Chapter 10 - Educational

    History has furnished no lens powerful enough for us to discern the beginning of the school system, if system it can be called, that in the dawn of human intelligence first undertook to instruct the young. It appears like some fixed star which is lost in the nebula of mythology, and is obscured from our eyes in the misty past. We are told of schools of astronomy in Babylon, at least 3,300 years before the Christian era, schools of medicine and science in China but little later. Schools were one of the institutions of Egypt in the time of Moses, and the schools and lyceums of Greece date back to the siege of Troy. But little is known of the mode of teaching in these early days, and, it is not until in the fifteenth century, that anything like an intelligent effort seems to have been made toward the instruction of the masses.

    In our own time and country the history of education has been a varied one. The Puritan had no sooner established himself on the wave-washed, stormy coast of New England, than he planted the precious seed of the district school, whose foundation was so solid, whose roots were so deep and far reaching that it secured so strong a foothold, the storms and trials of two centuries and a half have never disturbed, nor interrupted its course, nor loosened its hold in its native soil. The system of district schools, as these mighty reformers planted and nourished it, has endured and does endure to this day in the land where they first raised the banner of universal education.

    This system, with such modifications as were suggested by the difference of time and circumstances, was brought from that far away land of our forefathers, by them when they turned their faces toward the setting sun; and some of the precious seed, so sown, has found a lodgment in this, our noble State of Wisconsin.

    For many years after the settlement of Richland county, each town had the absolute control of the schools within its limits, and the town superintendent of schools was one of the most important of its officers. It was not until 1861, when the system was changed and the school districts put under the authority of a county superintendent of public instruction. The gentleman who has the honor to first fill this position was J H Mathers, who was elected November 5, the year above mentioned. He was succeeded after two years service, in 1863, by W C Wright, who also held it for two years. The succeeding superintendents were: V S Bennett, G W Putnam, William J Waggoner, David Parsons and W Scott Sweet, who at present, presides over the destinies of the educational system of Richland county.

    It has always been the endeavor to choose such men for this position as were best fitted by nature and education, for the situation, and a highly commendable system has been the outgrowth of this foresight.

    As has been said, the first school taught in the county was that opened in 1847, in a room of Peter Kinder's house, in Richwood town, and from that small beginning has grown and ramified into the present full tree of education. No district is complete without its school houses; in the county are now some 130 buildings used for that purpose, covering an investment of about $40,000, and employing about 210 teachers, who have enrolled in the neighborhood of 7,500 scholars. Behold, from how small a beginning great results may follow.

    In 1875 there were enrolled in the various schools of the county 5,429 scholars, out of a total population of 7,094, between the school ages of four and twenty. At that time 127 teachers were employed, and the schools of that period are spoken of as being in fine condition; but those who have lived in the county from an early date say that the last eight years have seen a remarkable improvement over that. This is partly due to the active exertions of W S Sweet, the present superintendent, who, to a liberal education and strong natural abilities, brings an earnest desire to raise the standard of excellence and quality of the educational status.

    The number of scholars enrolled in the various school districts of the county, during the year 1879, is here given by towns for convenience of reference:

    Akan, 323; Bloom, 536; Dayton, 440; Buena Vista, 340; Eagle, 454; Forest, 383; Henrietta, 364; Ithaca, 455; Marshall, 385; Orion, 272; Richland, 663; Richwood, 626; Rockbridge, 492; Sylvan, 434; Westford, 468, and Willow, 380; or a grand total of 7,029 in the whole county. There were at that time, 127 schools, taught by 203 teachers, who were paid salaries that averaged, for males $28.48, and for females $20.34.

    The school buildings were valued at $37,821, without the apparatus and fittings therein contained. Most of the buildings were in good state of repair, and the county superintendent in his report for that date speaks quite proudly of the efficiency of the corps of teachers.

    Teachers' institutes are held annually, and occasionally semi-annually, with a good attendance.

    A teachers' association is also one of the institutions of the county, which meets weekly for the discussion of educational topics and, also, for mutual improvement. Nearly all the teachers in the county are members of it; but many are deterred by distance, and the duties attendent upon their profession, from a regular attendance. One of the out-growths of this pleasant re-union has been


    This is an association which was organized in the year 1875, for the mutual improvement of the teachers of Richland county. The idea is to have a library which is distributed in some twenty different localities in the county, from which the members can take out volumes to read; these books are changed from place to place twice every year, so as to give all a change of pasture. The society has now about 150 members, and has accumulated the nucleus of a fine library already numbering some 428 volumes. The members are required to pay $1 on joining, and an annual due of twenty-five cents thereaf(t)er. The matter has received the support of all those interested in educational progress, and bids fair to be a large factor in the near future in the school system. The management is advised by the county school superintendent, W S Sweet, who is president, and who finds no labor too hard or onerous, if it will result in good to the cause he has the interest of, so much at heart.

    May of the items relating to the early schools and the later and present status of the educational interests, having been made mention of in the history of the various towns, have been omitted here to avoid useless repetition. By a reference to these, it will be found that there this subject has received the full consideration which it deserves, a subject we all have the deepest interest in, for it has most truly been said that "the public school system is the palladium of our liberties."

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