Chapter 22 - The Schools of Crawford County.


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.

The Original School Code.

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 20th 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 asigned 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 suppliment 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, the 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.

Agitation for Free Schools.

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 elicted 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 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.

The School System under the State Government.

In the State constitution was laid the broad foundation of our present school system. The four corner stones were: (1) 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 State 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.

At 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 therefor of the county superintendency. This change took effect Jan. 1, 1862. 1

Development of Schools in Crawford County.

From small beginnings indeed, education has developed in Crawford as in other counties, step by step, growth upon growth, ever widening and deeping to meet the wants of an increasing population, until to-day our schools stand abreast with the times, and are not far behind the foremost in Wisconsin.

Here and there some fifteen to twenty years ago the traveler might meet on some cross road or deep in the head of some coulee, the old-time log cabin, poorly lighted, largely ventilated, wretchedly constructed and furnished, where grown boys and girls with little children were taught from old fashioned and various text books, and often indeed, without even these poor aids. Educated and trained teachers were hard to obtain. There was little attempt at classification or any uniformity of method. One teacher spent part of his term in pulling down the work which the former teacher had built up, or in carrying the pupil over the same ground traveled by his predecessor, leaving the boy or girl at compound numbers or at fractions, to begin again the same process on the re-opening of the school and arrival of the next teacher.

The programme and curriculum of these palmy days were the time worn reading and arithmetic in the forenoon; geography, reading and spelling in the afternoon. Language lessons or grammar were seldom or never taught. Penmanship was a scarcity. The benches and desks were rude; the ceiling low; the floor rough and rickety. No outbuildings were visible and on the whole the aspect looked uninviting. Yet here and there some good, solid work was accomplished, owing, perhaps, rather to the determination and patience of the pupil than to the ability of the teacher and the aid of books, and out from even these poor schools have gone earnest hearted youths and maidens equipped and harnessed fairly for the struggle of life. So true it is that talent will finally manifest itself in spite of lack of aid from extensive sources.

Crawford county had several superintendents of schools in these days known as township superintendents.

By and by instead of the log cabin might be seen, along the public roads, here and there, the neat frame building; sometimes roomy and well lighted, with seats and desks in keeping, and occasionally a good blackboard and a map or two on the walls. Some system, too, was attempted in the examination of teachers, and also in the discipline of the school room. Scholarship became a necessary factor in the teacher's fitness. The schools were more frequently visited; better order prevailed; the tests of successful work sought out both by superintendents and district boards, and the attention of the public now closely turned to the conditions of the schools.

The township system of superintendents closed and that of county supervisors begun.

County Superintendents.

The county superintendents who have been elected to that office and the year of their election are as follows:

Joseph Evens, 1861; Orson Jackson; 1863; E Kielly, 1865; C W Clinton, 1867; M E Mumford, 1869; F D Mills, 1871; L G Miller, 1875; M E Norris, 1877; James H McDonald, 1879; James H McDonald, 1881.

County Supervision.

The effect of this supervision and discipline is manifest in the better order of the schools and the progress of the pupils. Not only is it sought to have the intellect developed, but likewise the heart of kindness and courtesy, in the school room and on the play grounds. A constant visitation, when not engaged in office work, is kept up by the superintendent, when methods of instruction are examined, suggested or recommended, and faithful work encouraged.

Public lectures are frequently given; talks to the children on the beauty and nobility of education, self government and a pure life, self-giving and unselfish are not infrequent. Teachers and pupils everywhere welcome the superintendent, and he has always a place in the hearts and homes of our generous people.

The holding each year of normal institutes, under the management of a normal school conductor, assisted by the county superintendent and most able and prominent teachers, is of incalculable benefit. They present the best and standard methods of teaching; experiences of the most successful in the profession; the drill, the discipline and the elementary nature of the work, and are calculated to fit the teacher for abler methods of greater uniformity and of larger results in the school room.

School boards and school patrons are of late turning their attention to the providing of text books for their districts of greater uniformity, and of school furniture, such as maps, globes, seats and desks. The outlay in this direction during the last school year (1883) has been large. The profession is becoming less and less an itineracy, good teachers being retained in the old places at an increased salary.

There is yet much to do. The battle has not yet been won. May the time soon come when the school house will adorn the country, when the last log cabin will have disappeared and in its place will stand the neat edifice with pleasant surroundings, calculated to train and elevate the ideas of the beautiful in the hearts and minds of the children, and when every man and woman, every youth and maiden in this beautiful country will have risen to a larger conception of what America offers them and expects from them in return. A great people, a grand future, to be reached not so much by wealth or by victory on the battle field as through the agency and power of the common schools.

It will be seen by the following figures that the schools are still steadily though slowly increasing.

Statistics of Crawford County Common Schools. 2


Number of districts in the county, wholly in 
	one town..........................................      73
Number of joint districts, composed of parts
	of two or more towns..............................	21
Whole number of schools in the county.....................	94
Number of pupils of school age in the county..............    5023
Number of schools with more than one department...........	 1
Number of teachers required to teach the
	schools in the county.............................      95
Number of male teachers employed..........................	55
Number of female teachers employed........................     108
Number of different teachers employed
	(1882-3)..........................................     163
Average wages paid male teachers per month................ $ 30.06
Average wages paid female teachers per month.............. $ 18.94
Number of pupils attending school last year...............    3532
Number of districts in the county having a
	library...........................................	 2
Number of school houses built last year...................	 4
Cost of school houses built last year..................  $ 2084.85
Cash value of all school houses in the county..........  $24259.85
Highest valuation of any school house..................  $ 3037.50
Amount raised by tax in the county for
	school purposes................................  $16075.24
Amount paid out in the county for school
	purposes.......................................  $21352.76

The above statistics do not include the statistics for the city of Prairie du Chien.

James H McDonald, superintendent of schools of Crawford county, was born in Hartford, Conn., July 8, 1853. In 1859 he came to Madison, Wis., with his parents, and from there to Richland Centre. He received his primary education at the high school at Richland Center, and subsequently took a course of study at the Prairie du Chien college. At the age of sixteen years he began teaching school, and has made that his business for upwards of twelve years. He was elected county superintendent of schools of Crawford county in the fall of 1879; served the term of 1880-81; he has been re-elected and holds the office till Jan. 1, 1885. Mr. McDonald has made a most efficient and popular superintendent. He was married at Prairie du Chien Jan. 13, 1880, to Miss B M O'Niel, the daughter of Michael O'Niel. Mrs. McDonald was born at Prairie du Chien. They have two sons --- Joseph and John. Their residence is Eastman, Wis. Mr. McDonald lost his right arm in a railroad accident May 30, 1867. He has educated himself and by his energy and studious habits has won success as a teacher, while, by the faithful discharge of his official duties, he commands the respect and confidence of his constituents.


1 - "Educational History," by Prof. Edward Searing, in the Illustrated Historical Atlas of Wisconsin. 2 - From the annual report of the county superintendent for the year ending June 30, 1883.
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