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Early Education in Pioneer Illinois

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"With the incoming of a more highly educated ministry, there was inspired a desire for better educational facilities. It is impossible here to trace the story of primitive school-teaching, but we know that, in Illinois history, it began with some faithful pioneer mother giving to her children some fragmentary knowledge from her own memory. The first school in this entire region, established since the American conquest of the Territory, was opened near Bellefontaine, by Samuel Seely, in 1783. John Doyle taught in the same neighborhood at about the same time, and his successor was Francis Clark, who was addicted to intemperance. He was followed by an inoffensive Irishman, named Halfpenny, who persevered in his vocation for several years. The branches taught were spelling, reading, writing, and arithmetic, and these in a very imperfect manner. Later still, an eccentric clergyman named John Clark gratuitously instructed the youth of the settlement.

In 1825 was enacted the first law providing for the incorporation of common schools, although, when the State was admitted to the Union in 1818, one thirty-sixth part of all the public lands was reserved for school purposes. Coincident with this starting of common schools, and the arrival of an educated ministry, was the demand for higher institutions of learning, in the securing of which the various church organizations were largely instrumental. Illinois College was founded at Jacksonville in 1829, and by 1850, had seven teachers, 34 students, and 93 alumni, with a library of 4000 volumes. It was made possible largely through the efforts of the "Yale Band of Seven," a ministerial organization.

McKendree College was founded at Lebanon, St. Clair County, in 1835, by the Methodists, and by 1850 had 4 teachers and 60 students, its library containing 1800 volumes. The Congregationalists and Baptists were represented as early as 1835 by Knox College at Galesburg, and Shurgleff College at Upper Alton, both successful institutions. Others rapidly arose throughout the State as population and wealth increased and the spirit of refinement took possession of the people.
[Source:"Historic Illinois - The Romance of the Earlier Days" by Randall Parrish, 1907]

ILLINOIS BAND - an association consisting of seven young men, then students in Yale College, who, in the winter of 1828-29, entered into a mutual compact to devote their lives to the promotion of Christian education in the West, especially in Illinois. It was composed of Theron BALDWIN, John F. BROOKS, Mason GROSVENOR, Elisha JENNEY, William KIRBY, Julian M. STURTEVANT and Asa TURNER. All of these came to Illinois at an early day, and one of the first results of their efforts was the founding of Illinois College at Jacksonville, in 1829, with which all became associated as members of the first Board of trustees, several of them so remaining to the close of their lives, while most of them were connected with the institution for a considerable period, either as members of the faculty or financial agents -- Dr. Sturtevant having been President for 32 years and an instructor or professor 56 years. [Source: "Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois", 1901, pg. 288"]

County-Specific Education Stories and Histories

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Du Page County

“ … We now have about seventy school districts, which are provided with good school buildings and good schools. Much of our advancement in this respect, is due to the indefatigable labors of our late school commissioner, Rev. Hope Brown. From Mr. Brown’s annual report of 1855, we give some extracts showing the state of our schools at that time:

‘ The whole number of school districts in the county is sixty-eight, sixty-four of which are provided with school houses. If we divide these houses into four classes, we may reckon twenty in the first class, and call them extra; we may also reckon twenty in the second class, and call them good; we may reckon sixteen in the third class, and call them passable; and that will leave eight for the fourth class, which may justly be called MISERABLE. Three new houses have been erected the last year, and preparations are being made for the erection of several more the present year. In relation to the subject, there is generally, throughout the county, a disposition to make progress in the right direction. No district is willing to have its school house reported year after year, as being miserably poor, and entirely unfit to be occupied for school purposes. Since I first began to visit our schools, five years ago, and to report the condition of the school houses in our county paper, thirty new ones have been erected, and several others have undergone important repairs; and the prospect now is, that no district will be long without a house that they will be unwilling to have visited and reported just as it is. The whole number of pupils connected with our school districts the past winter, is not far from two thousand; among this number, about twelve hundred have attended to arithmetic, five hundred have studied geography, two hundred and fifty English grammar, and about one hundred have attended to higher branches, such as algebra, natural philosophy, physiology, and the history of the United States.

‘The schools have generally been taught from six to eight months each, during the year. In a few districts there has been no school during the winter. The wages of teachers have been, for females, from eight to sixteen dollars per month and board; for males, from sixteen to thirty per month and board. It is an omen of good, that there is a disposition to give to teachers a better remuneration for their services, than they have received in years past. When good wages are offered, then good qualifications may rightly be insisted upon. Of all cheap things, cheap teachers are the first to be repudiated. When, by the special pleading of school directors, I am urged to give a certificate to a teacher, whom I have good reason to regard as unqualified to instruct in each of the branches required by law to be taught in our district schools, I feel that I am asked to do that which will not be likely to promote the interests of education in any school. The district that cannot afford to have a good teacher, should not throw away their money by employing a poor teacher. In examining teachers, I may have been regarded as being unnecessarily strict, but I have at all times aimed to be governed by a “law and evidence,” and where I have refused a certificate, it has been because the applicant has not furnished evidence on examination, that he possessed the qualifications which the law requires. If, in respect to this important duty I have erred, it has been in being too lenient rather than in being too strict. If none but those who are well qualified, as the law requires, can be appobated, then one but such as regard themselves as well qualified, will be likely to apply for or consent to be employed in any school in our county. In visiting and examining our schools the past winter, I found them generally in a prosperous condition. To this general remark there may be three of four exceptions; and where these exceptions apply, if school directors had been faithful in the discharge of the duties devolving upon them as such, these schools would no doubt have been much better than what they were. As a whole, our district schools may be regarded as doing much, very much, for the advancement of the prosperity of our county.’
From “A History of the County of Du Page” by C. W. Richmond & H. F. Vallette. Chicago: 1857. pp. 63-64. Contributed by Charles Brummel.



FLINT TWP - The early settlers were alive to the importance of educating their children and anxiously desired to have the proper facilities, or as good as they could afford, to carry on this great work. Accordingly the citizens met on section 19, near Flint creek, in 1846, for the purpose of inaugurating or organizing for school purpose. There being no houses in the vicinity their deliberations were carried on upon a log in the wild forest. Among those present at this meeting were Josiah Wade, Wm. Thackwray, James Crawford, Richard Sweeting, James L. Thompson, James G. and Davis Pyle, E. A. F. Allen, Francis Wade, J. Husband and Wm. Turnbull. Peter Kargies presided over the deliberations of this body. The first school in the township was taught in the winter of 1845-46 by Wm. Turnbull, James G. and David Pyle, and James L. Thompson, who gave their services without any compensation. The school was held in an old log house bought and paid for by a few of the citizens. The first and only church ever built in the township was erected at Griggsville landing in 1871: it is known as Union Church, but the M. E. society is the only one having an organization at this place. We were unable to obtain its history definitely, as we failed to find the records (Transcribed from "History of Pike County, Illinois" (1880) and contributed to IL Trails by Teresa Maddox)



The year 1863 marked the building of the Cordova Grade School; a school which housed all grades. The school was the pride of the community and was a four room, two storied stone building located in the 200 block of 11th Street. The upper floor housed the high school which was a two-year school.
Students in grades one through four attended the "little" room and grades five through eight attended the "big" room. [Submitted by Cordova District Library - Jo Cohrs]


By Elsie Moffitt Piper
(1909 - 1999)

When school started for us, my two older sisters and I would walk down the hill to the Shurts school. You see, it was in the corner of a field that Dad farmed. When he rented the farm owned by David Shurts, David Shurts went with the farm, so he was a permanent house hold guest. Mother boarded the teachers as she needed the money and teacher needed a place to live. In those days, the teacher had to be boarded -sometimes the member of the school board would help out, but in our district, no one wanted the job.

Our school was average in size with a pot belly stove in the middle of the room. Sometimes in the winter, one of the mothers would send a nice kettle of bean soup down for dinner. It was heated on top of this stove. Then later someone gave the school a kerosene stove. Then came a table to put the wash basin , water pail, etc., on. Of course the heating and cooking was simple as the children did most of it. We had a regular chart made - each day a different couple and a different couple to clean up. Also a chart of the boy to keep the cob basket and coal hods filled. The teacher had to go early enough to have the school room warm before the children arrived.

Thre was a cob-coal house on the property and a place for a hack if we had a teacher who drove a horse and buggy, which we did sometimes. Oh yes, and two outside toilets way down in the yard. How cold in the winter!

Our games were "Dare Base" - "Racing" - "Andy Over" - "Tag" - "Baseball" etc. We had one teacher that taught the girls how to sew. I must have been in the 5th or 6th grade. We made a dress all by hand of course. I even put feather sticking in mine, was very proud of myself.

The teachers desk was in front of the pupils, we had built in book cases in the back with glass doors. As soon as she would go back to the bookcase, the children would pick on one another along as her back was turned. Right away she would call them down. It took a long time for them to figure out she didn't have eyes in back of her head, but could see their reflection in the glass doors.



[Excerpt from the History of Fulton County, published in 1879, pages 324-325.]


Though struggling under the pressure of poverty and privation, the early settlers planted among them the school-house at the earliest practicable period. So important an object as the education of their children they did not defer until they could build more comely and convenient houses. They were for a time content with such as corresponded with their rude dwellings, but soon better buildings and accommodations were provided. As may readily be supposed, the accommodations of the earliest schools were not good. Sometimes school was taught in a small log house erected for the purpose. Stoves and such heating apparatus as are now in use were unknown. A mud-and stick chimney in one end of the building, with earthen hearth and fire-place wide and deep enough to take in a four-foot back-log, and smaller wood to match, served for warming purposes in winter and a kind of conservatory in summer. For windows, part of a log was cut out in either side, and may be a few lights of eight-by-ten glass set in, or just as likely as not the aperture was covered with greased paper. Writing benches were made of wide planks, or likely puncheons, resting on pins or arms, driven into two-inch auger-holes, bored into the logs beneath the windows. Seats were made out of puncheons, and flooring of the same material. Everything was rude and plain but many of America’s greatest men have gone out from just such school-houses to grapple with the world and make names for themselves, and have come to be an honor to their country. Among these we can name Abraham Lincoln, our martyred President, one of the noblest men ever known to the world’s history. Stephen A. Douglas, one of the greatest statesmen of the age, began his career in Illinois teaching in one of these primitive school-houses.

James H. Murphy, who taught school in Canton in an early day, will probably remember the time he was asked for a holiday by his scholars, and he refused to grant it. The following morning four of his scholars, J. L. Murphy and three Fenton boys, went to the school-house quite early, entered, locked and barred the door, and refused the teacher admittance when he came, unless he would grant them the desired holiday. He expostulated, but the boys were obdurate. He resorted to the chimney, covering the top to smoke the boys out, but this proved useless. Finally he broke through a window and effected an entrance, when the boys pitched into him and proved stronger. They bound him with ropes, yet he would not promise a holiday. At last they threatened to duck him in a pond that was near unless he promised. This was too severe for him; so he yielded and gave the school the holiday.



Lucille Russell – interviewed by Diana Alm 7/29/03

Lucille lived in a small town near Macomb, IL. Her father developed diabetes when he was 30 and they had to move into town so he could find work he could do with this disease which was treated very differently from today. For example, insulin had just been discovered. Her mother had to weigh everything he ate with a gram scale. She had to find a balance between the food and the amount of work he did. He couldn’t eat canned food because of the sugar it contained. They did all their own canning of homegrown vegetables and fruits.

Lucille attended Western Illinois Teachers’ College Academy for grade school and high school. Then she continued on for four more years to graduate from college there in 1940. The grade school was on the first floor. The second and third floors were for college classes. A member of the college faculty oversaw each classroom and students helped. They also took courses in how to teach. Her college major was Business with minors in Math and English. She took shorthand in college, but not high school. Later she taught Typing, Algebra and Geometry in a small high school in Illinois. All students at Western’s school had to sign up for summer school so the students in the college would have someone to practice on.

In grade school she remembers the classes being divided into two groups, A and B. These were ability groupings. She started high school in 1933 and finished in three years to graduate in 1936. She graduated from the teachers’ college in 1940.

There were no dorms at Western Illinois Teachers’ College. There was one house with a group of women who acted rather “exclusive.” Consequently, one of the many jobs her parents found to do during the depression was to provide room and board to students. They charged $2 - $2.50/week for food. One of their boarders was a boy from Chicago whose parents warned him to not “take up those southern ways.”

She remembers how hot it was when they would go on vacation. They went to Florida once and out west once. They had to go during the summer when her father was off work. He worked for the college as a janitor. He had a very regulated, set routine type of job. Once he helped move a piano, and it dropped on his toe. He didn’t feel anything until he got home, took his shoe off and found a bloody foot. They treated the foot with a light bulb under a tent made of __________. The bulb got too hot and burned his foot. The warmth was supposed to increase the circulation in his foot.

Lucille worked in a library for young people in the college when she was in high school. It was located on a balcony. She made 25 cents an hour.

Although they lived in town, her parents still owned the farm. They rented it out but the crops brought in no money during the depression. They thought of many other ways to earn money during these years.

Before becoming a teachers’ college Western was a ____________. Her parents both went there. Her mother taught in a one room school in the country before she was married. Married women weren’t allowed to be teachers.

Lucille’s first school was in Rolo, IL near Sandwich. The town consisted of a school, a railroad track, the principal’s house, a church, and a teachers’ cottage that was owned by the county. This was one of Illinois’ first consolidated schools. Earlville, the nearest town, was eight miles away. Teachers were required to sing in the church choir. There probably wouldn’t have been a choir if they hadn’t sung in it.


Knox County
[Portion of an article by W. L. Steele, from the History of Knox County by A. J. Perry, published in 1912, pages 547-548]

Early History of the Galesburg Public School
By Professor W. L. Steele

The First Schoolhouse

The first public school building, according to tradition, for there are no records and no account of it was committed to print for more than a quarter of a century after the event, was built on the north side of the square, east of Broad Street, in 1840. It was soon afterwards moved to the north side of Ferris Street, between Broad and Cherry Streets. It was constructed in accordance with the ideas of Mr. C. S. Colton, one of the directors, and the very novelty of the plan has preserved it from the common oblivion of the school architecture of that period. The floor was an inclined plane sloping from the rear to the front where the teacher’s desk was placed, the object being to have the pupils in full view of the teacher. The pupils who attended that school all remembered what a capital place the aisles were to slide down hill, and on this account it has not been forgotten. Mr. Colton, it is said, afterwards regretted that all the schoolhouses were not built on this plan. It would seat sixty pupils.

The First Teacher

Mr. Eli Farnham taught the first school in this building in the winter of 1840-1841. The school was in session from four to six months each year; the teacher was generally a college student who was in need of money to complete his education. Prof. George Churchill, when a boy, went to this school in the winter of 1840-1841 and taught it in the winter of 1848-1849, when he was a sophomore in college. He received a dollar a day and boarded around, sleeping at home. One of his pupils was Miss Mary Allen West.


Putnam County Early Schools

The following history of Putnam County was prepared by Rev. H. V. Warren of Granville and read by him at the centennial celebration at Hennepin, July 4, 1876.

In the earliest days the people of Putnam were so widely separated that the maintenance of schools was difficult, yet education received early attention. In the winter of 1830-1, George H. Shaw taught a school in a log house in the timber near Magnolia. The accommodations were very rude. The fireplace occupied one entire end of the room. Writing desks were made by placing puncheons on pins driven into the wall. Windows were of cloth or oiled paper. "The teacher made his own fires, swept his house, pounded corn for his own bread and taught all day."

As no school laws existed the getting up of a school was wholly voluntary, a man who desired to teach went around with a subscription paper to get signed, each one agreeing to pay a certain sum for each scholar sent for the specified time, and the test of the man's fitness to teach was his ability to write his own subscription paper.


In the year of 1830 Mrs. Ramsey taught in the log church at Union Grove, she being the first lady teacher employed in Putnam County.

At Granville, in the year 1836, steps were taken towards establishing an Academy. A building costing two thousand dollars, the money being obtained by voluntary subscription, was erected in that and the following year. Rev. Otis Fisher was the first teacher, which position he occupied five years. In consequence of a lack of support this institution was soon made a public school, still retaining its high reputation.

In its earliest days students were attracted from the towns on Rock and Fox Rivers from Lacon and Chicago to enjoy its advantages. Among those who pursued their studies here may be named L. L. Beveridge, Governor of Illinois, Revs. Daniel Whitaker and Thomas Allen, both missionaries to Burma; Rev. Charles Button, chaplain of a regiment of Illinois volunteers and Judge John Burnes and Berton C. Cook.

Mt. Palatine gave early promise of being a center of learning. Eighty acres of land were given by Christopher Winters, in 1839, to found an Academy. Upon a part of this land the village of Mt. Palatine was located. Lots were so sold and the town had a promising growth.

A building costing three thousand dollars was erected in 1845-6, and the school, an enterprise of the Bapitist Denomination, opened in December of the latter year. In the winter of 1850-1 a charter granting collegiate privileges, was obtained, at which time the institution took the name of Judson College. It soon met with difficulties, a fate common to new enterprises, particularly at the west, and was sold to satisfy pecuniary demands. From that time it has been owned by the Catholics.

A people so imbued with educational aspirations, would be sure to take advantage of any privileges or powers which the law might give them for the furtherance of their desires. Hence the general school law of the state was quickly applied to the educational problem in Putnam County, and as a result of its workings the county Superintendent reports for the year 1875, the enrollment of 1796 children between the ages of 7 and 21. Of these 1424 are reported at attendants at school. The county contains 34 school districts and the same number of school houses and schools, of which three are graded. The average wages paid to teachers per month was $43.80 the number of months taught in each district 6 3/4;. The total school fund derived from taxation and all other sources was $22,265.79, and the expenditures$17,339.26.


For the purpose of fostering Agriculture, Buel Institute was organized in 1846, thirty years ago. This is the oldest Agricultural organization in the state that has continued its operations from the date of its origin, of ten holding annual fairs in various localities. A permanent location was secured at Hennepin in 1867, by the purchase of nineteen acres of land situated on the bank of the Illinois, extending to the water's edge, and beautifully shaded by a young growth of forest trees, most admirably adapted in every way to the desired purpose. These grounds have been fitted up in the most attractive manner, every year adding some new improvement and furnishing annually fine exhibitions of the products of our firms and homes. The present value of these grounds is $3,000.

The leading minds in this organization, set in operation the train of causes which produced the system of Agricultural colleges throughout the United States. By investigation of Ralph Ware, Leonard Bullock, and others, Prof. J. B. Turner delivered an address at Granville, in November 1851, in the interest of Agriculture and labor, a convention for the consideration of those matters being then and there assembled.

Sixteen years later, at the inauguration of John M. Gregory, Regent of Illinois Industrial University, Champaign, March 11, 1868, Dr. Newton Bateman twice referred to that convention using in the latter instance this language. "I observe that the first tangible result of the wide spread and extraordinary agitation of the subject of industrial university education, which began with the Granville convention of 1851, and soon pervaded the whole state - was a memorial to the General Assembly of Illinois, praying that body to invoke the powerful aid and resources of the National Government itself in furtherance of the object." (First an rep. of the Ills. Indus. Univ. 1868. Page 158-9.)


Macon County

MACON county pioneers recognized the importance of having schools.  Many of them had come from educational environments, others had not, but all of them wanted advantages for their children.  There was then no public school system, in Illinois and they were not going to wait until one was perfected.

AS a result there have been schools in the county ever since its beginning, in fact, before the county was laid out.  Naturally, the first ones where crude and poor, but so was everything else at the time.  Buildings were made of longs.  Furniture was cut from the timber.  Seats were slabs supported by sticks.  Desks were puncheon shelves, fastened on wooden pins driven into the walls.  Sections of logs at the sides of the building were cut out to make windows, and the holes covered with greased paper.

Some of the earliest teachers were as poor in proportion as their surroundings.  A teacher had to be picked up anywhere he could be found, and often he knew little more than the pupils.  One did not have to know much.  The instructor of that day did not worry about a teacher's certificate.  Yet there were some good teachers, too.  Most of the early teachers were men.  It required brawn as well as brain then, and handling a school was considered to hard for a woman.

After 1872, when the law was amended to require teachers to pass an examination, the standard of the teaching profession was raised.

The earliest schools were all of the subscription type.  A subscription paper was passed, and patrons subscribed what they could give to the support of a school.  When enough money was in sight, a teacher was employed.  Patrons were expected to subscribe according to the number of children they had in school, though that wasn't always possible.


Records available today on the early schools of the county did not agree as tot he date of erection of the first school building.  Lewis B. Ward, one of the pioneers, said that eh first school building was erected in 1825 on the old Widick place, later known as the P. M. Wikoff land, three and one-half miles southwest of Decatur and that the first teacher was named Taylor, generally called "Frozen" Taylor.  The land was first known as the Lewis B. Ward land, and the school was called the Ward school.  According to old residents this was the school afterwards known as the Cross Roads school, so it has had continuous existence since 1825.  The first building was abandoned in 1845.  Since then the school has had four different buildings.

The second school building in Macon county, according to Lewis B. Ward, was built in 1828 on land southwest of Decatur owned later by W. C. Smith.  In this building Abraham Lincoln attended "spellings" and other gatherings.  A man named Nelson, called "A Little Yankee," taught there.

Other records say that the first house erected for school purposes was put up in 1826 on Stevens creek, in the neighborhood of the Stevens settlement.

In Blue Mound township, according to report, there was a school as early as 1828, with Daniel McCall as teacher.

In the year 1829 or 1830 a school was erected in Harristown township on James Miller's land.

Friends Creek township had a school as early as 1835 and 1836, the first building for the purpose being erected in 1838.

In Mt. Zion township a schoolhouse was erected about 1840 about three-quarters of a mile west of the present village of Mt. Zion.

Long Creek township had a school building as early as 1834, located in Section 16.  Daniel Stickel was the first teacher.

What was know as the Orthodox school house was built in Whitmore township in 1841 by free contributions of such materials as the settlers could provide.  This building was designed for common school, singing school, spelling school, debating societies, lecture room, political meetings, and other public uses.  It was constructed entirely of oak.  It occupied the site of what became the Union cemetery.

Oakley township had a school as early as 1830, with Alexander Patton as the first teacher.

Mt. Gilead was one of the earliest of the country schools.  At first its area covered about all of what is now South Wheatland township.  This school is now known as Elm Grove, and the present building is a short distance north of the site of the first school house.

One of the well known early schools was the Bagdad school.  The building was erected for both church and school purposes.  It was on a lot donated by Samuel Cox, and stood on the present site of the Sharon Methodist church.  Previous to the erection of this building church services had been held in the homes of Glenn Church, John Gulick and others.  After this building was outgrown, separate buildings were erected.  The church remained on the same site, but the school was located at a different point, a mile east and south and it became known as a Sunnyside school.

Another early school was the Bull Point school north of Decatur on the Bloomington road, in Hickory Point township.  It was erected on land belonging to William F. Montgomery.
[Source: Macon County Centennial]


Schuyler County

Schuyler Citizen
Rushville, Schuyler County, Illinois

Dear Editor,

With unfeigned pleasure I read the proceedings of the Rushville High School, recently published in the Citizen. The performances was very creditable to all concerned. If I were to criticise anything, it would be the uniformity of old heads on young shoulders, as shown by the form of thought each pupil possessed; but as the ideas were all good and important to success, no strictures are in order. My mind reverts back to the summer of 1826, when I taught a school in a log cabin where Mr. Little’s house now stands, northeast of your city. The cabin was the largest one in the county, and had been occupied by a family not censurable for the godly virtue of cleanliness, and was infested with a numerous progeny of bugs, whose odorous perfume was not pleasant to the olfactory of teacher or pupils. They had prior possession, and had fortified and were taking possession of the books and dinner baskets. We were compelled to declare a war of extermination. We procured a large iron kettle, and when ready with boiling water all hands moved on the enemies’ works, and after a long and bloody battle, succeeded in destroying all their army, except a very considerable number of stragglers that returned early to their well-known and impregnable hidings. Peace reigned in Warsaw, the six inch benches were again occupied, and the daily supply of muskmelons, which was furnished by the teacher, eaten; and all were happy and contented. And right here I must refer to the first effort to build a schoolhouse in Schuyler. I think it was in 1827, and near B. Chadsey’s, perhaps on Wheelhouse’s farm, then owned by Jesse Bartlett. A log house was put up and perhaps covered; it was done under a very imperfect law, the first in the State that was called a free school law. There was great prejudice at that time with a portion of our southern and western population against any law regulating and requiring each citizen to assist in the promotion of schools. Many a politician was popular, or the reverse, owing to his views pro or con. The house was never finished because of the ignorance and prejudice then extant. Fifty-five years have passed, and where are the friends of education to-day? A reasonable appreciation of its value is almost universal. It is believed by the ripest minds of the age, to be the anchor of hope for the perpetuation of our system of government, a necessity if the system survives, and a beacon light to all ignorant and savage nations. This diffusion of knowledge must imbue the minds of the future generations with the grandest conceptions of truth, the scope of which combines all that is useful and beautiful in the arts and sciences, in religion and in all the works of God and man. It will dispel superstition, promote morality and true Christianity. For truth is science, and science is truth demonstrated, and neither conflicts with true Christianity. Let me say to the young scholars above referred to that in intellectual cultivation as in everything else: to think we are able to achieve is almost achievement. Everywhere are found the means or facilities for obtaining an education, and if we have the fixed purpose to use them, we can surely make advancement. Permit a quotation from the Irish orator, Phillips. He says: “Education is a companion which no crime can destroy; no enemy alienate; no despotism enslave. At home it is a friend, abroad it is an introduction, and in society it is an ornament. It chastens vice, guides virtue, and gives at once grace and government to the genius. Without it what is man? A splendid slave, a reasoning savage, vacillating between the dignity of an intelligence derived from God, and the degradation of passion participated with brutes.”


Brown County
"History of Schyuler and Brown County"

The object of this chapter is to give a brief account of the schools of Brown county, from its settlement to the present time. In collecting the necessary information, I have been compelled to rely, almost exclusively, on the recollections of the old residents; and the work cannot, therefore, claim absolute accuracy. The majority of the teachers of half a century ago were without any special training for their work. Many of them had never “ciphered past the Single Rule of Three,” and the course of study in the schools was commonly confines to the “three R’s” (Reading, Riting, and Rithmetic). They labored faithfully to instruct their pupils, and as school commonly began at sunrise and continued till sunset, with only a noon intermission, it will be seen that their work was not light. There were no class-recitations, except the spelling classes, which commonly spelled twice a day, beginning at the head, and each pupil who spelled a word missed by one standing nearer to the head of the class, took the place of the one missing it. Some early schools were what is termed “loud schools,” and when in good working-order could be heard quite a distance. All the pupils studied aloud, and each one exerted himself to make as great a noise as possible. As late as 1852 a school of that kind was taught in the old log-house which stood a short distance south of the present building in the Gilbirdsport district, in Elkhorn township. The gentleman who taught this school called upon the School Commissioner (S. S. Black), armed with a request from the directors of his district, to grant him a certificate. The commissioner, though having no discretion in the matter when a request was presented, asked the applicant a few questions; one of them was: “Mr. C. what is orthography?” The applicant responded: “I never studied anything only the common branches.”

In some of the schools they were permitted to study aloud when preparing their spelling-lessons. Written or blackboard work was unknown. The teachers sometimes wrote the multiplication-table, and gave it to the pupils to memorize. In discipline they were generally rigid, the rod being frequently used. An incident, which occurred in one of the earliest schools in Mt. Sterling, illustrates the then prevalent idea in regard to corporal punishment. During the school exercises, the door was unceremoniously opened, and one of the patrons of the school said to the teacher: “Mr. Taylor, have you whipped my son Alec?” “No, sir; his is a good boy, studies well, and does not need it.” “I want you to whip him, as I think it would make him do better.” Some of the early teachers required the boys to bow and the girls to courtesy to any person they met while on the road to or from school. This custom was continued in some schools, as late as the year 1849, when the writer first attended school. The text books commonly used were, Noah Webster’s Spelling-Book, Pike’s Arithmetic, and the Introduction to the English Reader. Books were scarce, and, for reading, pupils brought any book they could obtain. Some schools, in addition to the Reader mentioned, would have the Bible, a Life of Marion or Washington, Robinson Crusoe and in some instances old newspapers supplied the place of a reader. Ink was made of nutgalls, or the bark of maple or walnuts trees. All the pens were made by the teacher from goose-quills. In the matter of school architecture there was a great similarity. The houses were commonly built of round logs, the cracks chinked with sticks, and a large fire-place with a stick chimney. In some instances the chimney was built from the upper joists, and the wood being laid on the hearth below, the pupils could approach the fire from three sides, instead of the front only, as was the case with an ordinary fire-place. The roof was always made of clapboards, and frequently fastened with weight-poles instead of nails. The floor (when the building had one), was made of puncheons, and the seats were either poles or slabs, supported by sticks stuck in them. The only desk was a slab hewed from the body of a tree, and placed on underpins driven in the wall. The windows were made by cutting out a log; sometimes placing greased paper over the opening; at other times a single row of glass would be used. All the school-houses of that date were built by the voluntary labors of the settlers. The schools were sustained almost entirely by tuition paid by the patrons. An article of agreement was commonly written, and each one signed whatever number of scholars he intended to send, the price per scholar being stipulated in the agreement. In addition to the tuition paid him, the teacher commonly “boarded round,” that is, stayed a part of the time with each family, his board costing him nothing. Many of the pupils from sixteen to twenty years of age were learning to read, and from one to four miles was a common distance for them to walk. It was a common thing, when there was no school in a neighborhood, to sent children to some other part of the county, and pay board and tuition while attending school. Teachers’ wages were frequently no higher than thirteen dollars per month, and, in some instances, as low as ten dollars per month was paid, or rather promised, as the collections seldom amounted to enough to pay teacher the stipulated price. It was a common occurrence for the pupils, just before the Christmas holidays, to take possession of the school-house, and refuse to allow the teacher to enter, unless he would promise to “treat the school.” Failing in this, they would resort to “heroic treatment,” and many a contest ensued. The custom was favored by public opinion, and generally the teacher has to succumb.

As a good illustration of this, I give the following statement, written by a former resident of Brown county, now a prominent physician in a neighboring county: “In the winter of 1845 and ‘46, I was employed to teach a school in Buckhorn township. I was to receive forty dollars, and board around, for my services, the term being three months. The school-house was about eighteen feet square, built of round logs, clapboard roof, held on by weight-poles. The chimney, which occupied the greater part of one side of the house, was built of sticks. One log was cut out for a window, in which I believe there was a single row of eight-by-ten window glass. The floor, benches, and writing-desk were made of puncheons. We began school by the time the sun rose, and continues till sunset. McGuffey’s Readers and Webster’s Elementary Speller were the books most used. There were about thirty pupils in attendance, and among them probably half a dozen boys and as many girls were full-grown. The first day of our school, at noon, the young men and larger girls commenced playing such games as were common at social parties, such as, Old Sister Phoebe, Pleased or Displeased, Kitchen Furniture, &c., which were usually wound up by marrying a couple. I had some doubts about the propriety of such amusements at school, but not wishing to assume any arbitrary authority, I referred it to the directors. After consulting, they said that, ‘As such plays were allowed at the private houses, there could be no harm in permitting them, at play-time, in the school house.’ Such being their decision, the plays went on through the entire term, and I made a full scholar in that department. I could do as much kissing as any of them, being about eighteen years of age, and very fond of such exercises.

Many of the young men and women of the neighborhood, who did not attend school, would come in and take part with us in those plays. It was customary, at that time, in some localities, to turn the teacher out, or even to take him to the creek and give him a cold bath, unless he would agree to treat the school on Christmas. My pupils had determined to duck me, unless I would agree to treat them. I knew nothing of this until the afternoon of Friday before Christmas. When I told them to get their books and go to studying, one of the young men stepped up to me and said, ‘We are going to rule this afternoon.’ I at once suspected what the trouble was, and stepping outside the door, picked up a good sized hoop-pole. I then went back, and looking as fierce as I could, told them I would thrash the life out of all who did not obey me. I then ordered all who intended to behave properly to march over on the other side of the house, so that I might see how many I would have to whip. This order came so unexpectedly, and I looked so fierce and determined, that all committed themselves on my side, except two young men and one girl. The young men, each of whom was older and larger than myself, then took hold of me, the girl looking on and encouraging them. The creek was nearly half a mile from the school-house, and as there was a small hill to go over, it was no easy job to take me there. There was snow of the ground, and we had a pretty rough time of it, sometimes all down together, first one on top and then another, frequently getting very mad and occasionally fighting. At such times the girls would cry, and come and take hold of the boys, and beg them to let me alone; but the one girl who was for ducking me would run up and tell them to ‘stand back and let them duck him. He ought to treat; and if he does not do it, he ought to be ducked. Dad has ducked many a man; and there is a law to make him treat.’ The boys finally tired out, and finding they could not get me to the creek, let me go; I promising to treat them when I got ready. I did treat them, on Christmas-day, parents and children, on two gallons of whiskey, and two pounds of sugar, costing me just one dollar. Apples could not be had at that time. We had a jolly time at the treat, -- spelling, singing, etc., -- and the whiskey made many of them feel very happy, and everything went off well.” This custom has long since become obsolete. The rough log-houses of pioneer days have, nearly everywhere, given place to neat and comfortable building, while the school furniture of the present day is almost perfect. The qualifications of the teachers are much better than formerly, many of them having received professional training. Teaching is beginning to be recognized as a profession, and each year the quality of the work done by our teachers is improving. The teachers have an organization which holds an annual meeting of from two to three days, and intermediate sessions by voluntary effort are quite frequent. I have obtained from the State Superintendent of Public instruction a copy of the oldest report on file in his office, and for the purpose of showing the progress of our county, contrast it with the last report:

1850 1881
Number of schools taught ……………………….…… $ 30.00 …… $ 58.00
Av. Monthly compensation of male teachers ……… $ 17.00 …… $ 42.46
Av. Monthly compensation of female teachers ……. $ 0.00 …… $ 29.74
Highest rate of compensation paid ………………….. $ 20.00 …… $ 100.00
Lowest rate of compensation paid …………………. . $ 10.00 ……. $ 15.00
Amount of public money paid for teachers’ wages .. $824.60 …… $16,255.81
Amount annually expended for schools …………… $995.45 ……. $24,849.56
Number of school-houses ……………………………. 23 ……. 58
Number of log school-houses ……………………….. 21 ……. 4
Number of frame school-houses ……………………. 2 ……. 49


Coles County
From the "History of Coles County, 1905"

Schools,---The O'Hair School (No. 39) was first built in Section 27 in the later 'fifties, the present building was put up in 1870 in Section 35,Township 14. An early teacher was Aaron Balch. Miss Golden Knight is now in charge as teacher.

Bunker Hill (or Emhuff) School (No. 40) located on Section 27, Town 14. was previously on land of Samuel Wveth's. The building erected on Section 27 in 1871 was replaced in 1903 by the one now in use. Sarah Burns taught early. The school is now taught by Miss Ella Miner.

Martin Box School (No. 41) was built in 1871 on Section 30. Town 14. James Rosebraugh taught there early. Miss Daisy Miner is the present teacher.

Shiloh School (No. 123) is located in Section 20, Town 14 and the present building was put up in 1887. An earlier building was erected in 1871.

Eversole School (No. 124) is now in Section 21, Township 14. It was first on Section 16. The first building was erected in 1870, and the last one in 1902. Thomas Payne taught early. The school is now taught by Miss Celia Carroll.

Wheatley School (No. 125), built in 1870 on Section 23, Township 14, had F. E. Hobart, John Favorite and James Wheatley for early teachers.
That building burned in 1901, and in 1902 the present one was put up, in which Miss Anna Knapp taught the first term. No school is there this year.

Grant School (No. 42). known at first as the old Gray School, was built about 1868 Its first teacher was David Braddock. The district was divided, and in 1893 this school was located on the Grant farm. The present teacher is Clarence Huffman.

Center School (No. 43) was started in 1859 not far from its present location in Section 10, Township 13. It was moved to its present site in 1868, and the building now used was put up in 1888. The first teacher after it was moved in
1868 was W. T. Foreman, and the first teacher in the present building Clara Osborn. The present teacher is Minnie E. Taylor.

Fair Grange School (No. 44), in Section 11, Township 13, was built in 1864, and James W. Craig taught the first school. The new house built in Fair Grange in 1902 cost $1,800. The present teacher is D. C. Carson.

Seven Hickory School (No. 45) was in a district organized from the old Gray and Glassco schools, and the building was erected in 1892. V. Goff was the first, and Claude Christeson is the present teacher. It is in Section 20, Township 13.

Glassco School (No. 46) is in Section 30, Township 13. The first house was built in 1858, and the present one in 1885. Miss Hulda Oliver taught at first and Miss Maggie Reat teaches now.

The Dice School (No. 47) was built about one-fourth of a mile north of the present location in 1860 and in 1884 the present house in Section 28, Township 13 was built. W. H. Crispin taught its first and Elmer Smith its last school.

Marshall School (No. 48) in Section 22, Township 13, was started with the building of a house in 1867-68. The present building followed about 1886. Joseph Heath and Nettie Decker taught the first and second schools, respectively, in the old house, and Miss Dovie Sellars taught first in the last house. R. L. Montz now teaches there.

Mullen School (No. 49) is in Section 30. Township 13, and the first house was put up in 1865, with Miss Addie Carney as first teacher. That house was burned about 1878, being replaced the same year by the present building, in which J. C. Babbs first taught.


Jersey County
"History of Jersey County" 1919

A proper appreciation of pioneer conditions is shown in the following, quoted from B.B. Hamilton's Centennial History of Jersey County, in which he refers to conditions in 1839.

"But what of education, and where were the schoolhouses then? Very few were they. At Grafton, a modest frame building of one story, another at Jerseyville, another at Lofton's Prairie, with perhaps a half of dozen in prairies round about, and in the woody regions log houses of the most primitive style, in point of construction. And all these had been erected by the voluntary labor and contributions of the people. No tax had then been levied-the common school system of Illinois, had then no existence."

Rev. L. Grosvenor, in his Thanksgiving address of November 24, 1853 says: "If we had in Illinois or in the town of Jerseyville an efficient and comprehensive system of public schools, such as they have in Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio, and even in some particular towns of our own state, we could very well do without a seminary, established by private funds. But is there a present prospect that the general apathy with regard to public schools will give place to a zeal in this behalf, which will produce a system that will give to the children of Jerseyville anything like a thorough education?" [History of Jersey County-1919, page 201



Schools were no more popular than churches at first. Much ot the delay must be accounted for on the ground of difficulties almost impossible to overcome, but early schools, above all other considerations, requires that “there be first a willing mind.” There was a school opened as early as 1828, just north of the county-line, and children attended it from miles around. It was probably 1840 before one was built in Cumberland County territory. This was known as the Owen schoolhouse, from the fact that Jephtha Owen taught singing-school here several seasons. Among the early teachers in the county was Benjamin Aleshire, who commenced about this time and taught more or less for fifteen years. A. J. Busick was an early teacher, also E. H. Starkweather. The latter was a native of Vermont, and was generally known as a “blue-bellied Yankee.” He taught school in his own cabin for years. Greenup had a very early schoolhouse, perhaps earlier than 1840. It also had the first brick schoolhouse. From time to time, the various neighborhoods erected buildings for their schools, and in 1850 there were seventeen in the county. From the reports are gathered the following statistics, which indicate the growth of this factor in the county’s development:

In 1867, there were 72 school houses, and 4 new ones built; 4,192 pupils enrolled, and $22,475.19 expended for school purposes. [ "Counties of Cumberland, Jasper and Richland, Illinois"]


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