Site Navigation: History Homepage / Biographies Index / Building Index of Libraries and Schools / Ethnic History of Schools / FAQs - Did You Know? / First Things First / Historian's Roundtable of Wyandotte County / Maps and Land Records / One-Room Schoolhouses / Picture Gallery / Publications, Online Transcriptions, Links / Queries / Copyright/Disclaimer
Public School System, 1819-1961
by Nellie McGuinn
Copyright USD 500, Feb 1966
By a special act of the Kansas Legislature in 1886 [Annotation: Consolidation Act of 1886], the three cities of Wyandotte, Armourdale and old Kansas City, Kansas were consolidated under the name of Kansas City, Kansas. A mayor, council members, and school board were elected on April 6, 1886. On May 7, the board met and formed a permanent organization, the first in the new city and the beginning of the present Kansas City school system. Of the three cities, Wyandotte was the oldest and largest, with a population of almost 13,000.
West of Tenth Street, except for some homes between Orville and State Avenues, the land was country. East of Tenth, the mule cars still had their terminus at Sixth and Minnesota. The council was making an effort to drain the pond on the north side of Minnesota between Fifth and Sixth. The "new-fangled" heating system at Everett still refused to operate on cold days. Mrs. Alice Cheney advertised on January that she would accept children, three to eight years of age, for kindergarten and primary work. The school was conveniently located at Third and Minnesota. Children attending from 9 a.m. to 12 paid two dollars a month. From one to four in the afternoon, the kindergarten was free.
An advance in the transportation system of Wyandotte was the coming of the "L" road. The elevated tracks ran along Ninth Street of the present Industrial District, then known as the West Bottoms, and through old Kansas City, Kansas. At Riverview near Sixth and Central the railway turned north on Sixth, going underground when it reached Minnesota Avenue. The station was located north of Minnesota near State. So-called "dummy" engines pulled two cars behind them over the tracks. A bridge carried traffic and pedestrians over the carline at the Minnesota intersection.
When the trains began running in October, 1886, the school children were given a free rider, and crowds rode the "L" for a visit to Wyandotte. If the trains opened a new era for faster travel, they brought, as the automobile did, injury and death to many people. Like the speeders of today, the young men and boys took unnecessary risks. The newspapers of the eighties supplied the accident stories in horrible detail, from severed limbs to mangled bodies. Scarcely an issue was without such an account. [Annotation: The Kansas City, Kansas Public Library, 625 Minnesota Avenue, KCKs, has old Wyandotte/Kansas City newspapers on microfilm.] As the "dummy" stayed on a track, the victims must have been obliged to run into it, or to get off and on before the train stopped. The editor of the Gazette, one of the Armstrong family, had both legs cut off trying to board the "L" at Sixth and Minnesota.
The new board of the consolidated city had the following members: J. M. Squires, president; W. J. Brouse, vice-president; S. W. Day N. P. Northrup, J. F. Nettleton, E. P. Godsell.
J. D. Jaquith was elected clerk at a salary of $600 a year. In early November of 1886, J. F. Nettleton resigned, and W. T. Mead took his place on November 9. John W. Ferguson was elected the first superintendent of the consolidated city. F. S. Merstetter was the first treasurer and his sureties were H. H. Sawner, Fred Drees, and W. W. Ryus. The bond was for $15,000 and they qualified for $20,000.
The first board meeting was held in the Wood Street School in old Kansas City, although it was hoped that a room in the "city building" would be available later.
Both Kansas City and Armourdale had established schools before 1886. Kansas City was the older of the two cities. It occupied the tract of ground lying between the Kansas River and the State Line [Annotation: Missouri State Line - called the West Bottoms]. This land had been reserved by the government for a fort, as recommended by Lewis and Clark. When floods covered it after spring rains, the government built the fort at Leavenworth on higher ground. The Wyandots camped on this strip in 1843, and other settlers built homes on the government-owned land.
Silas Armstrong, a Wyandot, had permission to choose a section of land in payment for Ohio properties. He decided on the strip in the "Bottoms". For years Armstrong and the "squatters" waged war in the courts over the "Armstrong Float," as the place had become known. When the packing houses moved here in the sixties they built plants on the low land near the rivers. Workers settled nearby to be close to work. A company was formed to lay out a town in 1868. In October, 1872, the city was incorporated under the name Kansas City. Only the state line separated it from the part of Kansas City, Missouri, known as West Kansas.
The city and school district had the same boundaries. It covered about 300 acres and had a population of 5000 people, when it was consolidated. The first school, an eight-room brick, was erected in 1871 as District School Number 3 [Wood/Cooper School in the West Bottoms]. In 1879 the school was enlarged to care for the increasing number of children. By 1883 seven teachers taught 500 children under H. S. Gibson, principal and seventh and eighth grade teacher. Forty-five colored children attended school in another building. Members of the Board of Education in 1883 were: E. L. James, president; George Nelson, John Furgason, Dr. A. H. Vail, E. S. Matoon, J. H. Spake; Samuel McConnell, treasurer.
In old Kansas City the school was located on Wood between Fifth and Sixth Streets and was called Wood or Wood Street School. After the cities were united, Wood Street was changed to First, but old name for the school remained until 1904. Wood was Mr. M. E. Pearson's first teaching assignment in the Kansas City schools. It was transferred to the new board in May, 1886.
The first kindergarten and manual training departments in Kansas City owe their establishment, not to a board of education, but to the Fowler family. Upon her arrival in Wyandotte, Mrs. Fowler had been concerned over the poor living conditions among the colored people, the Exodusters. These people had lately come from the South and were living in makeshift homes along the levee and lowlands by the rivers. Mrs. Fowler visited the huts, bringing food and clothing to the occupants. She instructed them in better ways of housekeeping and cooking and persuaded her husband to give them work in his packing houses.
In 1881, Mrs. Fowler established in old Kansas City, Kansas, an Industrial and Sewing School for girls eight to sixteen years of age. Every Saturday afternoon between the hours of two and four, girls from all over Wyandotte County gathered. At a cost of $300 to $400 a year, instruction was given in the best English methods of sewing. Material was purchased by the bolt, and children were given the garments they made. One time the school year closed with an English feast.
Miss Annie Fowler, daughter of George Fowler, started a kindergarten in 1883 at 301 North James Street. Her father paid $6000 for a house and lot. The school ran ten months a year at a cost of $1000, as there was no charge to pupils. Mrs. Alice Cheney was the principal in charge of thirty-eight children.
The accessible low land along the Kaw River drew eastern investors to the section lying south of Armstrong and the Kansas (Union) Pacific tracks. A town was plotted by the Kansas Townsite and Bridge Company in June, 1880, and an addition in 1881. All this section was part of District Number 9, Wyandotte County. Children had attended Armstrong School to the north since 1873. When the city was incorporated under the name Armourdale in 1882, the school district was divided. Armstrong School became part of South Wyandotte, which left Armourdale without a building.
The newly-incorporated city at the spring election in 1882 elected its first board of education. N. Sherrick, president; E. Sheldon, secretary; F. W. Dryer, treasurer.
Bonds to the amount of $9000 were voted for a new building. One of the committee, P. W. Service, recalled the selection of a school site. He and other members followed a path through a cornfield and staked out the ground for the school. The path became Eighth Street in the city of Armourdale. After the consolidation the street name was changed to Fifth, and the school's location was on the southwest corner of Fifth and Shawnee. For years references in old records were made to the Eighth Street School. The building, a two-story, four-room brick, was erected on four lots and completed by 1883.
On Idaho near South Eighth, the Armourdale board rented a track of ground from J. C. Boddington for $75.00 a year, from March 25, 1881 to March, 1895. John Buckley, in 1881, built a one-room frame on the lot, which served as a school for the colored school.
George E. Rose was the first principal of Armourdale School. The attendance was around 300 that first year. Shortly afterward the four rooms were divided to make eight, and a hall enclosed to make an extra room. Two additional lots were purchased in January, 1884.
A Mr. Brock followed George E. Rose as principal in 1884, and Oscar B. Johnson taught the colored school. By 1885, C. F. Foley had taken over the principalship. The town had a population of 2800 and the board was levying a five-mill tax on property. The six lots and nine-room building were deeded to the Kansas City Board of Education in the spring of 1886.
School board members faced a huge accumulation of duties and problems when they formed the permanent organization in May, 1886. There was a deficit of $40,000 in funds at the start. A large minority of people in each of the three cities was disgruntled about some matters concerning the consolidation. Everyone had demands for repairs or new buildings to make on the board. Rules had to be worked out for the management of board and school affairs.
C. F. Foley, principal of Armourdale School, and acting county superintendent, was granted the privilege of attending a board meeting in early May in order to explain matters pertaining to the Armourdale district. On May 7, the board appointed a committee to try to get a room in a city building, suitable for a meeting place. Another committee was appointed to draw up rules and regulations, and a third to see the new clerk to arrange for salary, hours, etc.
The board adopted rules governing the Topeka School Board, amendments to be made as needed. The clerk was instructed to ask the Topeka superintendent for six copies of the board rules. No married women who husbands were available to support them would be hired. President Squires divided the members into eleven committees: Finance, Ways and Means, Building and Grounds, Teachers and Visiting Schools, Colored Schools, Claims and Accounts, Salaries, Teachers' Examinations, School Books, Printing, Health and Taking the Census.
Several cities by May 21 had answered inquiries about salaries. The new superintendent, John W. Ferguson, would receive a salary of $1500. An immediate duty would be to take the school census, starting on the south side. A committee from the board would accompany the superintendent on a visit to all schools. Inventory of furnishings and equipment would be taken at the same time.
In June, 1886, other business came up. The office needed a water cooler and ice. From Frank Fulton the board purchased a carpet, window shades, a desk cover, and an office chair. Mr. Jaquith, the clerk, received extra pay for "varnishing furniture, and for drayage and keys." Rent was due, though the records railed to state for what place, and there was discussion about the building in old Kansas City, Kansas. A "triangle seal" was adopted as the official seal of the board.
Teachers' certificates, based on the examinations held the previous week, were issued on June 14. On that day the board approved the list of teachers, the first of the new city of Kansas City, Kansas. Only exceptions to the board's approval were "as regards the married ladies in the colored schools, their places to be filled later."
List of first teachers: Alexander, Emma (if she passes test); Allen, Alexa; Austin, Bessie; Babbitt, Lillie; Billingsly, LK; Bretton, Florence; Brouse, Florence J; Burton, Jennie L; Clark, Anna; Coddington, Hester V; Colgan, Belle; Collins, Lizzie; Collins, Mollie A; Cosgriff, Josephine; Cushing, Bridget; Daniels, Josie; Daniels, Katie; Davis, Anna; Doran, Maggie; Dunmyer, Minnie; Farr, Stella M; Fertig, JG; Foucher, JL; Grabb, Ella; Greenmyer, Clara; Halferty, J; Harrison, GL; Harrison, JR; Holbrook, CH; Holsinger, Mary; Jefferson, Lucretta; Johnson, OB; L:Landis, Jennie V; Lane, Jennie B; Lewis, JJ; Mason, JC; McLean, Noye; McMahon, Mary; McNally, Eva; McNally, Lizzie; Mills, DR; O’Brie, Lizzie J; O’Neill, Rose; Overton, Sallie; Parsons, Sadie; Pearson, ME; Redfield, Jennie; Rooney, WH; Ross, Nina E; Rust, AL; Sackett, Flora C; Short, BL; Sprague, Anna; Taffe, Jennie S; Taylor, EF; Taylor, GA; Tustin, Marrie M; Walker, Lucy; Wherrell, John; Williams, Blance.
The new school board met almost every week in June, 1886. On June 21, a committee announced a seating capacity for 2667 pupils. "Riverview" needed fifty-seven feet added to the grounds on the south so that six more rooms might be built. Then Armstrong could serve as a building for the colored children of the district. A $15,000 issue of twenty-years, six percent bonds must be made to buy new sites, erect buildings, and repair furniture. The Savings Bank of Kansas was named depository of school money. As to the monies coming in from the different cities, the city attorney would advise the board as to their use. Textbooks adopted for use in the schools were: Barnes National Readers, Barnes General History, Barnes Geographies, Bordun's Rhetoric (Shorter Course), Electic Language Lessons, Electic Histories, D. D. and P. D. and S. Writing Books, McGuffey's Revised Speller, Harvey's Grammar, Steele's Hygenic Physiologies, Steele's Fourteen Weeks in Philosophy, White's Drawing.
By July, 1886, the board published its first salary schedule for a term of eight months. At a special meeting on July 21, the board awarded the contract for a Riverview addition of four rooms to L. G. Ferguson. Charles Wilson and J. W. Ferguson were sureties for him. George Colby, architect, drew plans that included a steam-heating plant. The building was to be finished by September 10. he board considered "Paragon" and "Wabash" desks for Riverview and a small frame being erected, and decided on Wabash for both.
Board members felt their integrity had been questioned when rumors started that Riverview would be abandoned as a grade school, and a high school established there. The clerk, J. D. Jaquith, explained that the Fifth Ward would increase in school population. Soon 480 pupils might fill the eight rooms. In the meantime fifty pupils of the consolidated city, who had been studying above the grammar grades, would be provided for, along with others who desired further study. The board had selected Riverview as the most centralized location for a start in high school work.
With more room at Riverview, Armstrong pupils could be accommodated there. The ninety-eight colored children would fill two rooms at Armstrong. Central School was being painted and fixed up, which pleased Wyandotte residents. Mr. J. P. Northrup was given twenty dollars by the board to bind any bargains he might make in purchasing lots for two new buildings. The ice bill for May and June to Wood Brothers was $5.60.
Two items of business came up on August 2, 1886, one of which irritated boards for years, until they refused to consider the matter any more. The other may exist still. The salary schedule displeased some teacher, and they appeared individually before the group to request adjustments. Often please were ranted, which opened the way for other complaints. The second matter was that of complaints of excessive punishments and injustices by teachers. At the August meeting a board committee reported that charges against A. L. Rust were without foundation.
The board ruled on August 9, 1886, that no child under seven would be admitted when school opened on September 20. J. H. Fleming, Architect, signed a contract with the board. All schoolroom seats were to be gathered up and finished. The members approved going into debt for $143 for Yaggy's Charts, to be paid for in 18 months at 10 percent. The charts were sent to Central, Riverview, Everett, and Sixth Street School (Lincoln).
When the Wyandotte Town Company was formed in 1856, one of the first members was John W. McAlpine. The following year John McAlpine's nephew, Nicholas McAlpine, came to Wyandotte to serve as clerk for his uncle. He later married Maria, daughter of Matthew Walker. Nichols laid out two real estate additions, one to Armourdale, the other to Wyandotte, north of Central Avenue near Eighth and Ninth Streets.
On August 16, 1886, the Board of Education bought of Alfred Wiston and his wife four lots in Block 2 of McAlpine's Addition to old Wyandotte for the sum of $1200. The site lay between Parnell on the north and Livingstone on the south, now known respectively as Riverview and Reynolds. To the east was Walnut (Walnut in 1966) and on the west, Ninth Street. P. H. Knoblock on August 20, 1886, was awarded a contract to build a two-room frame building facing Parnell Avenue (Riverview in 1966). In 1886, there was no sewer, water, or gas facilities in either the adjacent streets or alleys. Stove heat would be used. Water pipes and cisterns would be installed in the schools being erected. The board named the school McAlpine in honor of the proprietor of the addition.
On the same date, August 20, 1886, P. H. Knoblock contracted to erect another building, although the deed to the land had not yet been signed. H. A. Curdy and husband, W. W. Curdy, deeded to the board eight lots in Block 162 of old Wyandotte on the southeast corner of Eleventh and Barnett Avenue. Some accounts list a four-room frame built on pilings there; however, at no time were there more than three teachers at the school, even when it was most crowded.
The school was named Barnett because of its location. The Barnetts were an early Wyandot family; one of whom married Hannah Armstrong. Her daughter, Eliza Barnett, became the wife of Matthias Splitlog, a well-to-do Wyandot. Splitlog Avenue was named for him, Barnett for his wife's people.
At a meeting in early September, the board voted to issue $10,000 in bonds for twenty years at six percent. The first janitors appointed by the new board had a one-year tenure and were sworn in as special policemen.
George Paine, Armourdale; Daniel Coates, Armstrong; Davis Huss, Barnett and McAlpine; Andrew Doherty, Central; R. Wentworth, Everett; Nathan Vince, Sixth Street (replaced by Mr. Lowder, colored); J. Lawrence, Riverview.
The board instructed the superintendent to correspond with some "single colored ladies" to fill vacancies by September 27, the date set for the school opening. Wood School was being repaired but the colored people in old Kansas City, Kansas complained of poor school facilities and begged for improved housing quarters.
The board promised to publish school boundaries in the Sunday papers and told he superintendent to use his best judgment in dismissing the first three grades. The Wyandotte and Armourdale Water Company would furnish water where pipes had been laid for such service. Miss Nina Ross begged to be excused from the first institute, but was told that in the future she must submit in writing her reasons for not attending.
In October, Treasurer F. S. Merstetter established four special funds: General Fund, Teachers' Fund from state and county dividends, Building and improvement fund from bonds, Bills.
V. J. Lane was awarded the printing contract and Ed Dunning was to furnish clocks. The board asked for figures on eighteen and twenty-four inch bells, also a twelve-inch gong. Slate pencils and paper were ordered. Wood School need a coal shed, and Mr. Day would see that it was built. The Colored School Committee, in answer to the colored people's request, rented a church building in old Kansas City, Kansas at $12.50 a month. T. F. Douglas got the contract to install steam heat at Riverview.
School enrollment on October 28, 1886, was as follows:
High School at Riverview - 82
Central High School Department - 34
Sixth Street Colored - 13
Total high school enrollment - 129
2028 white and 610 colored children had enrolled.
Consolidated City Schools: Armourdale; Armourdale (colored, rented); Armstrong; Barnett; Central; Everett; McAlpine; Riverview; Sixth Street (Lincoln); Wood; Wood (colored, rented).
President Grover Cleveland, in 1886, made a plea to the people of the country to lay aside the animosities aroused by the Civil War. Twenty years after the close of the war, a wave of reform was sweeping the nation. The newly-organized town of Kansas City wanted public education in the high school for both rich and poor.
The new high school at Riverview opened with an enrollment which filled the two available rooms. At first three courses were offered to the eighty-seven pupils: four-year English course, four-year Latin and Scientific course (college preparatory), two-year Commercial course.
Professor John Wherrell, the new principal, had conducted previously in Paola a private normal school of excellent reputation. His assistant at the high school was a young Yale graduate, Eugene Rust. Between them they taught, during that first year of 1881-1887, all subjects.
By November 1, 1886, Superintendent John W. Ferguson realized that he was faced by a shortage of qualified elementary teachers. Fifty-five teachers were needed for the 3,643 children in the schools. Not enough young women were passing the examinations to keep the schools supplied with teachers. At a meeting on November 9, 1886, the board established a Normal Training Department to be maintained at "Riverview" School to educate and train persons to teach in the ward schools. Girls from this department would substitute for absent teachers and have preference when vacancies were to be filled.
The high school had been assigned to Riverview because of that school's central location in the new city. As it turned out, 95 percent of the students lived in Wyandotte, and they complained bitterly of the out-of-the-way location. They rode the "L", or "Dummy" line, from Wyandotte to Riverview at Sixth and Central. From Seventh and Central there were no sidewalks south to the school.
As the street had been newly graded, students had to carry extra shoes and stockings during rainy weather. In an era of trailing skirts and dust ruffles, the girls wearied of bedraggled, muddy clothing, and wore removable skirts. Even horses found it impossible to pull their loads through the wet clay. At eight-o'clock the pupils arrived with their lunch buckets for a day of real study. An outside hydrant supplied drinking water.
Ladder-like planks led up to the board walks in front of the building, twenty-feet above the street. There, corncobs came in handy to clean the mud from boots and shoes. The janitor used a scoop shovel on the walks to clear away the mud. The next year, 1887, Central Avenue was cut through clay banks to make a road for the cable line to Grandview.
Students remembered John Wherrell as a stout, middle aged man of average height. Above a heavy beard and moustache, his head was partly bald. He seems to have been a man of advanced ideas and fine character, who was able to inspire his pupils. The school, according to the custom of the time, was conducted in an orderly, formal manner. Roll call was by number. No misbehavior was tolerated during class and study time. Infractions of rules brought a theme assignment, the number of words apportioned according to the offense.
Pupils entering classes from the city schools had to have a 75 percent general average, with no grade below fifty. Those from outside the city took an examination and paid tuition of two dollars a month in advance, with no refunds. Parents signed for courses that their children took and for any changes made after enrollment. Rules forbade repeating a course in which a student had failed.
Assignments were difficult. Frequent examinations were given and any failing grades reported immediately to parents. A series of spring tests formed the basis for promotion.
Early in the school year, 1886-1887, the board instructed the superintendent to inquire into the workings of the school in Armourdale. In the latter part of November the board rented for thirty dollars a month a two-room building in the Armourdale district. J. J. Maxwell was appointed principal and Miss Nannie Groomer names his assistant on a two-weeks' trial. Probably this two-room school was the so-called "Chance" School mentioned in early records. It also may have been the first school in the Morse district. Ninety children attended.
The new schools, Barnett and McAlpine, required extra work for completion. Architect J. H. Fleming, in estimating the cost of the work, had allowed what seemed to the board exorbitant prices. It would be unjust to the public and neglect of duty to allow the bills, the members thought. They passed two resolutions on November 11, 1886:
A few days later the resolutions were amended to dispense with the services of an architect and to employ George Colby to make the estimates. The board voted to issue seven thousand dollars in bonds for twenty years at six percent to pay for sites, schools, and repairs. The board also granted W. S. Griggs permission to photograph the different schools.
Miss Nina Ross, a teacher having been excused from attending the first institute, in the year 1886-1887 had an average of sixty-six children in her room. The attendance, however, seldom reach so high a number.
The normal courses required three years. At the end of the first year, in the spring of 1887, only one girl had a sufficient number of credits to graduate. The new city had an imperative need for teachers. Requirements were waived and eleven girls were graduated. Among these first graduates were Sally Lindsay (White) and Carrie Drisko, a teacher and principal for any years here in the city. After graduation, Carrie Drisko had to wait a year before she could teach, as she was too young in 1887.
The first class had a fine graduation at Dunning's Hall. All members read an essay or delivered an oration, after which they attended a banquet given by the Board of Education. Class members recalled how Sallie Lindsay, who later married William Allen White, enlivened the high school at old Riverview. Stories about her and her two sisters are numerous. Friends of the family often remarked that they could recognize the Lindsay girls in Mr. White's "Boyville Stories."
History Site created on December 02, 2002
Page last updated: 02-Jan-2012