EARLY HISTORY OF JENNINGS COUNTY SCHOOLS
A series of articles
Beginning in the January 26, 1912 North Vernon Sun
By Fred C. Lockwood
A desire for knowledge is the natural feeling of mankind; and every human being whose mind is not debauched will be willing to give all he has to get knowledge. ---Johnson
In accordance with an act of the legislature, the county commissioners at their June session in 1861 appointed and
confirmed John Hillman Waters of Vernon as County Examiner for a term of 3 years. The duties of county examiners were the same as that today
conducted by the County Superintendent. The office was finally discontinued and merged into that of the county superintendent and John Carney
was selected as the county's first superintendent.
In 1861 there were 102 school districts; 4,646 children in school; 80 male teachers; 19 female teachers; 1 high school
teacher; average compensation per day for male teachers was 97c and for female teachers was 86c; during the year $1,700.50 was expended in the
erection of school houses; library books in the various schools numbered 3,088.
According to date Mr. Waters job was not a very pleasant position. There was considerable dissatisfaction over the selection
of teachers in several school districts in the county and especially district 8 in Geneva township. John Blain taught at this school and those who
were members governed the teacher instead of the teacher governing them. John stood it as long as he could and then when the patrons complained to
the county examiner that John could not govern the scholars and that he permitted gross violations of school discipline, he was retired and the
school was closed during the remainder of the term after teaching 28 days.
The next offense committed against the school laws was perpetrated by one Thomas Little who got his license revoked for
imbibing too freely from the wine cup. Little taught in Geneva township.
The character of some of the teachers was probably not very flattering during 1861 and part of 1862 and in order to
secure a more competent corp of instructors on June 7, 1862 the trustees of the various townships and town of Vernon met to agree on some action
regarding the common schools. The character of teachers desired to be employed and the different people to be examined was considered. One paragraph
in the minutes reads thus: "The board instructed the examiner to refuse to examine all persons who are habitual drinkers, who use profane language;
also any person who may not be able to prove that they possess a good moral character."
The board of education at that point was:
||Town of Vernon
The trustees of the other townships were
On June 4, 1862 John H. Waters resigned as county examiner and enlisted in the civil war, where he was killed.
David Moffett was selected as the county examiner on the 5th day of June, five days later Moffett resigned and Francis M. Symmes took
At a special session of the county commissioners May 16, 1864 the resignation of Francis M. Symmes as school
examiner was accepted. Joseph Blaes was appointed by the board to assume the duties connected with the vacant office.
On the 5th day of May, 1865, Mr. Blaes submitted to the commissioners at their request a lengthy communication
dealing upon the condition and practical management of the schools. Blae's report covers three pages of the minutes. He found that too
many text books were being used by the teachers and that the books tended to confuse the pupils. In order to remedy this obstruction in
the path of progress, he proposed to call the trustees of each township to assemble at his office and establish a uniform text book.
In reference to the teachers he wrote that they had more or less book education, but not all of them were
practical managers. In the townships of Campbell, Geneva, Marion, Spencer and Vernon he established what was known as associations and
at different periods during the year the teachers of each township met in a body and discussed different phases of school work. The
teachers in the townships of Campbell and Marion were given honorable mention for the interest taken at these meetings. In reference to
school houses, Blaes reported some looked very comfortable, although in Sand Creek township there was not one comfortable school in the
whole township. He designated several school houses in this township as huts and that the desks and benches were in some cases fence
The first county institute occurred in November of 1865. Prior to this date teachers held meetings at some school
house in their respective districts, but the assembling of all the teachers in the county at one time to hold a county institute, had
never been undertaken. In May of 1865 Blaes wrote the superintendent of public instructions, requesting a general program dealing
upon the proper procedure in conducting institutes and in reply he received a circular letter stipulating the method of organization, etc.
On the 6th day of November the teachers from all the districts in the county assembled in Vernon academy to begin
the session of Jennings county's first institute. The introductory address of welcome was delivered by Mr. Blaes at the conclusion of
which A.M. Weston, principal of the Vernon Academy was selected as superintendent of the meeting and W. L. Ranson as secretary.
A corresponding secretary was selected in the person of Miss Nora Basnett (the late Mrs. T.C. Batchelor) who wrote a condensed account
of the Institute which follows:
"The teachers of Jennings county assembled for the purpose of forming a permanent a organization. After some
introductory remarks a committee was appointed to draft a constitution and by-laws. In the course of the week the constitution was drawn
up and adopted. The institute was conducted in a manner highly beneficial to the teachers present. Each day classes were formed and all
were required to engage in each recitation. By this means many different modes of teaching were explained for the benefit of the institute.
A limited portion of each day was passed in discussing various methods of school government. The evenings were devoted to spiritual debates
and remarks on resolutions:
Resolved that teachers should not allow the use of tobacco by pupils while in the school room and should abstain from
the use of it in any form, place or manner.
The minutes show further that the institute commended the school laws, but advocated an amendment to them in the way
of establishing a state normal for the education of the teacher. As to the competency of the teacher the secretary wrote: Many of the
teachers are wide awake and striving to become thoroughly competent for the important places in which they stand. Long may our teachers
institute abide, a source of improvement to the members and lasting honor to old Jennings.
At the second teachers institute held September 15, 1866 a constitution and preamble was adopted, Thus:
"Whereas, we are endowed by our Creator with minds susceptible of improvement and believing it to be our Christian
and moral duty as teachers to thoroughly prepare ourselves for the important trust devolved upon us as trainers of the tender minds of the
youth of our country will be conductive to that end; we adopt the following constitution and by-laws and agree to be governed thereby."
The main features of the constitution may be summed up thus; The association had for its object the general promotion and advancement of
public schools and greater uniformity in the methods of conducting classes. The officers consisted of a president, vice president,
recording and corresponding secretary and critic. An executive committee of three members were selected whose duty it was to transact such
business as the society may refer to them. The by-laws set forth the mode of procedure at each meeting and the duties of the officers."
||Caroline Grawling (Gramling?)
||John Carney, Sr.
||Mrs George Terry
During the month of February, 1866, Jos. Blaes was asked to decide whether a teacher had jurisdiction over the
school room after school hours. According to data, W. H. Smith a teacher at Scipio found cause to complain because some citizens had
appropriated his school room for a hilarious time. W. N. Amick mailed to the examiners the following unique communication: Has the
teacher any control over the school house outside of the school hours? My house was taken last Friday and Saturday nights by permission
of the directors, without asking me and left in a miserable condition. I want to know if the director has the power to take the key
from me at his pleasure? I presume the examiner answered this letter satisfactory to those concerned.
Twenty-two years ago at Brewersville some few citizens became very much irritated over the manner in which Daniel
C. Byrne exercised in correcting pupils who had transgressed against school rules and regulations. Three pupils - Stanley Matthews, 10,
Emma Rogers, 11, Rachel Ackerman, 13, having disobeyed orders were scheduled by Byrne to be punished. It was the month of December and
there was an abundance of snow on the ground. Lining them up along one side of the school building Byrne amused his himself and appeased
his wrath by snow-balling the crowd. The two girls escaped with few injuries, but Matthews, according to the records, was hit in the
region of the diaphragm, necessitating a visit to a physician who doubtless administered some paregoric with the result that he recovered
from his injuries. The citizens who resented Byrnes mode of punishment were C.H. Matthews, W.A. Cheever, Jim Ackerman, Chas. Stoddard,
W.W. Smith, H. Rogers and H.L. Burton. They filed a petition with Samuel Conboy, then county superintendent, who after hearing the facts
of the case acquitted the defendant.
Some years prior to the above mentioned escapade a certain principal of the Hayden schools got in bad. He was a
jovial sort of a fellow and it is alleged that he went over to Seymour on December 25, 1885 and became intoxicated. Ten of Hayden's
citizens framed a petition in the hopes of ousting the principal from his position. A trial was held and the evidence in the case as
narrated in the records is very amusing, but space does not permit to give the same here. The gentleman in question was acquitted on the
charge by the county superintendent.
Teaching school seems to appeal to women more so than it does to men. At least I have been convinced of the fact,
after having familiarized myself with a few statistics dealing upon the school question. In Jennings county there are 122 teachers, of
this number 33 are men and 89 women, which is to say there are nearly three women teaching school to one man. A recent magazine article
deploring the decrease in the number of male teachers throughout the county is timely and the situation is summed up thus.
"Recently there has been much discussion in educational circles of the need of men teachers in the higher grades
and some effort has been made to attract them to the work, without any appreciable results. There must be something about the calling of
the teacher-either its pecuniary rewards or its range of opportunities-that is inadequate to attract and hold men who might take up this
calling as a life work. The average man teacher uses his position as a makeshift, a stepping stone and means of livelihood while he studies
for the law, the medicine, or some other profession. Usually the man teacher leaves at the earliest opportunity for more flattering and
lucrative fields of endeavor. It would seem that teaching would be the most enjoyable work for the student of books and human nature, but
the fact remains that men as a rule do not so regard it.
"It must be admitted that the profession of teaching does not hold the financial attractions to men that are
offered in other professions. The years of preparation required the constant study necessary, the investment in books, and other expenses
make a severe drain on a teachers income, which is small at best. If it is true that there is a real demand for more men teachers, the
chances are that the demand will be supplied when the compensation is made commensurate with the service rendered and made equal to the
financial rewards held out to men in other professions and avocations.
"It is far from easy to suggest reasons for conditions that exist in the teaching world. When all is said and done,
the women appear to be the best adapted for teaching particularly in the primary grades. It is home work, in a way, and in that sphere women
show to the best advantage. Many of them teach because of the necessity of earning a livelihood but more of them teach for the mere love of
teaching, for the good they may do in shaping the minds and characters of the men and women of tomorrow. As a natural and logical result the
women have pre-empted the school rooms of the nation and established themselves as the more trustworthy and competent in the teacher's vocation.
If there is any real demand for the retention of men teachers it is up to the educational philosophers to discover the real reason of the exodus
of the men from the teaching profession. Until they find this reason it will be useless to deplore and impossible to remedy, the conditions, if
they need remedying, that exist in the schools of today."
The average wage of the teacher in Jennings county is $2.75 a day and the majority of teachers hold a twelve months
license. Examinations held at certain periods of each year to a certain extent are a game of chance in as much as some are apparently difficult,
while others are easy. There are ten subjects, including orthography, reading, writing, arithmetic, geography, grammer, physiology, and
scientific temperance, history and science of teaching or theory. There are generally ten questions dealing with each subject and eight of
these questions require an answer. The county superintendent has established a standard of grading manuscripts and all receive the same careful
consideration. By this plan the best of the county's intellect are chosen and there is seldom more teachers than there are schools.
Examinations held at certain periods of each year to a certain extent are a game of chance in as much as some are apparently difficult, while
others are easy. There are ten subjects, including orthography, reading, writing, arithmetic, geography, grammer, physiology, and scientific
temperance, history and science of teaching or theory. There are generally ten questions dealing with each subject and eight of these questions
require an answer. The county superintendent has established a standard of grading manuscripts and all receive the same careful consideration.
By this plan the best of the county's intellect are chosen and there is seldom more teachers than there are schools.
In the January teachers' examinations held before the county superintendent there were 50 applicants and of this number
not over 5 will receive a passing grade. The great number of applicants taking this examination were high school students and the principal
studies that they failed in were grammer and arithmetic, which means they failed to get the necessary 75 per cent average to entitle them to 12
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