fine of not less than $5 nor more than $10 for the first offense.

Superintendent Fraser. - This officer held the position one term, and among his valuable recommendations was this one:

To improve the study of the geography of Kansas in the public schools of the State, I would recommend that the State Board of Agriculture be empowered to print an edition of the "plot maps" of the several counties of the State, to be furnished to the schools at cost. Much good can thus be done, at no expense to the State.

Superintendent Lemmon. - Prof. Lemmon had a central system which met with his favor that regarded the municipal township as the unit in the division of the territory for school purposes, the schools of each township to be under the control of a board of three members elected by the people.

At least one-half the revenues for the support of the schools should be derived from the interest of the permanent fund and annual State tax, the remainder from a township tax levied by a direct vote of the people.

The County Superintendent should be chosen by a convention of school officers of the county; should be a practical and successful educator; chairman of the board for examining teachers, and should devote most of his time to the visitation of the schools and attendance upon Teachers' Institutes and Associations.

The State Superintendent might be elected by a convention of County Superintendents, or appointed by the Governor with the advice and consent of the Senate, for a term of about four years.

Under Superintendent Lemmon's administration a uniform system of county normal institutes was inaugurated, which provided that the County Superintendents of Public Instruction should hold annually in their respective counties, for a term of not less than four weeks, a normal institute for the instruction of teachers.

Superintendent Speer. - The Third Biennial Report of Superintendent Speer is an able and exhaustive exhibit of the entire school system of Kansas at the close of 1882. From its many and elaborate tabular exhibits the following are given as showing the progress of popular education in Kansas, and its status at the present time:

[TOC] [part 20] [part 18] [Cutler's History]