Bade – Ch. 6 – Education in the Pioneer Settlement


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The development and history of a community depends to a certain extent upon the ideals of its people. Next to the home and the church, the school is the most potent force in the shaping of ideals. The Dutch pioneers recognized this fact. In the Netherlands, the children of the wealthy alone, could hope to acquire an education which would lift them above a state of peasantry. One of the prime motives for their migration to America was their desire for participation of their children in our more democratic educational advantages. The realization of the importance of at least an elementary education for the advancement of youth in this country, led them to make many sacrifices in order that their children might be educated. Therefore, a review of the early school system of this pioneer community is necessary that we might picture more vividly the progress it has made.

Establishment of schools in Lancaster County closely followed upon the earliest settlement of the state.1 Likewise the first school in the Dutch settlement, which later became known as Holland, was established soon after the opening of the first school in the county. In 1869, district twelve, the first school district, was organized in South Pass Precinct. lt contained sections one, two, three, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, and fifteen.2 The first board of directors included William Daharsh, Sr., William McClain, and George Grim.3 William Daharsh, Jr., one of the original pupils of the district, states that the first school was held in an old granary, located in the southeast corner of section ten on which is now known as the Kline farm.4 In this district the first term was taught in the winter of 1869-1870 by Miss Libbie Mitchell of Roca.5 There were about eighteen children in attendance. Children of William Daharsh, Sr., Siegrist, William McClain, Martinius Vanderwege, Martinius Wissink, one child of A. McKinnon, one child of C. Brethouwer, and others were pupils in this school. School was held at this location for a term of three months.6

Next year Miss Townsend of Wisconsin taught one term in an old shack located in section eleven, directly across the line from where the first school was organized. Miss Helen Becker also taught one term in a log cabin located on what is now known as the Top farm in section ten approximately one-half mile north from that of the first school.7

Although these buildings were poorly constructed and the equipment was scanty, these early settlers provided the best that their means would afford. The interior of the building was not finished. There was no floor except the ground. The benches were made out of native lumber by one of the members of the district.8 The course of study included spelling, reading, writing, mental arithmetic, written arithmetic, geography, and grammar. At this time books used in the school were Worcester spellers, Hilliard readers, Spencer writing books, French and Ray written arithmetic, Guyott geography, and Harvey’s grammar.9

The rapid increase of immigration into the colony created a serious problem for the school, because of the already crowded conditions. The members of the school board and the parents of the children felt the need for a permanent and better constructed school building to house their children. A meeting was called, and it was decided to erect a building on the present site at a cost not to exceed twelve hundred dollars.10

Mr. James Burcham was employed by the board of directors as contractor to put up the building. The board also employed Mr. Martinius Vanderwege to lay the foundation and to do the plastering. The sand was hauled from a sand pit about five miles west of Holland, and the limestone rock from Roca. The lumber and other material was procured from Lincoln. After the completion of the building , the school was opened by George McKinnon, brother of A. McKinnon, who had been employed to teach the school.11

The first available record for district twelve covers the year 1875. The director shows in his annual report to the county superintendent that Thomas Bales was employed as teacher. His salary was thirty dollars a month and he received a total of two hundred twenty-five dollars for the equivalent of seven and one-half months of teaching. The annual reports for later years show an upward trend in saIaries. In 1884 the teacher was paid forty dollars a month. In 1885, the district paid the teacher seventy dollars a month and in 1886 the teacher received seventy-seven dollars a month. The school was reorganized in 1887, which considerably affected the teacher’s salary.12

The annual reports for later years also show a rapid increase in attendance which made it necessary to enlarge the building in 1877. Comparison of the annual report for 1875 with that for 1884 shows that the attendance increased from forty-seven in 1875 to one hundred six in 1884, and an attendance of one hundred seventeen is reported for 1886. With this increase in enrollment, the members of the board and parents felt it impossible for one teacher to give adequate instruction and supervision to this large group. Therefore, the school was remodeled in 1887 and the members of the board elected Miss Lotta Alexander, former county superintendent of Lancaster County, to teach the lower grades at twenty-two and one-half dollars a month. Mr. Worley was elected to teach the upper grades at fifty-seven and one-half dollars a month. The school opened in the fall with one hundred thirty pupils in attendance.13 The ninth and tenth grades have been added since, but the system is still under the supervision of two teachers.

The director reported to the county superintendent in 1875 that it was planned to have three months summer term and six months winter term the following year. The report covering the year 1876, however, indicates that the plan was not carried out. The annual report in 1881 indicates that school was held ten months.14 The director reports to the county superintendent in 1884 that there is to be ten months of school the following year. With the exception of 1893 the school continued a ten-month program until 1895.15 Since then there has been a nine-month term.

The annual report covering the year 1875 further indicated the school building was valued at one thousand dollars. The director also stated in the same report that the school had five square yards of blackboard. In 1880 he estimated the value of the equipment (charts, maps, etc.) of the school at ten dollars. None of the reports indicate that money had been spent for books and supplies until 1892, when fifty-six dollars and fifty-one cents were spent for this item.16 The report for 1875 also shows the district’s indebtedness to have been eleven hundred dollars, but by 1880 this debt had been entirely removed.17 The annual report covering the year 1877 shows that Mr. H.J. Lubbers and C. Wismer were members of the board of directors, and in 1878 Dominee Huizenga was elected to take the place of William McClain. From this date on the members of the board have been Hollanders.18

Organization of other schools within the Dutch settlement closely followed the establishment of district twelve. District forty-four was organized in 1870, and districts fifty-nine, twenty-five, sixty-three, and one hundred seventeen were laíd out the following year.19 During the first year, these schools were conducted in sod buildings or vacated shacks.20 Mr. Ben Brethouwer who attended school one year at district forty-four, describes the building as poorly constructed, and with a sod roof. There was no floor except the ground. The benches were made of native lumber.21 The first available record for these districts covers the year 1875. The term of school varied from three to seven months.22 These districts, as in district twelve, show no Hollanders on the school board during their early organization. This probably was due to their inability to read and write the English language. This often became a serious problem for the Hollanders. In one case they signed a petition for a detachment of a part of the district, and it is evident that they did not understand the petition which they had signed. A record of the director’s letter to County Superintendent Ghosts states that these people were unable to read the English language and consequently failed to understand the significance of the paper. The director asked the superintendent to give no value to the signed paper.23

Today one will find the school buildings in the Dutch settlement comparable to school buildings in other rural districts. In district forty-four a modern brick building has replaced the old wooden structure. Also the Hollanders have taken over the responsibility of the supervision of the schools.

The school and the church at Holland have always remained separate institutions. While the native language was always used in the church, the language was never taught in the school. Frequently, on Friday afternoon in the school at Holland, instructions in religion were given by the Dominee. The influence of the minister has always been a dominant factor in shaping the school’s policies. The teacher is closely observed by him. Dominee Huizenga took commendable interest in the early organization of district twelve, and as school director, did a great deal to advance the educational interests of Holland.24 Dominee Van Zyle also was deeply interested in the welfare of the school. He was responsible for the present modern structure which replaced the old building.

The pioneer school building was the center of all social activities of the community. The schoolhouse in many pioneer settlements was also used as a place of worship. Since the congregation of the Reformed Church at Holland had been organized and a church had been built prior to the erection of the new school, the latter was not used for religious purposes in this community. The congregation, however, opposed any social entertainments in the church. Therefore, any activities which were the means of raising money for church purposes were held in the school building.25

Entertainments were frequently presented by the teacher and pupils, in the afternoon, to the parents and other members of the district. The school, in the same manner as the church, held programs and box socials, and usually achieved the same success. Later literary societies and spelling bees were held at the schoolhouse, and these meetings became very popular among the young people of the community.26

The school building was also used for political caucuses. These meetings were conducted by members who represented the Republican party. Lack of support to the Democratic party in the Dutch settlement, made it impracticable for the Democrats to hold similar rallies. The schoolhouse was also used as a place for voting. Since 1920, however, another place bas been designated.

The children of the pioneer families suffered many hardships because of the fact that they were deprived of the modern conveniences which we have today. Rural schools now have telephones by means of which parents may be informed relative to the safety of the children. Before a threatening storm reaches a community, the automobile and good roads permit parents to bring their children safely home. In the pioneer days, when a blizzard struck a community, school children depended upon their own resources to reach their homes. Many of them lived three or four miles from school.27 No telephones relieved the parents of their anxiety, and automobiles and good roads were also unknown.

One of these severe blizzards, that stands out in the memories of pioneers of the Holland settlement, occurred January 12, 1888. This tragic storm is recalled and described by many of the early pupils of the Holland school. January 12, 1888, until about three o’clock in the afternoon was a pleasant winter day. A light snow had fallen and the temperature was relatively high. A soft breeze, blowing not more than five miles an hour, came out of the southeast. No telephones or radios warned the rural settlers of the advancing destructive storm, and there was no hint in the air of the terrible change so soon to take place. About three o’clock in the afternoon, the light breeze from the southeast turned into a hurricane, sweeping down from the north. Suddenly everything became dark and people wondered as to the cause of this, but too soon they discovered a great choking sheet of snow that froze as it fell. The onset of wind and snow was so sudden and so strong, that many pioneers who were on the road perished and many children who were in school were unable to reach home.28 Out of this storm came many stories of heroism. Few dared to face the intense cold and the terrifying darkness of the mid­afternoon. Some of the pioneers of the Holland settlement were visiting friends when the unexpected storm arrived, and one family almost perished before they reached their home.29

The rural pioneers of the Holland settlement, like pioneers of other localities, suffered a great deal physically. Stock that had been grazing in the field broke through fences in order that they might find shelter in the farm yard. Blizzards were frequent and severe enough to warrant the keeping of a ball of binder twine handy in the home. When a farmer went outside his house during a severe storm such as the one in 1888, he tied one end of the twine to the doorknob and let out the cord as he progressed. That provided a secure return to the house.30

The school at Holland was one among the many schools in this section of the state where little children suffered the bitter blizzard in 1888. Mr. John Anderson and Miss Annie Hurnt were teachers employed in the school at that time, and approximately one hundred thirty-seven pupils were in attendance.31 One of the pupils attending school that day describes her experience in the storm:

The greatest snowstorm that I remember occurred January 12, 1888. The temperature was mild, and a light snow had been falling almost all day. In the afternoon, about the time school was to be dismissed, the wind shifted to the north. Suddenly a great sheet of snow came upon us, and soon it grew very dark. Mr. Anderson thought that we might be able to reach our homes before the storm increased in its fury. Therefore, we were dismissed a little early. We were not able to see very far ahead of us and it continued to grow colder. My brother and sister, one of Lokhorst’s children, one of Obbink’s children, and Dave Ruigh were in my group. All six of us held each other’s hands in order that no one might become lost. About half way home, my father and Mr. Obbink met us with lighted lanterns. We heard them calling our name approximately three hundred feet away. They found us in a cornfield. When we arrived home, it was discovered that one of the little girls had her legs frozen. This caused my parents no little anxiety. Their treatment, however, soon relieved the child of any ill effects.32

Mr. Claude Burcham, a pupil of another school in the Dutch settlement, also has a clear recollection of the stormy January day. The blizzard, which has never been forgotten, has left a distinct impression upon his memory. “I have often wondered,” he says, “how it was possible for me to have reached my destination.” He vividly recalls in the following words his experience on his way home:

I well remember the blizzard of January 12, 1888. I was a lad of twelve years and was attending school at district fifty-nine, located about three miles southwest of Hickman. The weather was warm, but snow fell almost all day long and I suppose there was about a foot of snow on the ground. For some reason I took a notion to go home at the afternoon recess which was two-thirty o’clock. I had gotten to within a quarter of a mile from home when all of a sudden a terrific wind came out of the north and in an instant the air was so full of snow that it was almost impossible to find the house. It began to get cold very fast and, almost exhausted, I reached home safely. My father and I went out to look after the stock, but it was almost impossible to find our way. The snow would melt on the face, and then freeze, and I had to fight to keep my eyes from freezing shot. The morning following, while bitterly cold, was as pretty a day as one could ask and, except for the huge drifts of snow, it was almost impossible to realize that we had passed through such a severe blizzard – one that has gone into history as one of the worst ever known.33

Many similar experiences were related by various pupils who had attended school on that day. Some of these children had parts of their bodies frozen in trying to reach home. Many of the children were given shelter by families other than their own. These little folks who had to remain away from home that night little realized the anxiety suffered by their parents who feared they had been lost in the blizzard.

Any education for these pioneer children was achieved only by means of a very definite sacrifice upon the part of their parents. Their poverty and their unremitting struggle with nature for their meager livelihood were almost invincible opponents to their educational ideals. It was difficult to manage the financial details of the school, and it was far more difficult to spare the children from field labor. Many children were reluctantly denied educational advantages after reaching the age of twelve. Others achieved their more advanced schooling only at the expense of actual privation.

Also, the unlettered pioneer parents, while purposely striving to improve the conditions of their children over their own, nevertheless, had only extremely rudimentary ideas of the purpose of education. Every boy should be able to farm, and every girl should be able to cook. Their educational ideals naturally centered around these two very practical goals. These pioneer parents wanted their children to be good farmers and good wives. The school must first achieve these ends. When accomplished, any further enlightenment in other respects was approved and admired.34 Any curricula which ignored these fundamental requirements were sure to receive the frown of a unanimous community.35 The Hollanders’ attitude toward compulsory education and their interest today in higher education will be discussed in the last chapter.

The schools established in this settlement were a distinct step in the progress of the cultural development of these people. With all of the hardships endured, approximately eighteen of the earliest pupils of the Holland settlement, entered learned professions. Those who did not secure higher education, but remained in the community as farmers, business men, etc., became better and more prosperous citizens, and lived fuller and richer lives because of the elementary education they received.

Another factor which contributed to the enlightenment of the community and the fostering of higher ideals was the reading of newspapers, periodicals, and books.36 With the establishment of mail routes in the settlement, magazines, weekly town papers, and daily newspapers assumed a new importance. The Lincoln Daily Star presented a mailbox with each subscription. Despite the fact that the Star supported the opposite political party, this paper was found in many of the homes. Fiction books also appeared soon after the turn of the century. It was important, however, that all reading material should be characterized with Christian ideals. Any other type of reading was frowned upon by the pioneers.

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1 Hays & Cox, op. cit. , 226.

2 Record including plat of original district twelve, filed in office of county superintendent, Lincoln; Personal interview with Mr. William Daharsh, Jr.; Mr. Henry Wubbles, 1937.

3 Personal interview with Mr. William Daharsh, Jr.; Ben Brethouwer; Dan Wissink, 1937.

4 Idem.

5 Idem.

6 Idem.

7 Idem.

8 Idem.

9 Director’s annual report in 1875 of district twelve to the county superintendent, mss.,Supt’s office, Lincoln.

10 Personal interview with William Daharsh, Jr.; Henry Wubbles, 1937. The school was erected on the N.½ – N.E. ¼ section eleven in South Pass Precinct. According to the records of the Register of Deeds of Lancaster County, the title to this land was, at that time and until December 1, 1881, in the Burlington and Missouri Railroad Company. December 1, 1881, Rev. Huizenga received a deed to seventy acres from the Burlington and Missouri Railroad Company. April 13, 1883, he gave district twelve a deed for two acres for one dollar. It is probable that the tenure of the school was the same as that of the church. It was either that of a tenant of the railroad company, or that of a squatter.

11 Personal interview with Mr. William Daharsh; Ben Brethouwer; Mr. Henry Wubbles, 1937. The personal recollection of some of the early pupils in the district forms the only source of information on the date of the erection of the first permanent school building, or the number and dates of the school terms held in the temporary locations prior to the construction of the new building. It is obvious that their memories of childhood days are not to be accepted as accurate, and it is not surprising that their stories are conflicting. The preponderance of evidence seems to fix 1869 as the year when the district was organized and the first school was held. The date when the new school building was erected and ready for the teacher and pupils to take possession cannot be definitely fixed.

12 Director’s annual reports of district twelve to the county superintendent, 1875-1887, mms., Supt’s office, Lincoln.

13 ldem.

14 ldem. The length of the school term varied from three months to seven and one-half months between 1875 to 1881.

15 Director’s annual reports of district 12 to the county superintendent, 1876-1895, mss., Supt’s office, Lincoln.

16 Ibid., 1875-1892. In 1891 the legislature passed an act requiring District School Boards to purchase all textbooks necessary for the schools of such districts. This act appears in the Compiled Statute of Nebraska, 1929, as sections 79-1801 to 79-1810, and the expenditures made in 1892 was no doubt made in compliance with this statute.

17 Director’s annual report of district twelve to the county superintendent, 1875 -1880, mss., Supt’s office, Lincoln.

18 lbid., 1878-1937.

19 Record including plats of original districts named above, filed in office of county superintendent. Lincoln.

20 Personal interview with Mr. Ben Brethouwer; Mrs. Dillie (TeSelle) Wubbles; Mr. William Daharsh, Jr., and others, 1937.

21 Personal interview with Mr. Ben Brethouwer, 1937.

22 Director’s annual reports of above districts to the county superintendent, 1875-1880, mss., Supt’s office, Lincoln.

23 Letter of the school board of district 44 to the county superintendent, 1872, mss., Supt’s office, Lincoln.

24 Portrait and Biographical Album of Lancaster County, Nebr., 454.

25 Personal interview with Mr. Henry Wubbles, 1937. The church frequently held box socials at the schoolhouse, and when sold at auction some of the baskets often brought seven or eight dollars. The members of the congregation believed that money spent in this manner was for a good cause.

26 Personal interview with Mrs. Clara (Bade) TeSelle, 1937. Competition among the young men for a popular lady’s basket usually added to the interest and merriment of the evening, and also the financial succes of the meeting.

27 Personal interview with Mrs. Jane (Lefferdink) Heitbrink; Mr. William Daharsh, Jr., 1937. Some of these children suffered a great deal physically on their way home from school, during the severe days of winter. In later years, however, parents usually came for their children. Their arrival invariably interrupted the last half-hour of the school program, as they expected their children to be dismissed.

28 Personal interview with Mrs. Jane (Lefferdink) Heitbrink; Mr. Claude Burcham; Mrs. Dillie (TeSelle) Wubbles, 1937.

29 Personal interview with Mrs. Dillie (TeSelle) Wubbles; 1937.

30 Idem.

31 Director’s report in 1888 of district twelve to the county superintendent, mss., Supt’s office, Lincoln.

32 Personal testimony of Mrs. Jane (Lefferdink) Heitbrink, 1937.

33 Personal testimony of Claude Burcham, Lincoln, Nebr.,1938.

34 The pioneer parents’ fondest desire, was that at least one of their sons enter the ministry. Therefore, the majority of these young men, who entered educational institution, were educated to become ministers of the Reformed Church or missionaries to foreign fields (India, Japan, or China). One father whose sole ambition was to have one of his sons become a minister of his church, decided to send the eldest son to school. The lad, however, failed to become interested in his studies and returned home. The father then renewed his dreams by making such plans for his youngest son, who also failed to fulfill his father’s “one ambition.” The father often referred to this failure as one of his greatest disappointments.

35 One mother of the settlement managed by many sacrifices to send her daughters through high school, after which they entered college and prepared themselves to become teachers. The mother was severely criticized for not having kept her daughters at home and taught them cooking and other requirements for a good wife.

36 The following papers and magazines appeared in the homes. The Youth’s Companion, Christian Herald, People’s Home Journal, Star Monthly, Hickman Enterprise, Lincoln Daily Star.