The history of Iowa's schools begins with the history of
her very first settlements. From the beginning we find the
pioneers wanting and getting schools. The first schools were
begun even before Iowa had been opened to the white people for
Mr. Berryman Jennings was the first person to teach a
school in what is now Iowa. During the months of October,
November, and December of 1830 he taught school at the "head
of the rapids" in Lee County. Dr. Isaac Galland furnished the
room, fuel, furniture, and board for Mr. Jennings. Dr.
Galland's children and the children of a few neighbors
attended the school.
Mr. Jennings, in a letter, said: "This schoolroom was like
all other buildings in that new country, a log cabin built of
round logs or poles, notched close and mudded for comfort,
logs cut out for doors and windows, and also for fireplaces.
The jamb back of the fireplaces was of packed dry dirt, the
chimney topped out with sticks and mud. This cabin, like all
others of that day, was covered with wide clapboards. This
was to economize time and save nails, which were scarce and
far between. There were no stoves in those days and the
fireplace was used for cooking as well as comfort."
Soon after Mr. Jennings started his school another was
opened at Keokuk. Mr. J. K. Robinson was the teacher. He
taught from December 1830 until the following spring.
Mrs. Rebecca Palmer was the first woman teacher in Iowa.
She began teaching at Fort Madison in September 1834.
THE ELEMENTARY SCHOOLS
The early schools had practically no equipment. There were
no such desks, blackboards, or maps as we have today. The
seats were usually long benches made of planks or split logs.
For desks they fastened planks to the wall. The blackboard,
if they had one, consisted of a plank or two fastened to the
wall and painted black. Erasers were made of sheepskin with
the wool side out.
The pupils had no regular textbooks but brought whatever
they had at home. Their parents, in some cases, had brought
books from the East. Some pupils brought Bibles, others
almanacs. The few books which the teacher might have made up
the school library.
There were no taxes to support the schools. Parents paid
according to the number of children they had in school. The
teacher received little pay and "boarded 'round" among the
families of the pupils. The schools were far apart and pupils
often had to go several miles. Schools only lasted a few
months each year.
The subjects taught were reading, writing, arithmetic,
grammar, spelling, and geography. Spelling was considered
very important. To be able to "spell down the room" was a
real honor. In writing, the boys and girls used pens that had
been made of goose quills. The children's mother made the ink
at home from maple bark and copperas. The teacher would write
a sentence on a sheet of paper. Then the pupils would
practice their writing by copying the teacher's sentence.
"Singing Schools" were very popular. When someone who
could sing moved into a neighborhood, that person became the
leader of the singing school. The people of the settlement
would gather at the school or at home in the evening and sing.
Sometimes the young people would start a "lyceum." This was
a society where young men debated or gave orations, and the
young women "recited"; that is, gave readings. The singing
schools and lyceums meant much to the young people. They had
no other places for entertainment. Besides, they learned much
at such meetings.
ACADEMIES AND COLLEGES
As more settlers came to Iowa the people began to talk of
better schools. Some people even began to think of starting
colleges, or institutes and academies, as they were called.
An academy at Denmark, in Lee County, and one at Mt. Pleasant
were the first to be started. The latter later became Iowa
Grinnell College, which was opened at Davenport as "Iowa
College" in 1846, is usually spoken of as Iowa's first
college. It was stated by the "Iowa Band of 1843." This
"band" was made up of a group of young men from New England
who had bound themselves together to do missionary work in the
new territory. In 1859 Iowa College was moved to Grinnell.
Its name now is Grinnell College.
Daniel Coe, an Eastern man who never saw Iowa, gave money
and land for a Presbyterian college at Cedar Rapids. The
institution bears his name and is now called Coe College.
Other early church schools that were started in the new
state were Cornell College at Mt. Vernon, Central College at
Pella, and Drake University at Oskaloosa. Drake was later
moved to Des Moines.
A number of other church schools were later started. So
many, in fact, that Iowa became a leader for colleges west of
the Mississippi. The early people were determined to have
right at home, for their boys and girls, schools of the kind
that they had known in the states from which they came.
When Iowa became a separate territory, the United States
Congress set aside two townships of land or about 46,000
acres. This land was to be used by Iowa when it became a
state for the purpose of starting a "seminary of learning."
In 1847, a year after Iowa became a state, the two
townships of land were put in charge of a board of trustees.
The board was to start a State University. The land was sold
to start a fund but the university was not begun until 1855.
It was located at Iowa City, then the capital. In that year
a president and several teachers were employed and a small
building was rented. When the state capital was moved to Des
Moines in 1857, the university was moved into the old capital
building, which still stands on the campus of our university.
Congress also gave Iowa, some years later, more than
200,000 acres of land to be used for an agricultural and
mechanical college. The college was located at Ames in 1868
and is now called Iowa State College.
When the state orphanage at Cedar Falls was closed, the
General Assembly decided to use the buildings for a state
normal school. Young men and women were to be trained at this
school for teaching. The Iowa State Normal School was opened
in 1876. It is now the Iowa State Teachers College.
One of the widely known educational leaders of Iowa
rendered his best service to the state through the State
Teachers College. Dr. Homer H. Seerley became its president
in 1886 when the institution was young and small. He
continued as president for forty-two years. When he retired
the Iowa State Teachers College was one of the foremost
teacher-training institutions of our nation.