Delaware County, Iowa
Education in Delaware County
History of Delaware County, 1878
The first schools taught in Delaware County were private or subscription schools. Their accommodations, as may be readily supposed, were not good. Sometimes they were taught in small log houses erected for the purpose. Stoves and such heating apparatus as are in use now were unknown. A mud and stick chimney in one end of the building, with earthen hearth, with a fire-place wide enough and deep enough to take in a four feet back log, and smaller wood to match, served for warming purposes in Winter and a kind of conservatory in Summer. For windows, part of a log was cut out in either side, and maybe a few panes of eight by ten glass set in, or, just as likely as not, the aperture would be covered over with greased paper. Writing benches were made of wide planks, or, maybe, puncheons resting on pins or arms driven into two-inch augur holes bored into the logs beneath the windows. Seats were made out of thick planks or puncheons; flooring was made of the same kind of stuff. Everything was rude and plain, but many of America's greatest men have gone out from just such school houses to grapple with the world and make a name for themselves, and names that come t be an honor to their country. In other cases, private rooms and parts of private houses were utilized as school houses, but the furniture was just as plain.
But all these things are changed now. A log school house in Iowa is a rarity. Their places are filled with handsome frame or brick structures. The rude furniture has also given way, and the old school books, the "Popular Reader," the "English Reader" (the finest literary compilation ever known in American schools), and "Webster's Elementary Spelling Book," are superseded by others of greater pretensions. The old spelling classes and spelling matches have followed the old school houses, until they are remembered only in name. Of her school system Iowa can justly boast. It has sent out a large number of representative men whose names are as familiar to the nation as they are in the histories of the counties and neighbors in which they once lived. While the State has extended such fostering care to the interests of education, the several counties have been no less zealous and watchful in the management of this vital interest. And Delaware County forms no exception to the rule. The school houses and their furnishings are in full keeping with the spirit of the law that provides for their maintenances and support. The teachers rank high among the other thousands of teachers in the State, and the several County Superintendents, since the office of Superintendent was made a part of the school system, have been chosen with especial reference to their fitness for the position.
It is impossible to find correct reports of educational matters in this county prior to 1858, when the Seventh General Assembly passed "An act for the Public Instruction of the State of Iowa," and organized the present school system. By this act, which went into force March 20, 1858, each civil township was made a school district, and the number of districts and district offices was thus greatly reduced. By the same act, the office of County Superintendent of Schools was created, and appropriations made in aid of Teachers' Institutes.
The first Teachers' Institute held in the county, of which any recollection remains, was at Delhi early in the year 1860. The only item of information to be gathered in regard to this meeting is, that S. L. Doggett, Esq., of Manchester, one of the pioneer teachers of the county, gave an address during its progress.
The second Teacher's Institute was held at Manchester, in 1863, presided over by Superintendent McCreery, and attended by some sixty teachers. The instructors were Prof. Hudson, author of a series of school readers and a noted teacher of elocution; A. S. Kissell, afterward State Superintendent, and Prof. J. C. Pickard, one of the Faculty in the Wisconsin State University. After that date, the sessions of the Institute have been held annually, and have done much to inspire the teachers with greater interest and make their work more uniform and efficient. The old Institute system, however, had many defects, and about 1870, there was a general demand for something better and more effective. In 1872-3, a few counties, among them Delaware, tried the experiment of longer terms and a regular course of study.
In 1873, Superintendent W. H. Merten called the teachers of the county together at Delaware, and organized a Normal Institute of four weeks, in charge of Prof. Wernli, late Principal of the German-English Normal School, at Galena, Ill. Seventy-one teachers were enrolled, and worked faithfully through the entire session. It is estimated that this one Institute raised the standard of teachers at least 20 per cent, over the entire county. In 1874, the Fifteenth General Assembly enacted a law providing for the establishment of an Annual Normal Institute in each county, and making an annual appropriation of $50 to each. In addition to this appropriation, to defray expenses each teacher pays a fee of $1.00 for certificate, and an enrollment fee of $1.00.
"No part of the admirable common school system of Iowa," says Superintendent Ewart, "has done so much for education as the Normal Institute. The results are a much higher standard of teachers each successive year; more system and thoroughness in school work, and a greater interest on the part of both teachers and people."
During the last five years, ending 1878, great improvements have been made in school buildings. Each town in the county has a beautiful and comfortable school house, and most of the houses in the country are also in good repair. Proper and necessary apparatus and libraries are still scarce, but will no doubt be supplied at the earliest opportunity.
Following is a list of Teachers' Institutes, places, when held, and conductors, since 1864:
The first Superintendent of Schools in Delaware was H. N. Gates, elected April 5, 1858; the second was Exra F. Chase, elected October 11, 1859, and whose term of office commenced January, 1860.
The following abstracts from the Superintendent's report for 1860, 1865, 1870 and 1875, will show progress of the education interests of the county since the period when records are accessible:
The present County Superintendent of Schools is R. M. Ewart, who was first elected in October, 1875, and re-elected in October, 1877. From Mr. Ewart's report for 1877, to the State Superintendent, we extract the following: