Wisconsin Genealogy Trails
Brown County, Wisconsin
Schools of Brown County

[Source: "History of Brown County, Wisconsin: Past and Present", Volume 1; By Deborah Beaumont Martin; pub. 1913]

Andrew J. Vieau, Sr., in his narrative of early times, says that he attended the school taught by St. Jacobs, in 1820. A year or two later "J. B. Dupré, originally of Detroit, and a soldier discharged from the first troops that came here under Colonel John Miller in 1816, became his successor. Dupré's French school was on claim number ten on the west side. My next teacher was Captain Dinwiddie, who taught on the east side of the river at the foot of Judge Morgan L. Martin's present garden." (lot 7, block 68.) A number of other teachers are associated with this little log school, among them Amos Holton who seems to have been a man of some education, and who received from his pupils $4.00 per capita for a term of twelve weeks.

Soon after a larger schoolhouse was built farther up the river and Daniel Curtis, formerly a captain in the regular army was schoolmaster, he with his family occupying the barracks at Camp Smith. One summer afternoon during a terrific thunderstorm a messenger came hurrying through wind and rain to tell Curtis that his wife had been killed by, lightning. General Ellis writes of this Captain Curtis: "It may be remarked that he was more a man of science or what may be called genius than of a military turn. He had been dismissed from the army * * * before his dismissal he had been charged with the oversight of a large fatigue party for the purpose of procuring or making lumber to rebuild Fort Howard.

"Considering himself authorized thereto, he attempted the construction of a government sawmill at the Little Kakalin (Little Rapids), ten miles up the Fox river. Here he attempted to dam the river, and in fact got a work across, but was ordered to other duty before the dam was finished or made secure. It is fair presumption that had he been permitted to finish the work according to his plan, it would have stood the flood—been a success, and the government had a fine sawmill at the Little Kakalin. But because he was withdrawn, the work suspended, unfinished, went out, was a failure, and Captain Curtis censured, courtmartialed and dismissed the service. Captain Curtis married the sister of Major William Whistler."

In 1823 the Protestant Episcopal Missionary Society established a school in the Agency house on Dutchman's Creek (Town of Ashwaubenon), the Rev. Eleazer Williams having charge and Albert G. Ellis conducting the school. Both white and Indian children seem to have attended this school.

Later Ellis taught the garrison school at Fort Howard, and then at the solicitation of the Green Bay citizens opened a school in the Rouse schoolhouse with over eighty scholars. This building was erected by Louis Rouse and stood on the Louis Grignon claim near the present southern limit of Green Bay. About one-half the pupils paid for tuition, to the remainder the benefit of the school was given gratuitously.

Miss Caroline Russell in 1828 was engaged as teacher by five American families in Shantytown, where a log schoolhouse was built for her accommodation, and four years later Miss Frances Sears presided over the same school; the scholars being little children of both sexes. These two ladies were highly esteemed, and were said to be most excellent teachers; they gave instruction in reading, writing, arithmetic, English grammar and geography. Ability to teach the last two studies was considered a high attainment, for up to that time the only requisite in a pedagogue was sufficient learning to "read, write and cipher to the rule of three."

Both the Protestant Episcopal and Roman Catholic churches engaged in the work of education. During the summer of 1826, Friar Fauvel was sent by the Vicar General Gabriel Richard to succeed Father Badin; the citizens put up a schoolhouse for him and for awhile he continued in great favor but charges were made against him, he was deposed and removed from charge. At first the people of his communion stood by him, but becoming disgusted with him, finally revolted and the school was closed. As he still refused to give up the property, a suit was brought to obtain possession, Morgan L. Martin conducting the prosecution; the case was tried before N. G. Bean, and a verdict given for the plaintiff.

The attempt made by the Protestant Episcopal Missionary Society to gather in the little aborigines had from various causes proved a failure, but in 1828 the society sent the Rev. Richard F. Cadle to take charge of the Green Bay mission, who obtained possession of a building in Shantytown known as the officers' quarters of the Camp Smith stockade. Notice was given in November of that year, that the school would open. A. G. Ellis aided in its organization. For some weeks it numbered just one scholar, but the pupils gradually increased in number, and soon the entire confidence of the people was secured.

Possession was obtained from government of a vacant strip of land, about two and a quarter arpents wide, and running back one and a quarter miles to Devil river. This strip had been claimed by Judge Porlier, but was not confirmed to him by the United States commissioners. It was a beautiful site, on high ground overlooking Fox river at its broadest stretch, and is included today in the town of Allouez; on it buildings were erected, at a cost of $9,000, and in a year and a half, there were nearly two hundred children enrolled and in attendance. Those of pure Indian blood were boarded and clothed as well as instructed free of expense; the half castes paid a small or large proportion of the regular price for board and tuition, according to their means. The charge was $30 annually for boarders, and $2 quarterly for tuition alone. To quote from A. G. Ellis, "the expense account was enormously large, and funds did not come to meet it as they were needed, nor did the results meet expectations, for only a small proportion of the children were natives who could not be induced to attend." Solomon Juneau of Milwaukee when petitioned to use his influence in obtaining scholars wrote: "As to the little savages whom you ask about for Mr. Cadle, I have spoken to several and they tell me with great satisfaction that they are much happier in their present situation than in learning geography."

A charge of cruelty was brought against an under teacher of the institution for punishing severely two boys who had been guilty of a serious misdemeanor, and Mr. Cadle sensitively appreciative of the criticism that might include him as head of the institution, resigned after four years of almost insupportable labor and anxiety. In 1842 it was decided by the board of missions to discontinue it as a mission school.

A petition was presented at the special session of the legislative council of Michigan in which it was set forth that:

"Whereas the Foreign and Domestic Missionary Society of the Protestant Episcopal church in the United States of America heretofore established a Mission School at Green Bay in the County of Brown and Territory of Wisconsin, for the education of Indian children, and in the establishment and prosecution of said Mission School the said Society has erected extensive buildings, and two school houses at great expense, which said mission and schools are now in active and successful operation * * * and whereas the wise policy of the United States in colonizing the Indians will in time remove them from this vicinity, and suspend the operations of this society, it is proposed to give to the citizens of Wisconsin, and others, the benefits and privileges of the said institution for the purpose of establishing a Seminary of Learning.

"Therefore be it enacted by the Council and House of Representatives that there be erected and established * * * a college for the purpose of educating youth, the style, name and title of which shall be, the Wisconsin University of Green Bay."

The university did not attract patronage sufficient to meet expenses, and about the year 1842 was closed.

On May 1, 1831, the zealous missionary Rev. Samuel Mazzuchelli came to Menomineeville, which was his headquarters during, the six months following. A month later subscriptions were solicited for an Indian school, to be in connection with the church then being built. The subscription reads: "Considering the advantages of a Roman Catholic Indian free school at Green Bay, in favour of that portion of our fellow Beings in the settlement.

"And considering Mrs. Dousman well qualified to conduct such a school and to instruct our Indian youth in the necessary branches of civilized and domestic life we the subscribers in order to enable and encourage said Mrs. Dousman to devote her time and labors to the above said laudable purpose, hereby bind ourselves (and) our heirs to pay said Mrs. Dousman during one year from this date every three months quarterly the Sums in cash or produce annexed to our respective names.
"Witness our Signatures in presence of the Bearer:
"Green Bay, June 19, 1831."

A list of names follows. Soon afterward the school was opened with Mrs. Rosalie Dousman as superior and chief teacher, and Miss Elizabeth Grignon as assistant. All poor Indians were to be admitted gratuitously for all instructions; others on moderate terms. Of the receipts after deducting the expenses of the school Mrs. Dousman was to receive two-thirds, Miss Grignon the remainder.

This school was later closed "for weighty reasons that is Too little Compensation" as one of the parishioners writes in 1836. In the meantime a flourishing convent school was conducted for two years by two sisters of the order of Santa Clara, under the superintendence of the Rev. Mazzuchelli.

In 1832, a school was started in De Pere, of which no particulars are recorded. In Navarino in 1833, a frame building was erected by Daniel Whitney on the south side of Cherry street between Washington and Adams. The first teacher was William White, one of several brothers, who came to Green Bay at an early day. Many names of citizens who afterward became prominent in the town, are found in the list of teachers in this school as time went on. The "Yellow Schoolhouse" as it was designated served for a public hall as well; many town meetings were held there. In an issue of the Advocate, 1847, a meeting of citizens irrespective of party was called at the Yellow Schoolhouse, to consider the first constitution of the new state, which was about to be submitted to a vote of the people. The following notice taken from the Wisconsin Democrat, an early newspaper will show how the school curriculum in Brown county had widened from the simple teaching of fundamentals of a few years previous.

The subscriber having taken the building heretofore occupied for an office by James D. Doty Esquire, opened a school on Wednesday, the 23d ult, in which he proposes to teach the following branches, viz: Reading, Orthography, Writing, Geography, Astronomy, Arithmetic (on the inductive plan), English grammar, Latin and some of the higher branches of Mathematics.

The subscriber having had a number of years' experience in teaching the above mentioned branches, flatters himself that he possesses the happy faculty of communicating instruction to youth in such a manner as to give general satisfaction to all who may place their children under his charge for instruction.

A quarter will continue during 12 weeks abating half the Saturdays. No deduction will be made for irregularity in attending school, or for scholars leaving school before the close of the quarter unless on account of ill health.

The terms of tuition will be as follows, viz: For Reading, Orthography and Writing, a quarter, per scholar, $6; Geography, Astronomy and English grammar, $7; the higher branches, $8.

Green Bay, December 8, 1836.

Sometime during the thirties a school was held in the town hall which then stood facing St. John's park and between Jefferson and Madison streets. Later this hall was removed to the corner of Adams and Doty streets and was used as the courthouse, the upper story being repeatedly rented for a school.

Up to this time the various schools had been supported by private subscription. The foreign born colonists who had emigrated to Wisconsin and made settlements within the limits of Brown county depended for schooling as did Green Bay at an early day on the instruction received from the resident priest or an assistant.

As soon, however, as towns were organized, a schoolhouse was built and effort made to maintain schools where ordinary instruction should be given in the English language, and which should be supported by taxation. Town meetings were usually held in these schoolhouses.

School libraries authorized by state law were at first selected by the town clerk of each township. Now the county superintendent has this branch in charge.

The ample provision made by congress in 1785, for a school fund, in setting apart for that purpose the sixteenth section in each township and a further large grant of lands to the territory at large in later years did not materially assist Brown county with its sparse population and acres of unoccupied land, that could be had for a nominal price. During territorial days in Wisconsin this sixteenth section could only be leased and the income applied for school purposes, which as may readily be seen would insure a very small revenue for the support of common schools, and conditions throughout the state were much the same. One of the first resolutions introduced in the convention at Belmont in 1836, referred to the report of a bill to prohibit persons from trespassing on the school lands of this territory by cutting and destroying timber. A memorial to Congress was adopted at the same session requesting that the sale of school sections in each township be authorized and the money arising be appropriated toward creating a fund for the support of public schools. On November 7, 1837, a bill was passed regulating the sale of public lands, and for organizing, regulating and perfecting common schools.

Not only, however was there difficulty in disposing of the lands at their appraised value but the sales were badly mismanaged, speculating in lands was very common and personal profit became sometimes the first consideration with officials conducting the transaction. An instance is recorded in Brown county of a whole section being sold on partial payments and afterward a patent for the same tract issued to the chief clerk of the office without the payment of a dollar at one shilling an acre, although it was appraised at from ten to twelve shillings.

The district system adopted from the laws of Michigan with some modifications was in force in Wisconsin until it became a state. Funds were raised by taxation and by private subscription, and were usually inadequate with the result of poor schools, poor teachers, short terms and lack of books. Sanitary conditions were such as would not be tolerated by the hygienic regimen of the present day. Complaints were frequent and loud in early years of the wretched houses without proper seats, blackboards, ventilation or outhouses.

On September 24, 1846, the Green Bay Advocate printed the following communication from Samuel Ryan, junior. "At a meeting of the board of school commissioners of and for the town of Green Bay a resolution was passed appointing the undersigned to make an abstract in relation to school districts and the duties of trustees and other officers." The abstract set forth that at the meeting to be held annually on the first Monday in October a moderator should be chosen to preside, a district clerk, three trustees and a collector were to be elected. The duties of the trustees were to make a list of the persons taxable in the district, and of taxable property, annexing to such list a warrant to the collector of the district for the collection of such taxes and five per cent for his fees within sixty days. The annual meeting could vote to build a schoolhouse or to rent, purchase or repair, provided the tax so voted did not exceed the sum of $200.

Whenever there was a deficiency of money to pay the teacher after a return of the warrant on the rates bill the district might on vote of two thirds of the qualified electors assess and collect a tax on actual residents. All persons sending children must furnish their just proportion of fuel unless considered by the trustees as indigent.

Among the township officers elected for the town of Depere April 6, 1847, are three school commissioners, William Dickenson, George Boyd, John W. Cotton. Of the schools over which they had control there is no record, but on June 1, 1849, a public school was held in the courthouse taught by a young girl of sixteen years, Miss Marietta Johnson. Either on account of the youth and inexperience of the preceptress or from lack of funds two terms were the extent in duration of this school. In 1850 however, the work was assumed by William Field a young man from the east of great intelligence, good looking, agreeable and finely educated as well. Under him the school prospered and since that time a public school has been continuously maintained. In 1852 the village built a schoolhouse on the site now occupied by the Holland Catholic church, Field still being school master. In that year also New Franken advertises in the Advocate for a teacher.

In 1853-4 high hopes were entertained that De Pere would soon become a metropolis and the Massachusetts Educational Society (Presbyterian) at the suggestion of the Rev. L. C. Spafford pastor of the Presbyterian church sent Miss Fannie Plumstead and her sister to open a private school which was to be the nucleus of a young ladies' seminary. In connection with the school was a fine library for the use of the pupils. Miss Plumstead was a cultivated woman and fine instructor, but after teaching for three years she married leaving her sister to continue the academy alone. Subsequently the enterprise was given up.

The present system of schools was instituted in 1857, and in 1872 the schools were graded by I. A. Sabin.

In Green Bay the first school tax was levied in 1840, and a public school opened, John F. Lessey, David Ward and Henry Sholes commissioners. The school was held in the town hall on the southeast corner of Adams and Doty streets and was taught by W. H. Warren, the scholars being boys of all ages. Across Doty street on the corner now occupied by the county jail was a school for girls of which a Miss Waters was principal. Only the common branches were taught and the furnishings and apparatus were of the rudest character. Funds from taxation were evidently very irregularly received for in 1847 we find Mr. Warren as principal of the Green Bay Academy advertising for pupils and giving terms of tuition. It was not until 1850 that a public school became firmly established. In that year Mr. Gildersleeve, a fine teacher was engaged, with two assistants. "A paragraph has been going the rounds of the press," says the Advocate of November 16, 1854, "in substance that Green Bay has upwards of twenty grog shops and not one public school. It seemed so absurd at the time of its appearance that we did not dignify it by a contradiction. * * * The sudden and illegal withdrawal by the state authorities of the school fund belonging to this county caused a momentary embarrassment in our free school arrangements, and it is very possible that this class of schools was temporarily suspended, until steps could be taken to go on with them independent of the aid of the public fund.

"There has been before that time and is now no lack of free public schools in Green Bay of the best class. We can recollect of no time since our residence here when there have been less than two schools and oftener more. At this moment there are either all in operation or about to go into operation immediately five schools, four of them we believe free. In the store building opposite the Astor House Miss Morrow has one; in the large school building next to the courthouse, Miss U. Grignon, Miss Grace Howe and Miss Torry have or are about opening three others. Besides these, is the excellent one, private we believe, kept by Miss Crosby at her residence. Over the river there is one free school well kept and we are not certain but there are more." The same issue of the newspaper advertised a sale of forfeited school lands.

The action of the state referred to in the preceding quotation was the refusal to Brown county of her portion of public money intended for the support of schools because of arrears in taxes to the state. The apportionment in 1853 was $1,113.12, but upon application to the state treasurer for the payment of this sum, information was received that the county was in arrears for state taxes to a larger amount than the allotment, and by a law enacted at a previous session of the legislature the county's school fund had been applied to this deficiency.

The report of a committee appointed to look into the right or wrong of this refusal closes with the forceful declaration that the legislators “must not have had the fear of God before their eyes, but were moved and instigated by the devil, and have sunk themselves so deep in infamy that the hand of resurrection can not reach them," if contrary to the laws and constitution of the state they had retained any school money or applied it to any purpose other than the one for which it was intended. The legislature was condemned by public opinion for withholding this money on account of arrearage in state tax to the detriment of towns where the tax had been promptly paid.

Even after this date short terms were often necessary for lack of money. In September, 1856, a schoolhouse, the first owned by the city, was built of cream brick, forty by sixty feet, with four separate apartments. This was in the south ward and across the park from the Moravian church which had just been finished and was for years known as the "old brick." It has been remodeled and enlarged several times, was used as the high school before the present east high school was erected and is now the Sale school. The site was donated by the Astor estate.

The principal who first presided over it was Theron K. Bixby, who made an attempt to grade the school. Only the common English branches were taught; special attention was given to the writing of compositions and weekly rhetorical exercises. The art of memorizing was practiced to a great extreme, geography, history, rules of arithmetic and grammar all taught through rhyming versions or other forms committed to memory. The multiplication table was set to music and sung with a chorus to the tune of Yankee Doodle, and a list of the state capitals was given in the same manner. The building was capable of accommodating two hundred pupils, but before the year was over the enrollment far exceeded that number.

The legislature of 1860 passed a bill establishing the office of county superintendent of schools who should examine and license teachers and inspect schools. The first election in Brown county came off in November, 1861, and on September 7th of that year, the Bay City Press makes trenchant comment thus: "There is to be elected at the November elections an officer under an act of last winter to the most important and most thankless office in the gift of the people—superintendent of our county schools. He must be a man of superior attainments and no humbug about it. He must know his duties and be equal to them. His acquirements must not only be solid and genuine, but he must have energy and firmness and ingenuity to render them practical. A county treasurer may be an ass or an idiot, and a judicious selection of a deputy may keep his accounts justly and render his exhibits intelligibly. But here imposture cannot be practiced or even attempted with impunity. The pay is ridiculously inadequate but the public will not be content with anything less than the very best talent, and none other need offer. Let us look round for a proper candidate."

In 1860, Henry J. Furber, a youthful pedagogue from Maine, became principal of the Green Bay schools. He raised the grade of the schools, added to the course of study Latin' and advanced mathematics and proved a most efficient teacher.

In 1866 the charter of Green Bay was changed and the schools passed under the control of a board of education, consisting of a member from each city ward elected by the common council and a city superintendent chosen by the board of education, L. W. Briggs of Racine became principal of the schools in 1871, and they were thoroughly reorganized by him. He established nine grades and a high school and the present organization of schools is largely due to him.

With the opening of the year 1881 under J. C. Crawford, principal, the school entered upon a new existence. The standing of the school was materially raised to new methods. The course of study was raised and extended, newer methods were introduced. In 1882 official notice was received that the state university had placed the school upon its accredited list for the general science and modern classical courses. In 1885, J. C. Crawford became superintendent as well as principal. He resigned both offices in 1888, and Mrs. Cornelia B. Field was chosen superintendent, the first woman to hold that office in Green Bay.

At the present time we have in the county four high schools, two in Green Bay and two in De Pere, on the east and west sides of the river.

The present county superintendent, Joseph Novitski is a live energetic man, having the advancement of the schools at heart and judicious in the use of methods to that end. Within the past year or two many changes and improvements have been made throughout the county in health condition requirements of rural schools. New schoolhouses are going up all over the county and one of the requirements in construction is consideration for the health, eyesight and comfort of the scholars. A school bulletin is issued bi-monthly by Mr. Novitski in place of the circulars and notices sent out at irregular intervals and these bulletins contain all suggestions and information to which the attention of the teachers should be called.

The report of superintendent Novitski for the past year states that there are now in this county fifteen state graded schools, fourteen are two department or what is known as second class state graded schools, receiving annual aid from the state of $200. One is a three department or first class and receives annually $300. Sixty one room schools have complied with the requirements of first class rural schools and each receives state aid of $50, making a total of $3,000 each year. To make the work more practical and interesting for pupils, a corn growing contest was instituted, also work with the Babcock milk tester. One thousand entries were made by pupils in the county fair and $100 in prizes received.

As it has been placed on the list of accredited-list Wisconsin schools, the Academy of St. Joseph should be mentioned among schools of the same standing. In 1897, at the request of Rt. Rev. Bishop Messmer the Sisters of St. Joseph from Carondelet, Missouri, opened an academy for girls, in this city. It was in the frame building which stood on the corner of Milwaukee and Madison streets where the new St. John's church has been placed. Many stories are told of this old house, which was in use in the pioneer days of early Wisconsin. From this small beginning has grown the nourishing and finely equipped school which in 1909-10 numbered one hundred and fifteen pupils, and has now a larger enrollment.

In 1892, having outgrown its small quarters, the property known as the Kellogg place on Monroe avenue, was purchased ,and an addition to the residence begun. In 1909, Sister Irene, who had been with the school from its beginning, was placed in charge as Mother Superior. Under her efficient management several branches of study have been added and in 1910, a large brick building was erected and fully equipped with modern appliances.

Previous to 1862 the schools of Brown county were under a sort of township form of supervision, a superintendent being chosen from among the best educated of the settlers; sometimes the person elected had the advantage of a college education, while others had but a limited knowledge of the "three R's." and a slight acquaintance with the English language, seeing no reason for its inflections or grammatical construction.

The teacher applying for a school might be fourteen or forty; he secured it, provided he passed the not too rigid examination, (and had a friend on the board); arithmetic, a problem in long division and probably a catch question in the "Rule of Three;" spelling Europe, biscuit, phthisic, etc.; reading from anything at hand, Gulliver's Travels, Robinson Crusoe, or Pilgrim's Progress, as the case may be; grammar, name parts of speech in a simple sentence. These with the applicant's signature, and a recommendation for the moral character may be considered a very thorough test in the days of town superintendents in Brown county. Knowing his limitations, the superintendent sometimes apologized to the college bred applicant (who sought to replenish his purse by teaching a term or two in the district school, before entering his chosen profession) for presuming to test his scholarship.

With the election of autumn, 1861, dawned a new era in the educational life of Wisconsin, as the county superintendents of schools were then elected. Brown county was most fortunate in choosing for its leader in educational affairs a gentleman and a scholar; courteous, affable, sympathetic, thoroughly versed in the classics, he was also a great mathematician, his favorite occupation being that of a civil engineer. J. Kip Anderson was the first and greatest of Brown county's school superintendents.

Edward Hicks succeeded Mr. Anderson, occupying the position until 1866, when Oscar Gray, of Fort Howard (now a part of Green Bay), was elected. Mr. Hicks and Mr. Gray had other business interests, the superintendent's salary being below the "living wage." They did what they could under the circumstances for the uplift of the schools. They were able, manly men, who knew the great disadvantage under which teachers labored and were always ready with words of sound advice and rare kindliness to the young and unexperienced teacher who sought their support and judgment.

P. H. Lynch occupied the position of county superintendent from 1872 to 1872. He was succeeded by Theron Sedwick, a rising young lawyer of West De Pere, who did not seek reelection.

In the fall of 1877 Brown county honored itself by electing a woman to the office of county superintendent, Minnie H. Kelleher. Miss Kelleher, coming from the teachers' ranks, knew where to find weakness in the line and put forth sturdy efforts to strengthen it; she was ably aided by the teachers of the county, including those of De Pere and Green Bay. The county was divided into association districts in which were held teachers' meetings, to discuss how and what to teach. Miss Kelleher held the office two terms, then returned to, the more congenial life of teaching. Her work was fearlessly and faithfully discharged, and was highly appreciated by the men and women of sound principles throughout the state.

George F. Steele succeeded Miss Kelleher; he was followed by John Kittell, who in turn was succeeded by Daniel Rice, three of Brown county's native sons, who might be said to have used the office as a stepping stone to greater preferment, while each discharged his duty to the best of his ability.
Later John B. Fournier became superintendent, followed by J. F. Novitski.
(References for Chapter XXI: Wis. Hist. Coll. Vol. 1; Ibid Vol. 14; Ibid Vol. 7; French, History of Brown County; MS. Records of Christ Church Parish; MS. Letters; Columbian History of Education; Mrs. Curtis R. Merrill; Green Bay Advocate and Bay City Press.)


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