Wisconsin Genealogy Trails
Green County, Wisconsin
History of Schools

Source: "History of Green County, Wisconsin," Illustrated, (1884); transcribed by Genealogy Trails Transcription Team


The common schools of Green county, like many other of its material interests, have developed step by step, growth upon growth, ever widening and deepening to meet the wants of an increasing population, until today they stand abreast with the times. They have reached their present excellence from small beginnings. An account of their rise and progress is an interesting page in the history of the county. It may not be amiss, in this connection, before entering upon a particular consideration of them, to give to our readers from the pen of one of the leading educator's of the northwest, a narrative of the development of education in Wisconsin, from its commencement to the date when the system of county superintendency was established, the first day of the year, 1862, to be followed by an account of Green county common schools, by the present county superintendent.

- By Prof. Edward Searing, in the "Illustrated Historical Atlas of Wisconsin
From the time of the earliest event of the families of French traders into the region now known as Wisconsin, to the year 1818, when that region became part of Michigan Territory, education was mostly confined to private instruction, or was sought by the children of the wealthier in the distant cities of Quebec, Montreal and Detroit. The early Jesuit missionaries, and - subsequently to 1816, when it came under the military control of the United States - representatives of various other religious denominations sought to teach the Indian tribes of this section. In 1823 Rev. Eleazar Williams, well-known for his subsequent claim to be the Dauphin of France, and who was in the employ of the Episcopal Missionary society, started a school of white and half-breed children on the west side of Fox river, opposite "Shanty Town." A Catholic mission school for Indians was organized by an Italian priest near Green Bay, in 1830. A clause of the treaty with the Winnebago Indians, in 1832, bound the United States to maintain a school for their children near Prairie du Chien for a period of twenty-seven years.

From 1818 to 1836, Wisconsin formed a part of Michigan Territory. In the year 1837, Michigan was admitted into the Union as a State, and Wisconsin, embracing what is now Minnesota, Iowa, and a considerable region still further westward, was, by act of Congress, approved April 20 of the year previous, established as a separate Territory. The act provided that the existing laws of the Territory of Michigan should be extended over the new Territory so far as compatible with the provisions of the act, subject to alteration or repeal by the new government created. Thus with the other statutes, the school code of Michigan became the original code of Wisconsin, and it was soon formally adopted, with almost no change, by the first Territorial legislature, which met at Belmont. Although modified in some of its provisions almost every year, this imperfect code continued in force until the adoption of the State constitution in 1848. The first material changes in the code were made by the Territorial legislature at its second session, in 1837, by the passage of a bill 'to regulate the sale of school lands, and to provide for organizing, regulating and perfecting common schools.'

It was provided in this act that as soon as twenty electors should reside in a surveyed township, they should elect a board of three commissioners, holding office three years, to lay off districts, to apply the proceeds of the leases of school lands to the payment of teachers' wages, and to call school meetings. It was also provided that each district should elect a board of three directors, holding office one year, to locate school houses, hire teachers for at least three months in the year, and levy taxes for the support of schools. It was further provided that a third board of five inspectors should be elected annually in each town to examine and license teachers and inspect the schools. Two years subsequently (1839) the law was revised and the family, instead of the electors, was made the basis of the town organization. Every town with not less than ten families, was made a school district and required to provide a competent teacher. More populous towns were divided into two or more districts. The office of town commissioner was abolished, its duties with certain others, being transferred to the inspectors. The rate-bill system of taxation, previously in existence, was repealed, and a tax on the whole county for building school houses and supporting schools, was provided for. One or two years later the office of town commissioners was restored, and the duties of the inspectors were assigned to the same. Other somewhat important amendments were made at the same time.

In 1840 a memorial to Congress from the legislature, represented that the people were anxious to establish a common school system, with suitable resources for its support. From lack of sufficient funds many of the schools were poorly organized. The rate-bill tax or private subscription was often necessary to supplement the scanty results of county taxation. Until a State government should be organized, the fund accruing from the sale of school lands could not be available. Congress had made to Wisconsin, as to other new States, for educational purposes, a donation of lands. These lands embraced the sixteenth section in every township in the State, and 500,000 acres to which the State was entitled by the provisions of an act of Congress passed in 1841, and any grant of lands from the United States, the purposes of which were not specified. To obtain the benefits of this large fund was a leading object in forming the State constitution.

Shortly before the admission of the State the subject of free schools began to be quite widely discussed. In February, 1845, Col. M. Frank, of Kenosha, a member of the Territorial legislature, introduced a bill which became a law, authorizing the legal voters of his own town to vote taxes on all the assessed property for the full support of its schools. A provision of the act required its submission to the people of the town before it could take effect. It met with strenuous opposition, but after many public meetings and lectures held in the interests of public enlightenment, the act was ratified by a small majority in the fall of 1845, and thus the first free school in the State was legally organized. Subsequently, in the legislature, in the two constitutional conventions, and in educational assemblies, the question of a free school system for the new State soon to be organized provoked much interest and discussion. In the constitution framed by the convention of 1846, was provided the basis of a free school system similar to that in our present constitution.

The question of establishing the office of State superintendent, more than any other feature of the proposed school system, elicited discussion in that body. The necessity of this office, and the advantages of free schools supported by taxation, were ably presented to the convention by Hon. Henry Barnard, of Connecticut, in an evening address. He afterward prepared, by request, a draft of a free school system, with a State superintendent at its head, which was accepted and subsequently embodied in the constitution and the school law. In the second constitutional convention, in 1848, the same questions again received careful attention, and the article on education previously prepared was, after a few changes, brought into the shape in which we now find it. Immediately after the ratification by the people of the constitution prepared by the second convention, three commissioners were appointed to revise the statutes. To one of these, Col. Frank, the needed revision of the school laws was assigned. The work was acceptably performed, and the new school code of 1849, largely the same as the present one, went into operation May 1st of that year.

In the State constitution was laid the broad foundation of our present school system. The four corner stones were: (l) The guaranteed freedom of the schools; (2) the school fund created; (3) the system of supervision; (4) a State University for higher instruction. The school fund has five distinct sources for its creation indicated in the constitution: (1) Proceeds from the sale of lands granted to the States by the United States for educational purposes; (2) all moneys accruing from forfeiture or escheat; (3) all fines collected in the several counties for breach of the penal laws; (4) all moneys paid for exemption from military duty; (5) five per cent, of the sale of government lands within the State. In addition to these constitutional sources of the school fund, another and sixth source was open from 1856 to 1870.

By an act of the State legislature in the former year, three-fourths of the net proceeds of the sales of the swamp and overflowed lands, granted to the State by Congress, Sept. 28, 1850, were added to the common school fund, the other fourth going into a fund for drainage, under certain circumstances; but, if not paid over to any town for that purpose within two years, to become a part of the school fund. The following year one of these fourths was converted into the normal school fund, leaving one-half for the common school fund. In 1858 another fourth was given to the drainage fund, thus providing for the latter one-half the income from the sales, and leaving for the school fund, until the year 1865, only the remaining one-fourth. In the latter year this was transferred to the normal school fund, with the provision, however, that one-fourth of the income of this fund should be transferred to the common school fund until the annual income of the latter fund should reach $200,000. In 1870 this provision was repealed, and the whole income of the normal fund left applicable to the support of normal schools and teachers' institutes.

t the first session of the State legislature in 1848, several acts were passed which carried out in some degree the educational provisions of the constitution. A law was enacted to provide for the election, and to define the duties of a State superintendent of public instruction. A district board was created, consisting of a moderator, director and treasurer; the office of town superintendent was established, and provision was made for the creation of town libraries, and for the distribution of the school fund. The present school code of Wisconsin is substantially that passed by the legislature of 1848, and which went into operation May 1, 1849. The most important change since made was the abolition of the office of town superintendent, and the substitution therefore of the county superintendency. This change took effect Jan. 1, 1862.

- By D. H. Morgan, County Superintendent.
It is somewhat difficult to give a readable and entertaining history of the educational interests of Green, or any other county of Wisconsin, as few records are in existence, which were made prior to the establishing of county supervision. Up to that time, from the time of the admission of Wisconsin as a State, the town supervision prevailed, with varying success. Successful in those towns fortunate enough to secure the services of competent superintendents. In no case, so far as can be learned, was there any unity of action among teachers or superintendents; each working in his own way regardless of the doings of others. No teachers' meetings or meetings of superintendents for devising and maturing plans for the general improvement of management or methods, or for advancing the standard of qualification of teachers.

Thirty years ago the school buildings were necessarily cheap and poorly adapted to school purposes. Building material was scarce and of poor quality; people were poor, but anxious to do something toward educating their children, and taxed themselves willingly for the purpose of furnishing buildings and teachers.

Many of the first settlers being Eastern people, an early interest in all school work was manifest, and, it may be safe to say that that interest has kept even pace with the material prosperity of the people. Thirty years ago there was not a school building in the county that was worth $1,000. Now there are many of our country districts with buildings costing from $1,200 to $1,500, to say nothing of the buildings in some of our villages that have cost from $5,000 to $25,000.

When, on the establishment of the county supervision system, the people of this county elected William C. Green to the office of county superintendent, they were very fortunate in their selection. He was a man somewhat advanced in years, but thoroughly awake to the needs of school interests, and competent in every way to perform the duties of his position. He was well versed in the whole business of schools. When he called the teachers together for the first time requiring them to submit to a written examination, there was consternation in their ranks. A large majority of them had never been examined in that manner, and it seemed terrible. But Mr. Green held firmly to the adage, "as is the teacher so is the school," and determined to advance the standard of qualification, and it is conceded by all that his success was marked and decided. Teachers went to work with a will, now being fully aware that nothing short of the superintendent's requirements would answer. Aside from the semi-annual examinations, institutes and teachers' meetings were held, though not so well attended then as now, for they - the teachers - did not so fully comprehend the advantages derived from them.

Mr. Green served six years, and with a zeal and honesty of purpose never excelled. He paved the way, removed obstacles, and left the work for his successor in most excellent shape. He took the work in the rough and hewed to the line, never looking where the chips might fly.

He traveled among the schools, entering the school rooms unannounced, often the first indication of his presence being a salutation from him, almost startling. It is well remembered by one teacher, who had an unruly boy in hand, and handling him pretty roughly too, that he was interrupted by an exclamation of "Well! well! these things will happen in the best of families."

There was an attempt on the part of some to put him down by the cry of "Old Orthography," because he insisted that his teachers should understand that as well as any other branch that they were required to teach. It was fully understood that excuses were not in order, the subject had to be mastered. Those who had had considerable experience finding themselves deficient in certain branches, procured the necessary books and went to work.

For the last twenty years the school census has shown little change as to number of children of school age. Never coming up to 9,000 and never falling below 8,100. The country schools are not so large as they were twenty-five years ago, but the village schools are larger, so that our school population remains nearly uniform. The village schools show a more regular attendance of all ages, between four and twenty years, though the country schools show a high percentage of attendance of those between the ages of seven and fifteen.

The successor to Mr. Green, D. H. Morgan, commenced his work with the help and advice of his predecessor, by making as many visits to the different schools as time would permit prior to holding his first round of examinations, and thereby learning, as far as possible, the condition of the schools and their greatest needs.

Immediately after the examinations closed the work of preparing for the first institute, under the new superintendent, commenced. Teachers were notified by circulars and by the superintendent, in person. Then commenced a regular series of institutes and teachers' meetings, though not so well attended at first as was desired, but the members in attendance steadily increased from year to year, and the interest in the work grew, not only among the teachers, but the school patrons were often seen and heard, too, at the institutes. Teachers' meetings were called in various parts of the county, and were generally well attended, and without exception, great interest on the part of the teachers was manifest. About this time the State put into the hands of the board of regents for normal school, a fund, with the understanding that a portion should be used toward furnishing institute conductors to the various counties asking their services.

The very best methods of conducting institutes were not fully understood by the average county superintendent. So the board of regents saw the propriety of sending into various counties the ablest men obtainable for the purpose of giving instructions to both teacher and superintendent.

Early in Mr. Morgan's work, the present State superintendent, Mr. Graham, came to take charge of and conduct bur institutes. In fact, he, Mr. Graham, is almost, if not quite, the father of our systematic method of conducting institutes.

We early had too, most earnest laborers in the home field. Immediately upon Prof. Salisbury's taking charge of the Brodhead schools, we found in him one of our most capable teachers, one of those men who never shirk from a task because it is hard to bear. In our meetings of all kinds, when work was assigned him it was always done well and in season. He seemed to go to the bottom of every subject that he was called upon to handle.

At a very little later date came Prof. Twining. The superintendent hardly knew where he would find him, and naturally felt somewhat anxious, as in all of the principals of the Monroe High School, he had not found hearty sympathy in his efforts to better the condition of all the schools. But he soon learned that in Mr. Twining, be had a man that would stand shoulder to shoulder with him in any undertaking that looked toward bettering the condition of any or all of them.

For years he has made it one of his special duties to prepare young teachers to enter intelligently into the business of teaching, varying his programme for the sole purpose of giving normal instructions and drill in theory and practice. He was never known to go around a task, but always through it, and perhaps to him, more than any one man, are the superintendent and county indebted for his efficient and always ready aid.

Again, in all the towns and villages, boards of education have willingly and gladly co-operated in the work of making meetings and institutes a success. We have never asked anything that has not been cheerfully granted. We find too, that in a majority of our districts, the poor old school houses are giving place to better and more commodious buildings. There are a few old and badly dilapidated concerns, one or two having been condemned because of their unfitness for school purposes.

One great hindrance to the onward and upward movement, is in not being able to hold our teachers long in the business. The average life of the teacher in the school room being less than three years. The energetic young men are going west and settling on farms, and most of them are disposed to take a "lady teacher" along to keep the house while the farm is being improved. Not a few of our young women have left the school room of this county for the purpose of obtaining homes of their own in the far west, five leaving at the same time from the same neighborhood.

Now, when we have a good teacher, and can hold him, we are all right on "the school question," but there is no law compelling any one to follow a business any longer than he may choose, and few people will follow a vocation that gives employment for from six to eight months in the year, when labor for the year can be found. Though teachers wages are better than the pay of a common day laborer, yet their expenses are always greater than almost any workers with the same income. The true teacher must be "up to date" in his qualifications, which compels the purchase of books and periodicals. Recognizing the needs of the teacher in the way of reference books, some years ago, our teachers raised a fund for that purpose, and bought the American Cyclopedia, Dr. Thomas' Biographical Dictionary, Lippincott's Gazetteer, besides a variety of miscellaneous works that bear upon their calling. These books are in use during the time of our institutes, and are found of very great value.

When some years since it was found that most, if not all of our teachers, were deficient in a knowledge of orthoepy the question naturally came up, " what shall we do, where are we to go for information?"

Being told that Webster's Academic Dictionary contained all that they needed, over 100 copies were ordered at once, and over 300 went into the hands of teachers and pupils in a short time.

Now it is difficult to find a teacher without a copy of Webster's dictionary, Spencer's work on penmanship, Salisbury's Orthoepy, besides being pretty well supplied with miscellaneous reference books.

Complaint being made to the superintendent that writing was not being taught in all of the schools, a teachers' meeting was called and the matter was presented to them, and its absolute necessity was laid before them; and, as a result, there is not a school in Green County wherein writing does not form a prominent part of school work. And here let me say that the effort on the part of the State superintendent to establish a regular system of grading the country schools, is meeting with a hearty response. The teachers are studying the superintendent's circular and trying to understand its requirements, and grading their schools with a view of carrying out its demands. Already some fifteen pupils have completed the "Common School Course," with a much larger number following the course with the intention of finishing it sooner or later.

Our teachers, particularly those of some experience, are taking hold of this work with more than ordinary earnestness, and we have every reason to expect good results.

Of the town of New Glarus a special mention should be made, as, being entirely a foreign people, they early established schools, and have maintained them as the law requires, together with two months of exclusively German school, the tax for the latter being as cheerfully borne as any that they pay. It is one that cannot be legally collected, but all have willingly paid their proportion. It is undoubtedly true that every child in the town of the age of fifteen years can read and write both English and German. Another feature of the New Glarus schools is, that great stress is placed upon the practical studies, "the three R's" first; and every pupil, when he leaves school, can readily and accurately make an estimate of a bill of lumber for a barn or ordinary outbuilding, adding thereto cost of nails and incidentals. They are also taught to read writing of all kinds and descriptions, both good and bad. Of this statement the writer of this has had ample proof by personal observation.

At the close of eight years of supervision by Mr. Morgan, Thomas C. Richmond took the work in hand. He was young in years, but ripe in scholarship and experience, and as full of energy and push as it is possible for any man to be. Before the close of the first year he held an institute of eight weeks' duration, with an average attendance of nearly 100. This was followed by others of from six to eight weeks to the close of his four years of supervision.

Those who attended were required to pay tuition sufficient to defray expenses. The best teaching talent procurable was obtained to assist the superintendent in his work. All branches that are required in a first grade certificate were taught, and many teachers worked toward obtaining a certificate of the highest grade. Books of various kinds, relating to the subjects that were taught in the institute, were furnished the teachers at wholesale price, and hundreds of them were sold.

After Mr. Richmond left the work of superintending the schools, he taught one year as principal of the Brodhead schools; since which he has completed a double course in the study of law - one course in the Madison Law School and one in the law school of Boston - and is about entering the practice of his profession in the city of Madison. At the close of Mr. Richmond's second term, Mr. Morgan again took the supervision of the schools, and, it is believed, the work of holding the standard of the schools and qualification of teachers have kept even pace with those of other parts of the State.

Although the city of Monroe is nominally under county supervision, yet it is really under the supervision of the principal of the city schools. For the sake of making the schools of the bounty as near a unit as possible, the city charter did not ask a separate superintendent, nor a division of interest. This manifest interest on the part of the city fathers in making the educational work general and not sectional, for all the county and not a small part of it, is telling for good in various ways. The Monroe high school furnishes at least one-sixth of the teaching force now employed, and when teachers' meetings are called, all meet on common ground and work together as one great family. The Monroe High School furnishes, probably, more students for the State University than any school of its size in the State, and as to their preparation for entering college a word may be said. The county superintendent has it from one of the university professors that Monroe sends some of their very best and best prepared students. In fact, the Monroe examinations are considered so thorough that papers with standing marked by Prof. Twining is considered evidence enough of the applicant's attainments. For years Monroe has been represented at the State University.

Monroe, Brodhead and Juda are organized on the free high school plan, and thereby receive State aid. The coming year (1885) Albany will be added to the list. The Juda school, under C. F. Cronk, graduated the first class under the grading system for country schools.

This was prior to its being a free high school.
Number of school buildings in the county, 131.
Number of teachers required to teach the schools, including Brodhead, 158. All other villages being under county supervision, (Brodhead when incorporated, preferring to control her own schools).
The highest number of children of school age ever returned was in 1870, which was 8,988.
The lowest number in 1882, 8,133.

It is now known that of the number of children between the ages of seven and fifteen, more than ninety-five per cent, are in regular attendance. Above and below these numbers the attendance is very irregular. Among the foreign population very few children attend school after "confirmation." Having passed an examination in the "catechism" the education is supposed to be completed.

Of the 131 school buildings, ninety-seven are reported as in good repair, and eighty-five are reported as having out-houses in good condition.

The superintendent finds, in his visits, that a majority of the schools are lacking in school apparatus. Particularly is this the case as to reading charts, numeral frames, State maps, etc. No one thing would so forward the work of primary teaching of reading, as a good set of reading charts in every school room in the county. They save the time of the teacher, in furnishing lessons already prepared with the best suggestions for the proper way of using them. From them children are so taught that they read at once on taking hold of their books, having learned nearly everything from the chart that they find in the first reader. And they make better readers too. Of this the superintendent speaks from actual observation.

What is needed to make the supervision more effective?

After many years of experience in school visitation, and looking at superintendents' visits with as little prejudice as possible, the writer, most firmly believes that the principal advantage derived from the 200, or thereabouts, visits made yearly, is a knowledge of the capacity of each individual teacher with little power to make a change for the better. The faults and short-comings can only form texts for discussion at teachers' meetings, and institutes. No teacher can be changed from a poor, inefficient one, to a good one, with ability to manage in one or half dozen visits. Could every town be made into one school district with some man of intelligence at the head of a town school board to co-operate with the superintendent in making visits, and reporting condition of schools, and planning, with the superintendent, meetings for discussions, suggestions and illustrations of methods, a more beneficial supervision could be obtained. That this may be accomplished in the near future, together with the establishing of a central high school in every township of our county, is a state of things greatly to be desired.

We cannot close without saying that at all meetings of teachers, the sanitary condition of our school buildings and grounds has received attention commensurate with its importance.

Names - When Elected

William C. Green - 1861
William C. Green - 1863
Edwin E. Woodman - 1865  Mr. Woodman being absent at the time of his election and subsequently, Mr. Green continued in the office during that term.
D. H. Morgan - 1867
D H. Morgan - 1869
D. H. Morgan - 1871
D. H. Morgan - 1873
Thomas C. Richards - 1875
Thomas C. Richards - 1877
D. H. Morgan - 1879
D. H. Morgan - 1881


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