|WPA History of Cherokee County
Education & Religion in Cherokee County
Chapter 11There were two things which could not be packed into a covered wagon beside
the family portraits, the old silver, the carved bedsteads and the patchwork
quilts and brought from Illinois or Ohio into Iowa, or from Massachusetts into
Cherokee County. These two things were the forces of religion and education.
These came with the first settler and remained the same for the West as for the
East. The New England Public School system, the puritan tradition, and the
influence of the church, moved west with the wagon ruts. However small might be
the group of settlers, they gathered weekly to pray for guidance and courage in
their new home.
Compiled and written by The Iowa Writer's Program of the Works Projects Administration, For the State of Iowa
At first school and church services were held in the various homes but soon
suitable buildings were put up and more regular sessions held. Most of the
school teachers who taught in the early days were well trained, many in eastern
colleges or academies. But these early teachers had to have a large share of
courage and fortitude also for wild Indians, sudden storms, blizzards and
loneliness threatened them, and the equipment they had to use was meager and
inadequate at best. Mrs. Fanny Bowers Smith, who taught the first term of school
in Washta soon after the town had been founded, says, “We had no two books
alike at our school and there were about fifty pupils."
But there were schools much earlier than this -- Amelia Parkhurst taught
the first school in the county as early as 1858, when the Milford society sent
her $55 to teach a term of 11 weeks, which she taught with the assistance of
Mrs. Carlton Corbett. They had 12 pupils at this school and it is interesting to
note that among them were four children from the Phipps family and three from
the Parkhurst family.
In 1860 Rosabella Corbett taught a school by herself. This was the first
school in Pilot Township. Mrs. Corbett walked out from Cherokee to the log
schoolhouse in fine weather but when the weather was unfavorable she rode behind
a team of slow-plodding oxen. Eight years later the first frame building to be
put up in the township was a schoolhouse, made from lumber sawed at the Banister
sawmill. It will be remembered that George W. Banister headed the second Milford
company, which settled a few miles away from the main colony at Cherokee.
The third log schoolhouse which we have any record of was built near Washta
on Section 31 in 1869. A. J. Whisman helped build this school and a newspaper
account of his early life tells us, "The seats were made of logs into which
holes had been bored and sticks driven to serve as legs. The desks ran along the
sides of the room and were made of boards which Jack Whisman had sawed at a mill
farther down the river. These boards rested on sticks driven between the logs
which formed the side of the building.
The blackboards were merely boards nailed together and painted black. The
erasers were bits of sheepskin with the thick wool left on for a brushing
surface. Most of the other early schoolhouses in Cherokee County were frame
buildings. The floors were rough and unsightly and the walls scarcely
weather-tight. There were not enough windows -- the room was dark and chilly. A
stove was set up near the center of the room and a crooked stovepipe led to the
chimney at one end. The stove was fed frequently with wood but the supply was
often inadequate and some of the children dragged their benches nearer the fire
and propped their books upon their knees.
When all the pupils were busy there was the characteristic clatter of the
slate pencils. The room was crowded. Grown boys and girls worked beside the
smaller children, and all the desks and benches seemed to have been made for the
larger children. The
teacher struggled through the morning helping one with ABC's and another
with algebra. The schedule was as crowded as the room, but the three R's and
spelling held their own.
The early social life in each community centered about the schoolhouse.
Here the singing and spelling schools were held, and church services and
gatherings of all kinds. Near Cherokee these social gatherings did not get well
started until 1870 after the building of the railroad. At that time the Rev. W.
F. Rose, first settler in Marcus Township, began to organize singing schools,
not only in Cherokee but in outlying districts. He was a good singer and young
people came from many miles to join his classes. He was also an able preacher
and was so interested in education that in 1877 he was elected superintendent of
Not everyone could sing, however, but spelling schools were fun for the
entire family and night after night entire families would amuse themselves
spelling about the fireside. Easy words were given the small children, harder
words for older ones and their parents. At spelling meets opposing groups of
spellers faced each other, standing at opposite sides of the room. The audience
sat in the space between. Words were given out to each side in turn, and when a
word was missed, that speller had to sit down; when only one was left on a side
the suspense of the contest was increased and interest ran high.
Sometimes box socials were held at the close of the singing or spelling
school. Everyone always enjoyed the excitement of the auction as big lunches
packed away in plump boxes were sold. The young men added to the fun by bidding
against each other until often one had to pay from $16 to $20 for the box of the
girl of his choice. Going home afterward the races were exciting too, with
sleighs and bobsleds passing each other in friendly but dangerous rivalry.
Prof. Charles A. Fullerton, who wrote the familiar "red song book" for
elementary school music, Eva L. Gregg, Agnes J. Robertson, and Kate Logan, the
Cherokee County author, each contributed much to the rapid improvement at these
schools. It was during the term of Miss Robertson as county superintendent that
agitation for a township high school started. She favored such a school and
Grand Meadow Township high school opened. That was a great day. Six miles from
Washta a four-year high school had started.
In 1911, also, a special school for young men was organized in Marcus
Township, but lasted only two winters. In the meantime city churches and city
schools were being built in all the towns of the county, but still the smaller
towns had to put up with two or three-year high schools. Even when they did get
four-year high schools there was often not enough equipment to meet state
requirements and the schools were not accredited. Students who meant to go on to
the state university had to attend high
school in Cherokee or Correctionville.
The first recorded activity for consolidated schools for the county appears
in the spring of 1915 when the Cherokee Times announced that the election held
March 25 to determine whether or not consolidation should be effected by the
union of Spring and Afton townships of Cherokee County, with Brooke and Elk
townships of Buena Vista County, was decided against the consolidation by a vote
of 67 to 23. No further action was taken on this. The next action was a special
election called at
Aurelia for the purpose of combining several rural districts with that of
the town of Aurelia in the settlement of a consolidated district. The election
was also defeated by a narrow margin but the advocates of consolidation were not
discouraged and preparations for another election were started.
At this time Buena Vista County east of Cherokee, led all the counties in
the state in the number of its consolidated schools, and consolidation was
discussed everywhere. An advocate of consolidation told his friend who was
opposed to it, "You might as well vote for it now as it is sure to win later
on." The other replied, "If I am going to have hog cholera I'd rather have it
three years hence than now."
Most of the arguments, however, centered around the higher taxes which
farmers would have to pay. In spite of hot arguments and bitter objections
however, the Aurelia community held another election, March 1, 1916 and this
time consolidation won.
The consolidated school at Aurelia was the first in operation in Cherokee
County. It embraced the Aurelia school, ten rural districts in Cherokee County,
and two in Buena Vista County. Motor buses were used to transport pupils from
these outlying districts to the central school. The initial term opened on
Monday, September 4, 1916, with a full attendance from all sections of this
Larrabee community also voted to decide whether a new building should be
erected. The vote passed by an overwhelming majority and a building to cost
$125,000 was planned, its construction to start in the spring of the same
During the early spring of 1920 the first national conference on the
consolidated school movement was held at Cedar Falls and invitations were issued
to all county superintendents and educators. Margaret Montgomery was then
county superintendent of Cherokee schools.
On January 28, 1920 the Washta consolidated school burned down. The loss
was partly covered by insurance and bonds were voted for a new consolidated
school building, to cost $100,000. A temporary building was erected in the
meantime, and part of the classes were held at Washta Federated Church.
There were ten consolidated districts in Cherokee by September of 1920.
They were Afton, Amherst (Simpson Bethel), Aurelia, Brooke, Cleghorn, Grand
Meadow, Larrabee, Meriden, Quimby, and Washta. The majority had by this time
erected or planned new buildings.
In 1929 a Cherokee Junior College was started at Cherokee. This was a
two-year college and offered a wide variety of courses. Credits were
transferable to any college or university in the Middle west. While this
college was under the supervision of the Servants of Mary, students of all
denominations attended. Fees were kept as low as possible and many students who
could not afford to go out of the community for advanced education found their
opportunities at this school. But in 1938 that college at Cherokee was closed,
when the Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company brought a foreclosure
judgement of $40,511 against the Servants of Mary, who maintained the
CHEROKEE COUNTY PUBLIC SCHOOLS
Aurelia Consolidated -- Elementary 233; High School 181
(Joint with Buena Vista County)
Cherokee Independent -- Elementary 739; High School 393
Cleghorn Consolidated -- Elementary 100; High School 65
Larrabee Consolidated -- Elementary 123; High School 61
Marcus Independent -- Elementary 143; High School 165
Meriden Consolidated -- Elementary 114; High School 72
Quimby Consolidated -- Elementary 145; High School 96
Washta Consolidated -- Elementary 159; High School 72
(Joint with Ida County)
Grand Meadow Consolidated -- Elementary 78; High School 44
Afton Township Consolidated
Simpson Bethel Consolidated
In Buena Vista County; Brooke Consolidated - joint with Cherokee
Total public school enrollment in Cherokee County 3800
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