Imagine having 7 high schools in Wright County (1916)! Early schools in Wright County consisted of a log structure, perhaps with a dirt floor. These soon made way to the frame structures – some of which still exist today. The schools continued to grow and flourish as the county grew. By 1891, 117 schools were in session. They employed 179 women and 42 men teachers. Cost of tuition per month was $2.28.
A visitor in 1869 commented on how the children not only were taught arithmetic, grammar and geography, but also how to plow, blacksmithing, sewing and cooking. It is obvious from the books that reading, writing, and history were also critical learning. In the early 1900’s, the Iowa drainage law took many men from teaching, leaving women to be 98% of the teachers by 1915.
Schoolhouses were built where population was the highest. As times went on and population shifted, there were times when neighbors hitched up their horses and moved the school to a new location. An 1884 book of Iowa school laws and decisions included such items as barbed wire had to be removed from school grounds, the Bible would not be excluded from any school, but no pupil was required to read it. While schools were required to teach in English, German or other foreign language could be taught.
Superintendent O.H. Benson, credited with the 4-H emblem, also promoted the adaption of the school work to the home life of boys and girls. He promoted school picnics, increasing the territory of the picnics to include the entire township. Games, graduation exercises and public dinners were held. By 1915 one township (which may have included other townships) had 10,000 to 15,000 people in attendance! Annually, 250-300 children graduated from the 8th grade across the county.
By 1915 there were 130 rural schools and 10 high schools. A library report for 1916indicates Wright County purchased 1,391 books that year. Wright County also had two private schools – St. John’s school which was founded in 1913 and Sacred Heart school ,founded 1901. The number of students was 4, 859 in all of the schools.
Interested in learning more? The Library at the Heartland Museum has a book edited by William L. Sherman, “Iowa’s Country Schools Landmarks of Learning”.
(information from Birdsall’s Wright County, a 1916 School report and 1884 Iowa School Laws and Decisions, located in Wright Co. Historical Library at Heartland Museum.)