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Public School System, 1819-1961
by Nellie McGuinn
Copyright USD 500, Feb 1966
Nellie McGuinn was a public school educator in Kansas City, Kansas, who (in February of 1966) presented this history of the KCKs public school system to USD 500 in answer to a request from Superintendent of Schools, Frank L. Schlagle. Her manuscript takes a good look at the settlement and growth of Kansas City and Wyandotte County, Kansas, incorporating the history of our schools. The history written by Ms. McGuinn has been used for information on the individual school buildings throughout the web site, the information being presented in a chronological manner. However, the manuscript (in its entirety) will be placed at this location. We are grateful to Ms. McGuinn for her contribution to the future . . . "our written history". Copyright Notice
The picture at the left was taken in Harveysburg, OH in 1915. Nellie McGuinn is on the right, with her aunt, Hannah Gray McGuinn. Nellie McGuinn was born in Kansas in 1894 to Edward and Katherine O'Toole McGuinn. She was a long-time teacher in the KCKs school system. Picture courtesy of Lisa Axt, Centerville, Ohio.
Among other things, this manuscript was used for source material for a book entitled, The Winding Valley and The Craggy Hillside, A History of the City of Rosedale, Kansas by Margaret Landis (as noted in the book's bibliography).
Another publication for USD 500 done by Ms. Nellie McGuinn is THE STORY OF KANSAS CITY, KANSAS.
Chapter Navigation Links
Schools in Kansas City, Kansas in Years of Change, 1962-1986 by Oren L. Plucker, Superintendent Emeritus
Kansas Educational Progress, 1858-1967, Published by the State Department of Public Instruction , 120 East Tenth, Topeka, Kansas 66612, Copyright June, 196
[Annotation: In the year 2003 in the United States, vaccines developed over the years have been crucial in saving hundreds of thousands or lives. School children are required to have certain immunizations prior to entering school. In the following chapters of Ms. McGuinn's book, you will note numerous instances of epidemics of diphtheria, smallpox, scarlet fever, typhoid - all "killer diseases" in earlier years when they ran rampant. Before reading Ms. McGuinn's works, you may want to check some of the following links for information on these diseases.]
All attempts have been made to reproduce the spelling, capitalization and layout of the original book as much as possible. In some cases, "annotations" have been provided to the original works by the transcriber of the manuscript. We appreciate your patience as we endeavor to transcribe this and other works for online research at our web site.
NOTE: When reading this works, please remember that addresses change over the year, depending on annexing, mergers, boundary changes, and other happenings. The addresses referred to in this works may or may not be the same as in old records. (Example: What today is known as State Avenue, was Kansas Avenue prior to the Consolidation Act of 1886.
The story of education in Kansas City, Kansas begins in 1819 in the Wyandot Indian village of Upper Sandusky, Ohio. In that year Dr. Charles Elliott, a Methodist missionary, founded a church and school for the Wyandots, who had been converted to the Christian religion in 1817. The Wyandots were of Indian, French and English blood, and their leaders were white or nearly white. Over a long period of time these Indians had adopted into the tribe, by marriage or kidnapping, many white persons. By 1819, under the missionary's direction, the Wyandots were eager to establish a school.
Dr. Elliott brought to this first school a system of practical education that covered almost all aspects of daily living. Under his supervision the Wyandots built a church and a schoolhouse. They acquired better farming methods. Indians wives practiced household arts, taught them by the women of the missionary's family. When the school building was completed, Dr. Elliott served as the teacher. He reduced, for the first time in the tribe's history, the Wyandot language to written form.
Other missionaries and their families continued the work started by Dr. Elliott. From 1819 to 1843, the following ministers were stationed at Upper Sandusky for period of service ranging from one to six years:
|Dr. Charles Elliott|
|Reverend James B. Finley|
|Reverend John C. Brooks|
|Reverend James Gilruth|
|Reverend S. M. Allen|
|Reverend Henry O. Sheldon|
|Reverend Russell Bigelow, 1833-34|
|Reverend Thomas Thompson|
|Reverend S. P. Shaw, 1836-37|
|Reverend J. H. Power, 1838|
|Reverend Adam Poe (descendant of Edgar Allen Poe), 1838-40|
|Reverend L. B. Gurley, 1840-42|
|Reverend James Wheeler, 1843|
Of the 700 Wyandots who came to Kansas at the time of their removal from Ohio in 1843, a majority had attended the mission school. A few were privately educated, among them members of the Walker family. The first William Walker had been adopted by the tribe when he was a small boy. He married Catherine Rankin, descendant of a famous Wyandot woman, Queen Esther, and daughter of Mary Montour, a woman of remarkable intellectual powers. Her father was a wealthy Hudson's Bay trader, who sent his daughter to private schools. Catherine Rankin Walker taught her husband to read and write both English and French. The Walkers who settled here in 1843 were the children of this couple.
Robert Armstrong, adopted as a boy, was the father of Silas and John McIntyre Armstrong, early Wyandot settlers. Robert Armstrong married Sallie Zane, a part white and part Indian girl, and a member of the famous Zane family. Father and sons were interpreters and leaders of the tribe. John McIntyre Armstrong married Lucy Bigelow, daughter of a missionary. After her adoption by the Wyandots, Lucy Armstrong became the most influential woman of the tribe. Her published accounts of early Wyandot days have supplied us with much of the information that we now have.
The mission schools for the Delaware Indians had been established in the 1830's in what is now Wyandotte County. Reverend Thomas Johnson of Shawnee Mission founded a Methodist church and school. Reverend John Pratt conducted a Baptist mission and school sixteen miles west of the mouth of the Kansas River. Both Indian and white children attended these schools. The government provided agriculture and handcraft teachers, to assist the missionaries. Although mission schools were successful during their years of operation, they seemed to have had no noticeable influence on later schools for white children. Early settlers framed their school systems from the working of systems in states they had left.
In the summer of 1843 almost 700 Wyandots arrived in what was then "Indian Territory." They obtained 39 sections of land from the Delawares. The present downtown section of this city was part of the purchase, which covered an area extending west to Muncie and north and south to the Missouri and Kansas Rivers.
During the winter and spring of 1843-1844, the Wyandots erected their homes. They endured months of hardship and suffering. All were homesick and ill, and 60 had died before winter set in. In the summer of 1844 the Kaw River rose fourteen feet above its normal level, bringing smallpox and typhoid epidemics. The children had received no schooling for almost a year.
The Wyandots, however, had made provision before they left Ohio to establish a school in the new country. Money had been set aside from the scant funds allowed by the government. With this money, John M. Armstrong built a schoolhouse, which was ready for use by July 1, 1844.
Mr. Armstrong had been a member of the Ohio bar since 1839. As he could not practice law in Indian Territory, he became the first teacher at the new school. The school was open to white and Indian children and was the first free school in Kansas. It was located at what is now the northeast corner of Fourth Street and State Avenue. Double doors of the log building opened to the west. Windows were in the back and on the sides. Crude benches and tables were provided for the children, with a larger table in front for the teacher. Early pupils recalled seeing the large table stacked high with gold and silver coins, annuity payments for the Indians. Once a thousand dollars was stolen. The thief escaped with the money, and the tribe had to bear the loss.
The school, known as First or National School, was the first building in Kansas erected solely for school purposes. The Wyandots elected annually a Council of six members to manage their affairs. The Council, in turn, appointed three directors to govern the school. Such procedure was democratic, for every qualified voter helped to select the Council members. Thus all had a voice in the operation of the school.
Soon after the first school was established, a second schoolhouse was built on Matthew Mudeater's farm, three miles west of the mouth of the Kansas River. Early accounts mention a third school in use in 1850. Possibly they refer to that held in the church basement at Tenth and Freeman, although one historian, Robert L. Nicholson, thinks there might have been a school in the 1840's on the old Stewart site at Ninth and Quindaro.
In 1845 Mr. Armstrong left the school to go to Washington as the legal representative of the tribe. The government owed the Wyandots a sum of money which Mr. Armstrong hoped to collect. Other teachers took charge after he left. From 1845, these persons taught at one or more of the Wyandot schools: Reverend Mr. Cramer, Chief Robert Robitaille (afterward treasurer of Wyandotte County), Reverend R. Parrott, Mrs. Lucy B. Armstrong, Miss Anna H. Ladd, Miss Sara P. Ladd, Mr. Ross, Mr. Barstow, Sophia Walker.
Mrs. Armstrong's sister, Martha Bigelow, and Hester Zane organized a "Sabbath School" in 1847, which they held at the schoolhouse. Governor William Walker noted in his diary in December, 1847, that "Mr. Asbury King of Kansas (Kansas City, Missouri) came to make application for the school. Postponed for the consideration. Staid all night." Mr. King made the overnight trip in vain, for Mrs. Armstrong taught the school from December until the following March.
"Mr. Barstow's school closed today," Walker recorded on March 24, 1848. On May 10 he wrote, "Sophia commenced her school today in the basement of the church." At a later date "Martha" took the school for a day when Sophia was ill.
Children in the schoolhouse learned first-hand what happened to "grog" drinkers and other evildoers among the Wyandots. After drunken ferrymen dumped a prominent Wyandot man's furniture into the river, a log jail was erected across from the school. Respectable citizens formed a Temperance Society, the first in Kansas, to overcome the influence of the "groggeries." The trouble-makers cooled off in jail. The building was used until 1860, when a new jail was built in the rear of the frame courthouse at Third and Nebraska.
One August day in 1848 William Walker and "four other men assembled to grub hazel and alder brush, haul away logs and tree tops thrown by the tornado." They were getting the school grounds ready for the Green Corn Feast and Barbeque. This celebration was a survival of an ancient Indian rite which antedates our Thanksgiving feast by hundreds of years.
The shadow of the coming war between the states had spread over the Wyandot settlement before 1848. The "Church in the Wilderness", located at what is now 23rd and Washington Streets, was built in 1844. By 1846 the members were divided into two factions. One group worshipped in the new brick church at 10th and Freeman; the other in a log building on ground that is now old Quindaro Cemetery. John Armstrong and his wife were strong abolitionists. The Walkers, Garretts, and others owned slaves. Church differences may have affected the school and caused the removal of pupils to another location.
Well-to-do families sent older children away to school. The Walker girls attended a seminary at Lexington and once sent a letter of introduction to their father by the president of the Masonic College there. Students returned home on vacation after absences of six months or more.
Life in Wyandot quickened in 1850, although the village failed to prosper. Travelers, passing through in 1849 on the way to California, aroused in some Wyandot men the fever for gold. They organized a party and joined one of the groups starting on the trail to the West. It was a time of unrest, and education suffered.
On Sept 3, 1850, Major Thomas Moseley, Jr., US Indian agent for the Wyandots, wrote a letter to the chiefs of the tribe:
Concentrating the three schools into one could procure the services of at least one competent teacher; could effect more in twelve months brining on and advancing the children than 24 months in the present mode. I deem the present manner of conducting the three schools entirely wanting in effecting the useful purposes of education so much desired, and of such vital importance to the Wyandot people.
In the spring of 1852, John Armstrong went to Washington on one of his trips to collect money due from the government. He became ill on the way and died in Mansfield, Ohio, in April 1852. For some unexplained reason the First School closed on April 16, 1852. Mrs. Armstrong, who had been teaching during her husband's absence, moved the school to the dining room of her home at 5th and Wawas (Freeman).
The school moved in the winter of 1852 to the church at 10th and Freeman, 3/4 miles west of the Armstrong residence. From that time on, the schoolhouse at 4th and State served as a meeting place for the Council; and for that reason, it is often erroneously called the Council House. Before 1852 the Council met in the school building only in vacation time or at night. At other times members used the back room of the store at 3rd and Nebraska.
Delegates, meeting again at the school in 1853, formed a provisional territorial government and elected William Walker Territorial Governor. Reverend Thomas Johnson went to Washington. Finally the Kansas-Nebraska Bill was passed in 1854, creating the territories of Kansas and Nebraska. The Wyandots became United States citizens with the privilege of holding land individually. Surveyor-General Calhoun came from Leavenworth and set up offices in the old jail. The Wyandot land was divided into 40-acre plots.
With the Ohio constitution as a guide, the Wyandots, in 1851, revised their own. In the summer of 1852, delegates from Shawnee and Leavenworth met with leaders of the tribe at the schoolhouse. They formulated a petition to Congress, requesting the organization of a territory and resultant citizenship for themselves. Abelard Guthrie, a Wyandot by adoption, went to Washington to present the request to Congress. He failed to obtain a hearing.
On a spot where the Northeast Junior High School stands today at Fourth and Troup, Matthew and Lydia Walker had erected their home. On August 11, 1854, eight Master Masons met at the Walker home and held the first Masonic meeting in Kansas. The present Wyandotte Lodge Number 3, A. F. and A. M. received its charter as "Kansas Lodge, Number 53, of Missouri, in May 1855. In the following December the Kansas charter was granted. [Annotation: The address of the Matthew Walker home today would be approximately 350 Troup. This land was later purchased by George Fowler of the Fowler Meat Packing family and their mansion was located there.]
Mrs. Lydia B. Walker organized the first chapter of the Eastern Star and became its first Worthy Matron on July 26, 1856. The chapter took the name "Mendias" in honor of Mrs. Walker's Indian name meaning "soft-spoken woman".
From 1844 to 1856, the William Walker home was the center of culture in the "Indian Country." The people who gathered there kept alive an interest in learning in spite of troubled times. Wyandots remained aloof from state squabbles over capital cities and "bogus" legislatures. In 1855, twelve men led by William Walker, organized, under legislative sanction, the Wyandot Lyceum and Library Association. Objectives of the society were listed as the "mutual improvement of its members in oral discussion and literature, and the establishment of a permanent library."
On the staff at the surveyor-general's office in 1856, was a Leavenworth man, Robert L. Ream. The Ream family stayed at the Silas Armstrong home on the northwest corner of what is now Fifth and Minnesota. The nine-year old daughter of the Reams, Vinnie, spent her play time molding figures out of the yellow clay of the vicinity. The family moved to the East. Years later Vinnie Ream became famous as a sculptress and was awarded a place in the Women's Hall of Fame.
The Wyandots offered their land to white settlers in 1856. A town company, composed of Easterners, capitalists from Kansas City, Missouri, and Wyandot leaders, sold the plots of ground to newcomers arriving on the steamboats from the East. Few Wyandots kept their allotments, and many sold to the town company for much less than their land was worth.
Both churches were burned by incendiaries on April 8, 1856. From then on there was no place for the First School. Other schools had been organized and the old building was not reopened. The first free school in Kansas had come to an end.
In an old journal of the Council is the entry, "First school. Closed up the affairs of the Council." On October 14, 1856, the Council instructed Equire Ladd and Mr. Patterson to appraise the public property. Included were the Council House (First School), dwelling house and jail, and the blacksmith shop tools. The Council voted first to let Silas Armstrong have the Council House "on proper condition of his putting the building in good repair for the use of the Council."
On October 22, 1856, the Council decided to sell the school house to Silas Armstrong for seventy-five dollars. Armstrong bought the "dwelling house and jail" for an additional forty-five dollars. In 1870 a carpenter's shop occupied the schoolhouse, which was still standing in 1882. For years a wooden marker on the site bore the inscription:
Site of the Wyandot Indian Council House
The title and dates were incorrect. These mistakes probably led to misunderstanding as to the original purpose of the building. Today not a trace remains of the building or the sign.
A link connecting early Wyandot days with schools of a later time was the Isaiah Walker house. In 1856 Isaiah, brother of Governor William Walker, owned the most pretentious home in Wyandot. It was located near what is Sixth and Freeman, and was said to have resembled a manor place more than a pioneer dwelling.
When the streets of the city were graded, the Walker house was left high on a terrace. Years later William E. Barnhart, a member and one-time president of the Board of Education, bought the old house and restored it. He faced it to the north by building on a new front. It stood for a long time as a symbol of another era in the history of the city and its schools.
The charter for the City of Wyandotte was approved in the summer of 1858. The bill creating the County and City of Wyandotte was enacted by the legislature on January 29, 1859.
History Site created on December 02, 2002
Page last updated: 02-Jan-2012