Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

The Roots of Public Education in Lawrence, Kansas

August 14th, 2018

If it’s August, then it must be time for school to resume!

The earliest settlers in what would become Lawrence, Kansas, also wanted school to begin, and as quickly as feasibly possible. The first immigrant party arrived at the town site in August 1854. It was made up of twenty-nine men, all members of the New England Emigrant Aid Company, the mission of which was to ensure that slavery would be illegal in Kansas when it became a state. Specifically written into their original petition was the provision that immigrants coming to Kansas Territory would be provided with public education. True to their word, Lawrence’s founders held the first public classes on January 15, 1855, just five months after their arrival. Edward P. Fitch of Hopkinton, Massachusetts, was the first teacher. Estimates of the number of students in that first class vary between eight and twenty.

Photograph of Edward Fitch, the first teacher in Lawrence, undated

Edward P. Fitch, the first teacher in Lawrence, undated. Photo courtesy
of the Douglas County Historical Society, Watkins Museum of History.
Used with permission from Roger Fitch. Click image to enlarge.

The second teacher was Kate Kellogg, and unfortunately no photo of her is available. Kate returned east after her marriage. She was followed by Lucy Wilder, who held a teaching position in Lawrence for many years. Lucy came to Kansas in 1855 with her father, Abram Wilder.

Photograph of Lucy Wilder, third teacher in Lawrence, undated

Lucy Wilder, the third teacher in Lawrence, undated. Lawrence Photo Collection.
Call Number: RH PH 18 K:140. Click image to enlarge.

The first public high school in Kansas was Quincy School, established in Lawrence in March 1857. The school building was constructed ten years later at 11th and Vermont Streets. It was possibly named in honor of Edmund Quincy, a benefactor of the New England Emigrant Aid Company. By 1876 this high school was one of four university-accredited schools in the state.

Photograph of Quincy School, undated

Quincy School, undated. Photo in Lawrence, Douglas County, Kansas:
An Informal History
by David Dary, page 272. Call Number: RH D9258.
Credited to the Kansas Historical Society. Click image to enlarge.

In addition to the schools located within the city limits of Lawrence, there have been as many as eighty-three rural schools located throughout Douglas County. With a few exceptions, most were one-room buildings that served as community centers and church meeting places as well as classrooms. The last rural school, Twin Mound No. 32, closed its doors in 1966, more than one hundred years after the first school opened.

Photograph of Burnette School No. 62, undated

Burnette School No. 62, undated. Lotta Watson, teacher. Shane-Thompson
Photo Collection
. Call Number: RH PH 500.1:47. Click image to enlarge.

Photograph of Crowder School No. 69, undated

Crowder School No. 69, undated. Jesse Ady, teacher. Shane-Thompson
Photo Collection
. Call Number: RH PH 500.1:60. Click image to enlarge.

Photograph of Fairview School No. 21, undated

Fairview School No. 21, undated. Shane-Thompson Photo Collection.
Call Number: RH PH 500.1:58. Click image to enlarge.

Photograph of Kaw Valley School No. 12, undated

Kaw Valley School No. 12, undated. Maryane Brune, teacher. Shane-Thompson
Photo Collection
. Call Number: RH PH 500.1:62. Click image to enlarge.

Photograph of White School No. 61, 1955

Undersheriff Charles Edmondson helps children cross Highway 40-59 near Teepee Junction,
White School, District 61, September 14, 1955. Lawrence Journal-World Photo Collection.
Call Number: RH PH LJW 9.14.55. Click image to enlarge.

Kathy Lafferty
Public Services

SOURCES CONSULTED:

Crafton, Allen. Free State Fortress: The First Ten Years of the History of Lawrence, Kansas. Lawrence: The World Company, 1954. Call Number: UA C79.

Daniels, Goldie Piper. Rural Schools and Schoolhouses of Douglas County, Kansas. Baldwin City, Kansas: Telegraphics, 1975? Call Number: RH D5195.

Dary, David. Lawrence, Douglas County, Kansas: An Informal History. Lawrence: Allen Books, 1982. Call Number: RH D9258.

Kansas Women Schoolteachers Project records. Call Number: RH MS 872. Kansas Collection, Kenneth Spencer Research Library.

Education: The Mightiest Weapon

March 22nd, 2017

Spencer’s current exhibit Education: The Mightiest Weapon is free and open to the public in the Spencer Exhibit Space through May 18, 2017, during the library’s regular business hours.

Field Archivist and Curator Deborah Dandridge with
her student assistant Arielle Swopes. Click image to enlarge.

“While white folks have been wrangling as to whether colored children should be admitted into the public schools,” reported the Evening Dispatch newspaper in 1859, “Mrs. Burnham, a colored woman, has been teaching a school for Negro children on the corner of Potawatomie and Third streets,” in Leavenworth, Kansas. Like Mrs. Burnham, African American settlers in Kansas found a variety of ways to pursue their cultural tradition of placing a high value on formal education, despite laws and practices that denied them equal access to all public schools.

Education: The Mightiest Weapon highlights the public school experiences of African Americans governed by the 1879 Kansas law allowing public school boards in cities of 10,000 or more to decide whether to establish racially segregated grade schools. Except for special legislation passed in 1905 for Kansas City, Kansas, Kansas law prohibited racially segregated public high schools. It features schools in Kansas’ urban and rural areas, African American state supported schools, and the 1951 U.S. District Court case in the landmark 1954 Brown v. Topeka Board of Education U.S. Supreme Court decision.

Setting up the Education exhibit

Setting up for the exhibit. Click image to enlarge.

Photograph of Zachary Lassiter and Arielle Swopes

Zachary Lassiter, a Public Services student at Spencer Library
majoring in history, with Arielle Swopes. Click image to enlarge.

Statement from student assistant Arielle Swopes

In 2014 I started at KU as a Behavioral Neuroscience major, and began working as a student assistant in Kenneth Spencer Research Library. Working on the current exhibit, Education: The Mightiest Weapon, has given me even greater insight about how enduring and adaptable African Americans have been. For this exhibit I’ve had access to hundreds of pictures and been able to read letters, petitions, newspapers, and posters that all show the daily life and struggles of African Americans from the 1890s to the 1970s. From all of these materials it is easy to see the determination that these people had to always find a way to persevere.

Photograph of the Sumner High School Second Orchestra, 1918

Sumner High School Second Orchestra,
Kansas City, Kansas, 1918. Sumner High School Collection.
Call Number: RH MS-P 1137. Click image to enlarge.

Photograph of the first page of a letter to the Lawrence School Board, 1942 Photograph of the second page of a letter to the Lawrence School Board, 1942

A letter from the city’s African American community to the
Lawrence, Kansas, School Board opposing the Board’s
suggested plan to place all African American elementary students
in Lincoln School in North Lawrence, November 12, 1942.
USD 497 (Lawrence School District) Collection.
Call Number: RH MS 1255. Click image to enlarge.

Photograph of the Monroe School eighth grade class, 1932

Eighth grade graduating class of Monroe School, Topeka, Kansas, 1932.
Cooper-Sheppard-Cox Family Collection. Call Number: RH MS-P 576.
Click image to enlarge.

Arielle Swopes
Spencer Research Library Student Assistant
African American Experience Collections

Deborah Dandridge
Field Archivist and Curator
African American Experience Collections