Steele County, Minnesota

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Education History
Source: History of Rice & Steele Counties, Minnesota, Chapter XXIII; Illustrated, Vol. II; Compiled by Franklin Curtiss-Wedge (1910) Transcribed by Joseph Rose 

State System Inaugurated---First School House Erected in Steele County.---Other Schoolhouses Soon Built.---Word Picture of Pioneer School.---First County Superintendent Appointed.---List of His Successors.---Owatonna Schools.---Early Meetings of the Board.---Grammar School Established.--- High School Course.---Modern Modification and Additions.---Present Buildings, Systems and Officers.---List of City Superintendents.---Contributed by Professor Philip J. Kuntz. 

In treating the subject of education, or of the public schools of Owatonna, but little more than half a century of time is involved. While nothing pertaining to the long ago will be really necessary, still, in order to lay a good foundation for our work, it will seem best to consider a wider field than even Steele County.

At the formation of the union, and later, when the federal government was established, there was no definite line of action as to public education, although at the same time, that the Constitution was adopted the last session of the Continental Congress was being held in the city of New York, and the Ordinance of 1787 was passed, regulating the affairs pertaining to the Northwest territories, including a portion of Minnesota, that portion lying east of the Mississippi river. In this Ordinance much attention was given to the question of education, and of providing a means for public education, by giving one section in each congressional township for educational purposes. Later, when the purchase of Louisiana was effected, and Minnesota sought admission into the union, still further provision was made for education by giving two sections in each congressional township for such purposes. This gave impetus to the natural tendency toward educational matters, and we find that one of the first efforts in the new settlements was to prepare to educate the children. The church and the school building, when not one and the same, were practically always found side by side. The hardy pioneers of the Great Northwest---of which Minnesota was a part---did not wait even for a territorial government, but set to work at once to establish schools. The first one in Minnesota, for the education of white children, was organized by Dr. Williamson, at the present site of the city of St. Paul. We are told that investigation demonstrated that there were about thirty-six children in the settlement, who might attend a school. A log house, 10x12 feet, covered with bark, and chinked with mud, previously used as a blacksmith shop, was secured and converted into a school house, and taught by Miss Bishop. Here, then, while the United States troops were gaining such signal success in the war with Mexico, was begun the system of education which has become one of the best in this great nation. In this same little school house in November, 1849, was held a meeting for the purpose of establishing a system of public education, based upon the congressional act of March, 1849, establishing Minnesota territory. Alexander Ramsay, of Pennsylvania, was appointed governor, and proceeded at once to assume the duties of his office. In his first message to the territorial legislature, in the fall of 1849, he emphasized the need of wise measures looking to the establishment of a system of public education in these words: "The subject of education, which has ever been esteemed of the first importance in all new American communities, deserves, and I doubt not, will receive our earliest and most devoted care. From the pressure of other, and more immediate wants, it is not to be expected that your school system should be very ample, yet it is desirable that whatever is done should be of a character that will readily adapt itself to the growth and increase of the country, and not in future years require a violent change of system."

In response to this appeal for legislation in school matters we find that a committee on education was appointed, and a ?ry able report was made by the chairman, Hon. Martin Mc?

This report was formulated into an act relating to public schools in Minnesota, which act was passed on the last day of ?? session, November 1, 1849. It organized the territory into districts, of which the township was the unit, and provided that a township had within its limits five families it should be considered as one district, but if it contained ten families it ??uld be divided into two districts. Tax levy was provided, ?? a system of management arranged. The first superintendent of common schools for the territory was Rev. E. D. Neil, who ?ed till 1853. His salary was one hundred dollars a year.

About 1853 we find the first authentic record of people coming into what was afterward called Steele County, and the first ??lements were made near Medford and on the present site Owatonna. Not until 1855 did there seem to be a sufficient ? of children to begin educational work, and then the ?ent Steele county, and a portion of what is now Waseca County, constituted one township, according to the meaning of the territorial plan. During the summer of 1853 a few of the settlers got together and built a kind of shed, and covered with boughs, on the present Albertus site on North Oak street, which was the first schoolhouse, and which school was taught by Helen Holbrook. Two of the student children in attendance upon this school were the mother and aunt of Grace Farmer, at present a teacher in the Lincoln school, Owatonna. The next year a log house was built, and served as a school house, church and general meeting place for public business. This building was erected near the present Lincoln school building.

Here we find the children of the hardy pioneers attending school and receiving their first, and in many cases, their only educational training. At about the same time that these events were transpiring in Owatonna other settlements in Steele County were establishing schools. In the same year, namely, in 1856, Medford built a school house, and there began a kind of rivalry between the two places, with the odds for some time seemingly in favor of Medford. Clinton Falls and Havana followed in rapid succession, and it soon became necessary to plan a county system of education. Permit me here to present a picture of a winter day, say in 1858 or 9, at school. (This is a reproduction, so far as I can remember, of the school as given me by a dear departed friend, A. W. Jones.) A log school house, with an old Franklin stove set in a box of brick in the center of the room, door at one end, and two windows on each side, chinking of mud between the logs, the master's desk in one corner of the room, home-made desks for about fifteen to twenty children around the outside of the room, the dinner baskets on the floor in a corner most distant from the stove, wraps hanging about the room, and a rousing wood fire in the stove. At 9 o'clock the master calls school by rapping on the window sash and giving expression to the then commonly used expression, "Books." Then the work of the day begins.

The organization of the school system of the county, according to the territorial plan, was to have as its head a county superintendent of schools, and in the election of 1856 we find that Ezra Abbott was elected to that office. The number of school districts in the county then was thirteen and the number of teachers was fifteen. Following is the list of county superintendents, beginning with 1864, the period between 1962 and 1864 being under a different plan. (The legislature changed the system in 1862, dividing the county into three districts, in each of which the county commissioners were to appoint a superintendent.) The following persons were appointed: R. G. Lincoln, first district; Harvey Chapin, second district; Dwight Gorden, third district. In 1864, the law being changed back to county supervision, the county commissioners appointed A. A. Harwood county superintendent and fixed his salary at $200 a year.

Mr. Harwood was succeeded by Hon. A. C. Hickman. F. J. Stevens succeeded him in 1868, and Mr. Stevens was succeeded by O. A. Tiffany. The terms of service are not given for the reason that no record was available. Rev G. C. Tanner was the next county superintendent and held the office until 1887, when he resigned. J. D Brown was appointed to fill the vacancy and held office till 1890 when E. G. Adams was elected, and held office for four years. In 1894 C. L. Whitman was elected, and served but one term. In 1896 Frank Carleton was elected, and served one term, when W. V. Kasper was elected and served two terms, In 1902 A. E. Kenyon was elected and in 1904 C. L. Davis was elected, serving two terms.

In 1908 Steele County for the first time in its history elected a lady to the office of county superintendent, in the person of Grace G. Randall, who occupies the position at the present writing.


About 1960 or 1862 the settlement of Owatonna had sufficiently increased to call for a larger building, and a frame school house, with two rooms, was built by Elder Towne, which building was used until removed in 1902, and is now changed to a dwelling house on East School Street. As teachers for this school Katherine Adair, sister of the present (1910) high school principal, Ester E. Adair was one of the teachers. A picture of these two teachers, and their children is at present in possession of Esther E Adair.

In 1865 a special charter was granted to the city of Owatonna, making the territory of the city of Owatonna in the county of Steele, to constitute one school district, and under the control and direction of a board of education. As members of ?? board of education the following persons were elected, as ?? record, now in the possession of the board of education: ?? Towns, term three years, second ward; S. Hotchkiss, term three years, first ward; D. W. Burch, term one year, third ward; ?? S. Harsha, term one year, at large; C. L, Tappan, term two years, at large.

April 10th, 1865, the meeting for organization "met according ??w, in the principal school house of said city, and organized ??lecting Rev. A Towne, president, and Rev. C. L. Tappan ??, by ballot."

These minutes, and the minutes from that day to this, are complete and continuous, and well kept. At this first meeting it was decided to have three terms of school during the year. Of three months each, and that they employ two female teachers for the first (summer) term.

"Adjourned for 5 minutes, by order of the president, to read the local news, at the expiration of which time business was resumed."

It was also voted that school commence the first Monday in May, 1865. April 25, 1865, another meeting was held, and Mary E. P. Smith was elected at $7 a week, and Mary E. Blair, at $6 a week. May 25, 1865, another meeting was held and this record is found.

"In view of the crowded state of our schools, it was voted to open another department, viz,: grammar department, and Messrs. Towne and Harsha were appointed a committee to procure a suitable room for the same and report next Monday evening." At the appointed meeting the committee reported that they were unable to procure a room. At this meeting they "voted to hire the Baptist church, if it can be obtained, for the grammar school." June 1st, 1865, a meeting was held, and the following appears: "Voted to hire C. T. Andrews to teach the grammar department in the Baptist church, 7 weeks, beginning next Monday, and to pay him $60 for the same. Messrs. Burch and Tappan were appointed a committee to hire Mr. Andrews and grade the schools. Mr. Burch was appointed to procure pail, dipper and broom."

The fall of 1865 the schools began the first Monday after Thanksgiving, and later it was found that a fourth teacher was necessary, and the same was provided to begin in January, 1866.

At a meeting of the board held January 8, 1866, I find the first record of rules and regulations to govern the schools, which are as follows: 1st, The schools shall be divided into three departments, styled the primary, intermediate and grammar departments, and the studies pursued in each shall be uniform. 2nd, every pupil in the intermediate and grammar departments of the school shall be required to read and spell at least once each day. 3d, there shall be no profane or indecent language used by any pupil in attendance at the schools. 4th, there shall be no rude or boisterous play in the school rooms and no marring or defacing of either school room or furniture. 5th, every pupil in the grammar and intermediate departments who shall be tardy or absent be required by the teacher to bring a written excuse from parent or guardian, and no pupil shall be dismissed during school hours without a written request from parent or guardian. Provided further, that whenever such excuses and request shall number five, the teacher shall report said pupil to the board, and refuse to admit him to school until he present a written statement from some member of the board entitling him to admission. 6th, composition and declamation shall be maintained in the grammar department, and declamation in the intermediate department every week. 7th, any pupil wilfully violating, or refusing to comply with any of these rules, shall, upon due proof being given, be expelled or not. At the option of the board, during the remainder of the term in which such offense is committed."

It is quite noticeable that much time, during these earlier years, was spent by the board in employing teachers, as they were almost entirely employed for a term of three months, when they were either reemployed or others employed to take their places.

May 5, 1866, a district meeting was held for the purpose of voting $2,500 worth of bonds "for the purpose of purchasing sites and building two school rooms in the district." The bonds were voted. And from half the issue the minutes show the purchase of the Baptist church. September 14, 1867,an adjourned meeting of the qualified voters of the district was held, which meeting was addressed by Mark H Dunnell, state superintendent of public instruction. At this meeting it was voted to bond the city of Owatonna, school district number one, to the amount of 20,000, for the purpose of purchasing a site for, and the erection of, a central school building. The bonds were voted to be issued at 10 per cent, but later I find another meeting called for the purpose of authorizing the payment of 12 per cent, ?? no money could be procured at 10 per cent. The change was voted, but a change in amount was also made, to $15,000. February 17, 1868, at a meeting of the qualified voters, the site for a central school building was selected, which was the present site of the high school building, and on March 2, 1868, the board resolved to build a central school building on the site previously elected. The building was to be red brick, and three stories high, with nine foot basement. Plans and specifications were prepared by I. I. Fuller, for $100. Contract for building was given to I. W. Dresser and D. Marble, April 27, 1868, for $4,419.

August 27, 1868, the board, at a regular meeting, elected ?? L. Butts principal of the schools at a salary of $1200 a year. ?? to this time C. T. Andrews seems to have been the principal. ?? the reelection on Prof. Butts for the fourth year, June 3, 1871, he was elected principal and superintendent. This is the first time the title of superintendent is applied. Prof. Butts was at ??d of the schools until 1873, when he was succeeded by C. W, ?? of Mankato, who occupied the position for two years, C. W. Clinton was elected, and served for three years. On the official record I find the following interesting item: "The night of January 7, 1873, and the day following are recorded as having experienced the most severe and destructive storms that have been known in the history of Minnesota. At about 3 o'clock in the afternoon the wind changed from the south to the northwest and continued increasing in power until it became one of the greatest electrical storms ever known in the Northwest. So much so that messages were readily sent after the batteries had been disconnected from the wires. The loss of life along our northern and western frontier has been terrific, over 200 persons are known to have perished during the storm. Comparatively few lives have been lost in the southern and eastern portion of the state. The air became so filled with drifting snow that it was impossible to distinguish objects at more than ten or twelve rids distance and often not more than four rods. Mercury going no lower than 18 degrees below zero."

At a meeting of the board September 5, 1876, Prof. Clinton presented the following high school course of study, which was the first on record, and, as the record shows, was adopted, after some discussion:

"High school course of study, 1876.---First year, first term: Arithmetic, practical and mental; reading; physical geography; United States history; grammar; spelling; language lessons; drawing (optional) ; penmanship. First year second term: Arithmetic, practical and mental; reading; United States history; algebra, to factoring; grammar. Language lessons; physiology; drawing (optional) ; spelling, penmanship. First year, third term: Arithmetic, practical and mental; language lessons; drawing (optional) ; algebra, reviewed; spelling; penmanship; reading. United States history, completed; grammar. Second year, first term: Algebra, continued; word analysis; penmanship; school composition; United States constitution; drawing (optional) ; natural philosophy; spelling; general history. Second year, second term: Algebra completed; word analysis; penmanship; school composition; United States constitution; drawing (optional) ; natural philosophy spelling; general history. Second year third term: Algebra, reviewed; word analysis; penmanship; natural philosophy, completed; United States constitution, completed; drawing (optional) ; school composition; spelling; general history. Third year first term: Geometry; English literature; chemistry; rhetorical exercises; political economy; analysis of English language. Third year, second term: Geometry; geology; chemistry, completed; rhetorical exercises; analysis of English language; English literature. Third year third term: Geometry, completed; elements of botany; elementary astronomy; rhetorical exercises; English literature; analysis of English language."

August 29. 1879, Prof. J. C. Bryant was elected superintendent, Prof. Clinton having resigned. Before the opening of school for this fall, the above course of study was slightly modified, principally by the addition of Latin in the second and third years. The rules and regulations were also changed, rather brought down to date, and were in much the form and sentiment as at present in force, The course of study was changed at different times, making it stronger with each change, and also making it harmonize with the work in other high schools and enabling the graduates from this high school to enter colleges and universities upon their credentials and without examinations. Not until after 1890 was the course extended to a full four-year high school course, with four years of Latin offered, and two years of German offered. Changes have been a necessity in later years in order to add to the work the special lines, and give our young people an opportunity to secure the varied lines offered to young people in other communities and cities. Thus in 1901 music and drawing were added as a regular line, in charge of a special teacher. In 1907 manual training and mechanical drawing were added, and are in charge of a special teacher. During this same year the kindergarten was opened as a part of the public school system of the city, in charge of a teacher and one assistant. This addition to the public school system was made possible by reason of a perpetual endowment in the sum of $5,000, left for that purpose by Hon. H. H. Rosebrock, a public-spirited and philanthropic citizen for many years. In 1909 the line of work was further extended by the addition of home economics, in charge of a special teacher. One further addition, that of agriculture, is being planned, and it is expected to put into operation a special course in agriculture, in charge of a trained person in that line of work.

The first class tp graduate from the high school was in the spring of 1877, and consisted of seven young people, four boys and three girls, two of whom are at present citizens of Owatonna ??z: Alice L. Hold (Mrs. George R. Kinyon) and Charles L. ??und. Since that time, with the exception of 1878 and 1881, graduation exercises have been held, and classes have increased in size until the present class numbers forty-nine. The management of the school has been quite uniform and successful, the ??ing principle being to maintain a high standard, and give the ??ung people of Owatonna benefit of the best that can be provided. Tenure of superintendents and teachers has been ??ed upon the principle that successful individuals should be ??lined as long as possible. Fewer changes in superintendence's have been made than in most places. Mr. Bryant left in 1882 and was succeeded by Hon. George B. Aiton for many years, and at present state high school inspector, who remained but two years. A. W. Rankin was elected in 1884, and remained until 1889.Mr, Rankin is at present professor in the College of Education at the state university. G. F. Kenasten was here from 1889 to 1892; B. T. Hathaway, from 1892 to 1893; L. H. Ford, from 1893 to 1899, since which time the writer has occupied the position.

At the present time there are, including the kindergarten building, which is famous for having been Steele County's first court house, five buildings: The high school building, erected in 1883, to take the place of the one erected in 1868, and burned to the ground in 1882, the McKinley building, erected in 1895 and 1899, corner of Rise and Grove streets; the Lincoln building, erected in 1885 and in 1902, on the original school site; the Jefferson building on the west side, corner of Bridge and State streets, erected in 1904, and the Kindergarten building, above mentioned. The entire number of teachers employed, including the superintendent is thirty-five. The board of education consists of one member from each ward (five) and two at large, making it consist of seven members. The levy for school purposes is $20,000. To this is to be added the state appropriation, amounting to over $4,000, and the state high school aid, which now is $1,750 annually.

The enrollment has reached 1,275, of which number 200 are enrolled in the high school. The class of 1910 consisted of eighteen young men and thirty-one young ladies---forty-nine in all-the largest class so far graduated from the schools. The board of education at present consists of: George Parrott, president; W. C. Zamboni, secretary; W.W. Kinyon, treasurer; R. H. G. Netz, Guy B. Bennett, M. R. Cashman, Anton Seykora, Jr,; P. J. Kuntz, superintendent, ex-officio member.

- - 1948 - - 58 Seniors to End High School Career
Source: Blooming Prairie Times, Thursday, May 27, 1948, Volume LV, Number Three. Transcribed by: Jacob Alberti

Tonight (Thursday) May 27th, at 8:00 in the high school auditorium, 58 seniors will bid goodbye to Blooming Prairie High School and receive well earned diplomas to be presented by Atty, G.S. Thorson, President of the board of election. The Dr. R.L. Lakesgaard, of Winona State Teachers College, will deliver the address to the graduates, parents and a large audience of friends. Dr. Lakesgaard is recognized as one of the outstanding educators and speakers in Minnesota and he will have a message full of guidance and wise counsel for the young men and women, who are about to embark their voyage in the business world.

The following is the program of tonights exercise:
Processional- H.S. Bank
Invocation - Rev. Clair Karsten
Choral Selection - Girls Chorus
Commencement Address - Dr. R.L. Lakesgaard
Piano Selection - Janet Sauke
Present of Awards, for American Legion Aux - Gordon Lindquist
Presentation of Class - Maurice McFarlin
Presentation of Diplomas - G.S.Thorson
Benediction - Rev. C. Karsten
Recessional - H.S. Band

Graduating Class
Delores Pechacek, Gordon Paulson, Mary Ann Prokopee, Merle Hillson, Phyllis Christianson, Verna Trom, Marilyn Osby, Alice Magladry, Marilyn Lynard, Mary Ann Zupp, Arthur Olson, Elaine Jacobson, Allen Anderson, Mary Hotlaba, Barbara Decker, Dorothy Meyer, Beverly Johnson, Jack Cipra, Marion Fjerstad, Charlotte Conrad, Lucille Diesch, Marion Yentsch, LaVonne Eaker, Hilda Fibeiger, John Pirkl, Carol Mueller, Donald Brown, Norma Nelson, Jean Harding, Gerald Krell, Beverly Nott, Harvey Ille, Marily Knutson, Myron Helleck, Hubert Swenson, Sydney Magnuson, Amos Farr, Barbara Brantley, Donald Hope, Merle Peterson, Marion Wangen, Patricia Schrom, Louella Jenson, Marvin Pfeifer, Frank Thissen, Marvin Lea, Phillip MacDonald, Alex Decker, Lynwood Ditlevson, Paul Rasmussen, Wally Harding, Roger Johnson, Richard Klemmensen, Alan Morton, Donald Peterson, Gene Zwiener.

Valedictorian: Delores Pechacek
Co-Salutatorians: Mary Ann Prokopec and Gordon Paulson

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