Jonathan Fairbanks and Clyde Edwin Tuck

Past and Present of Greene County, Missouri

Early and Recent History and Genealogical Records
of Many of the Representative Citizens

Chapter 12
History of Public Education in Springfield
by A. M. Haswell

Part 3
Public Schools Outside of Springfield

No region in the West was more fortunate in the class of men and women who were its pioneer settlers than was Greene county, and in nothing was the high quality of these people better evidenced than in their eagerness to secure the best obtainable educational advantages for their children.

Coming, as nearly all of them did, from the isolated mountain communities of Tennessee, Kentucky and southwestern Virginia, it is certain that, at an early day, their own schooling must have been of the scantiest. Probably with the exception of a few families, better circumstanced than the majority, most of their education had been imparted at the mother's knee, in their own humble homes.

But, and herein lay the great difference between the pioneer community of Greene county and most others of that day, these people prized education and coveted it for their children. So it was that before they had been in the wilderness that was to become Greene county two years; while yet their homes were but the rudest of log cabins; while the fields that they had hewed from the surrounding forest were yet of small size, and full of stumps, these heroic men and women gave gladly out of their poverty, in material and labor to erect school houses. They denied themselves of even the few necessities of their rude frontier life, that they might wring out of their scanty means the amount needed to pay the tuition fees. And, while to us of this latter day those school houses would hardly be thought worthy to serve as stables, and those tuition fees seem so small as to be insignificant, there is no doubt that, taking into consideration the financial ability of the two periods, they represented ten times more of effort and sacrifice than does our present magnificent system of buildings and our hundreds of well paid teachers.

It was in the early part of 1830 that "Uncle Billy Fulbright," John P. Campbell, the Miller brothers, Joseph and, David, and A. J. Burnett, arrived in the wilderness that was destined to become Springfield. It was in the spring of that same year that Burnett built his little cabin of poles on the present site of the Frisco building, the forerunner of all the pleasant homes of the Springfield of our day.

All that year, 1830, and during 1831, the wagons continued to arrive from Tennessee and Kentucky, mostly drawn by oxen and loaded with the simple belongings of the sturdy frontier life. As they arrived each head of a family selected such a location as suited him best, built his rude cabin and proceeded to hew out a home for himself and his descendants in the wooded plateaus of the Ozarks. There were plenty of children in those pioneer families; the term "race suicide" was unknown in those days, and if known would have been treated with the contempt that it deserves, and the families in the little log cabins were of good old fashioned proportions.




So in the autumn of 1831, the project of building a school house, finding a teacher to instruct the children, a project that had been frequently discussed even before that date, took definite shape. A site for the building was selected in section 22, township 29, range 22. This site was about half a mile west of the present city limits of Springfield and was probably on a part of what is now the Charles Holland dairy farm. Here one morning the fathers of the settlement gathered; some cut and hauled the logs, others notched them and laid them up in the approved 'cob house" fashion, some split clap boards from straight grained blocks of oak, for the roof, some split and hewed the "puncheons" for the floor, and soon there stood, ready for its high mission, the first school house in Greene county. For windows it had square holes cut through the log walls, with neither, sash, glass or shutter. For seats it had split saplings with sections of other and smaller saplings driven into augur holes to serve as legs. To save labor, there were but three legs furnished to each bench, two at one end and one at the other. As for desks, there were none and the complement of books comprised stray copies of Pike's arithmetic, a few odd readers and some of the old blue backed Webster spelling books. But with all its limitations, it was a school.




In this primitive building "Uncle Joe Rountree," of blessed memory, taught the first school of Greene county. One who was a scholar in that school, John Miller, has left on record that the pupils were: "Henry Fulbright and some of his younger brothers, the Rountree boys, John Miller, Joseph J. Weaver, his two older sisters, Louisiana and Jane, and a few others." Notable family names these, all of them. Names that have stood in all the past of Greene county and which today, most of them, occupy positions in the business and social world, worthy of the ancestry from which they sprang.




As the country around Springfield was gradually settled other schools were opened. All of them housed by the voluntary labors of the settlers, and supported by tuition fees paid monthly to the teachers. In 1835 a little building was erected in the northern part of what is now Campbell township, close to the Franklin township line, some five miles northeast of Springfield. Here David Appleby, ancestor of the prominent Greene county family of that name taught the first school in that part of the county. His school house had the solid earth for a floor and was equipped with the latest make of three legged benches as was its only predecessor. [433]

In 1837 Robert Foster, the first of many of that family name in the county, taught in a little log cabin built in section 10, township 30, range 21, nearly in the center of what afterwards was erected in Franklin towns which name it still bears. Foster's school would seem to have entered educational field as a competitor of Mr. Appleby's earlier institution, while Appleby received the rich compensation of one dollar per pupil month, it is of record that Foster only charged half that sum and "taught the young idea how to shoot" for fifty cents each per month.

In 1836-7 the extreme northwest part of the county opened a school in a log cabin, about a quarter of a mile west of the present village of Walnut Grove, with B. F. Walker as the teacher. Boone township followed during 1837 with a school house in its extreme eastern boundaries, taught by John H. Tatum. Another name borne today by prominent families in the region. Taylor township opened its first school in 1836 in a cabin on the Danforth farm. About 1837 the settlers in Cass township met and put up a school house, and school was taught, although, as in the case of Taylor township the name of the first teacher has not come down to us.




Pond Creek township too, at about the same date built its first school house. It was only fourteen by fifteen feet, but it served its purpose and the children attended the school there. Center township, although not organized as a separate township quite so early as the others, put up a building on section 23, township 29, range 24, in 1841 and the school had for a teacher Miss Rachel Q. Waddill, a sister of the late Judge Waddill of Springfield, and aunt of the present old citizen of the town, General John B. Waddill, and of his sister, Mrs. Mary S. Boyd, who is the oldest by length of service of all the corps of Springfield teachers today. [434]

The record says that Miss Rachel Waddill taught two terms in that little building. That one entire end of the house was taken up by the fireplace, and that her compensation was seventy-five cents per pupil per month. The house was but fourteen feet square, and when its twenty-five scholars were in attendance it was well filled. There were not lacking, a little further on in the history of the county, other schools of more pretentious character. Thus, Ebenezer had a "Select School" for years, and in Springfield were a series of schools of much higher grade than those we have enumerated.




But all these pioneer schools were, as we have seen, "subscription" or "pay" schools. The modern idea of free schools provided and taught at public expense and to which all children were welcome "without money and without price," was making but feeble way even in the older and more closely settled parts of the nation, and had not yet penetrated so far into the frontier as Greene county. But the day came, and that very early in the history of the county, when the modern system was inaugurated here. [435]

It was in 1842 that we find the state of Missouri making the first feeble beginnings in its aid to public schools. The apportionment amounted only to the trivial sum of $1,999.63 for the entire state, but it was the first few drops before a plentiful shower. In 1845 the Legislature of Missouri enacted a law which proved that the men in that body were worthy to represent even as progressive a community as that of Greene county. In that law it was enacted that each Congressional township in Missouri should be erected into a school township. That the inhabitants should meet at some selected point and elect school directors, settle the length of term to be taught, choose teachers, and take such other necessary steps towards the establishment of a public school as they deemed fit.

That act really marks an epoch in the history of the whole state. It is, indeed, the term from which has grown one of the greatest and most complete system of public schools in the United States. Under its provision the amount appropriated from the state treasury steadily increased. Beginning, as we have seen, with only $1,999.63 in 1842, it increased year by year, until in 1849, it amounted to $59,456, and the total from 1842 to 1849, inclusive, was no less than $225,334.

The Legislature of 1887 passed a measure giving the public schools of the state an even one-third of all monies collected by state taxation, and that is in force at the present time. Out of the little appropriation of 1842 Greene county received as its share much less than $100.00. In 1914 the county received $33,910.00. Those figures give in a nut-shell the story of the growth of the public school system of the state and of the county of Greene.

The people of Greene county did not take prompt advantage of the privilege of organizing into school townships, and while the law was passed, in 1845, it was not until the latter part of 1847 that, in compliance with petitions submitted to it, the county court of Greene county, made an order, calling school elections in three townships. A majority of the inhabitants in each township, having signed the petition to that effect.

At that time Smith School Township, Number 24, was organized. This was Congressional township 30, of range 20, then, and now a part of Jackson municipal township. At the same time Chaffin school township was organized out of Congressional township 29, of range 18. This has been a part of Webster county ever since that county was formed from a part of Greene. The third to organize was Pryor school township, in township 27, of range 19. This has long been a part of Christian county. Others quickly followed and during 1847 and 1848 every township in Greene county was organized. Thus was established the free public school system of Greene county, which has grown to such notable proportions in our day.

The records of the public schools of the county, from their inception until the outbreak of civil war in 1861, are but scanty. Doubtless many of them were lost or destroyed during those four years of strife. That they had grown in number, attendance and influence goes without saying. The county court records show that county school commissioners were appointed from time to time, who filled much the same place as the modern school superintendent, but were appointive officers, instead of elective, as at present. [436]

In the spring of 1861, as all know, the storm of civil war swept down upon Greene county. Springfield was a strategical point in war, as she is, and always has been in commerce, and both sides strove manfully to hold control of the prices. The marching and countermarching of armies, the roar and confusion of battle, and the disrupted condition of society in general, would seem to afford scant occasion for the peaceful duties of the school room. Nevertheless, it is evident that for a very large part of the four years of war at least, more or less of the public schools of Greene county maintained a precarious existence. For proof of this see the record of a session of the county court held April 3, 1865, where it is set forth that: "R. A. C. Mack has been performing the duties of county school commissioner for sixteen months." That period of sixteen months would carry his term of service well back towards the middle of the four years of strife.

But with April, 1865, came the collapse of the Confederacy. Hardly had the smoke of battle cleared away than the work of the schools was taken with renewed vigor. Mr. Mack, spoken of above, continued his work during 1865, but at the session of the county court of April, 1866, we find court appointing Rev. L. M. Vernon "to examine teachers and issue certificates." Mr. Vernon's term of service was but short, or, perhaps, he found his duties so many that he required assistance, for at the session of May 14, 1866, we find the following entry in the records of the county court: "H S. Creighton is hereby appointed superintendent of common schools to serve until one is elected." That is the first time that the official was designated as "superintendent of schools." Mr. Creighton was directed by the court to "at once visit, organize and set in operation the several schools of the county." The salary of the new officer was fixed at three dollars per day, "for the time actually employed."

Mr. Creighton is well remembered by the older citizens of the county. He was an enthusiastic worker and carried through his hard task of reviving the all but dead school system of the county. In the election of 1869 James R. Milner, a young lawyer recently arrived in Springfield from Ohio, after serving in the Union army, was elected county school superintendent, the first man elected to the office by popular ballot. Mr. Milner has been for several years a resident of Long Beach, California.

From the close of the war really dates the history of our public school system. No community ever had a more faithful and painstaking series of officials than Greene has had in her list of county school superintendents. The structure of our public school system owes some important part of the whole to the individual labors of each of these men. Following Mr. Milner came, in 1870, J. J. Bunch; in 1872 and re-elected in 1874, O. S. Reed; in 1876 and 1878, M. H. Williams; in 1880, Jonathan Fairbanks. And so on down the years to the service of our present superintendent, Prof. J. R. Roberts. It is a list of good names; a roll of honor in very truth. [437]

In the year 1897 the General Assembly passed the law that permitted each county to establish "county supervision," and Greene county was among the first to take advantage of the measure. S. P. Bradley was appointed the governor to fill the office thus created in Greene county, and by several successive re-elections, held the position until 1905, when Mr. Roberts was elected.

The report for 1868 showed the number of children of school age in the county to be 7,209. The next year, 1869, the number had increased to 7,640, a gain of 431 in the year. The apportionment of school money in 1869 was $7,706.92. As indicating the rapid growth of the county it is interesting to note, in passing, that in 1875 the county received for her school fund $30,666.14, an increase of over 400 per cent. in seven years.

For 1977 we have quite a full report of the condition of the schools. This was given by School Commissioner M. H. Williams, and its principal items are as follows:

White children of school age, 8,047; colored, 944; number of teachers, 113, of whom 62 were males and 51 females. Average salary paid male teachers, $38.00 per month; average salary of female teachers, $27.00. There were one hundred and five schools for white children and six for colored children, and there were one hundred and five-school houses.

That item of schools for colored children merits a word of comment. Greene county was, of course, a slave-holding community until Lincoln issued his emancipation proclamation in 1863. Beyond a doubt a large majority of the people of the county, up to the day that set the slaves forever free, conscientiously believed that the system was right. And yet, as soon as war ceased, and provisions were made to educate their own children, these former slave holders, at the same time provided for the education of their former chattels, and the children of those chattels. And that they did it as they did, without any flourish of trumpets, and as a matter of course, a monument to their honor far more enduring than any of marble or bronze.

It would be tedious and unprofitable to endeavor to put into this chapter the statistics of the schools of this county for each individual year since the war. We will only endeavor, therefore, to give items for various years that will indicate the growth of the system. In 1878 the taxable wealth in various school districts outside of Springfield is given as follows:

Ash Grove, $117,426; Hazel Dell, $98,971; Edmonson, $82,767; Oak Grove, $77,234; Fair Grove, $70,251. There were fifteen districts that had an assessed valuation of above $50,000; twenty-six showed between $40,000 and $50,000; forty-six over $30,000; seventy-seven over $20,000 and thirteen less than $20,000. The school levies in the various districts ranged from six cents on the $100.00 valuation, to as high as $1.50 on the same amount. {438]

In 1879 the total enumeration was 9,648. In 1880 it was 9,953, and in 1881, 9,975. Those were years of slow growth.

In 1881 the superintendent was Jonathan Fairbanks, who soon after that began that thirty years continuous service as superintendent of the schools of the city of Springfield, a service. which he still continues in his green old as Superintendent Emeritus—a man to whom it may truly be said that the Springfield schools owe more than to any other, living or dead.

With his characteristic thoroughness, Mr. Fairbanks gives a full and exhaustive report of his charge for that year, and we will quote from it at length, as a document well worthy of preservation.




Total number of persons of school age in the county, 9,750; of which 9,012 were whites and 963 colored. Number of teachers, one hundred and thirty, of which seventy-seven were males and fifty-nine females. The salaries of male teachers averaged $33.60 per month; that of the female teachers, $31.66. There were ninety-five school houses owned by the district, and three rented buildings. There were one hundred and sixteen schools for white children, and thirteen for colored children. The average school levy on the one hundred dollars' valuation was fifty cents. Total receipts from all sources, $50,776; total expenditures, $35,747.92. [439]

Compare these figures with those of the report of our present, efficient county superintendent, which we will now give for the year 1914. Nothing could possibly show any more strikingly the growth of the Greene county schools than these two reports, separated, as they are, by a third of a century of active, busy, growing years, and filled with the labors of as devoted and able a succession of school leaders as ever served any community in any state of the American Union.

Some of the principal points in Mr. Roberts' report for 1914 are as follows:

There are one hundred and five school districts in the county, including the village schools of Ash Grove, Bois D'Arc, Republic and Walnut Grove, and the three consolidated districts of Fair Grove, Strafford and Willard. There were seven high schools and one hundred and sixteen elementary schools in session in 1914.

There were seven thousand two hundred and ninety-four pupils of all grades, and they were instructed by eleven high school teachers, and one hundred and fifty-three elementary teachers. The average length of term was eight and one-quarter months; this is a marked increase in length term over any previous year in the history of the county. Fifty-seven schools had a term of eight months or over. The apparent falling off in the number of pupils in these two reports is explained by the fact that the report of 1881 covered Springfield as well as the rural districts. In 1914 Springfield is omitted.

Ninety-six boys and one hundred and twenty-nine girls completed the eighth grade during the year. Of these one hundred are now enrolled in the high schools. Many of the remainder are reviewing the eighth grade preparatory to entering the high school another year.

There are 11,405 volumes in the various school libraries, and there is a vigorous movement to increase the number largely during 1915. The average salary paid female teachers was $47.00 and to males, $65.00 per month. The tendency is to pay better salaries, as a means of securing better results. Mr. Roberts tersely says, in this connection: "In some instances it even pays to decrease the number of months in a term, in order to increase the salary and have a better teacher. A good short term is far better than a poor long term!" As proving the quality of work done by Mr. Roberts and his corps of teachers it must be said that out of the one hundred and fourteen counties of Missouri, Greene has the proud pre-eminence of heading the list for the percentage of improvement of the rural schools. There were twenty- eight schools placed in the approved list in 1914, and several more lack but a fraction of enough points of being so placed.

It is only common justice to say, in this connection, that a very large share of the credit for this showing of the Greene county schools is to be given to our present superintendent, Prof. John R. Roberts. The years in which he has headed our public schools have been years of consistent growth and steadfast improvement. No county ever had a superintendent of whom it could be more truthfully said that he was "The right man in the right place." [440]

In 1914, too, there were organized in the public schools of the county boy's corn clubs and girls' garden and canning clubs. These were formed on the plan laid down by the College of Agriculture and the United States Department of Agriculture. The clubs were organized under the auspices of the Greene County Farm Bureau, and were guided mainly by the advice and aid of E. A. Cockefair, adviser of the farm bureau.

The bureau offered prizes for the best acre of corn, the best dozen ears of each variety, etc. The severe drought in the county just in the critical time in the growth of the crop cut the yield in the region far below the normal amount. Nevertheless, a Greene county school boy took the prize, with an output of more than seventy-five bushels of sound corn from his one acre, which was certainly three times the average yield of the county for that season.

For 1915 Mr. Cockefair has greatly broadened the scope of this work. The separate clubs for boys and girls have been merged into one and named "The Boys' and Girls' Farm Club of Greene County." The competitors are divided into classes of about the same age, the work is arranged for a series of years, so that scholars graduate from the lower to the higher grades, as in other studies. "Pig Clubs," "Poultry Clubs," "Canning Clubs," and judging contests are in the program. Each district had its own little exhibition of the various products of its own clubs,and all compete in the fair held by the Farm Bureau in Springfield.

The cumulative results, in increased crops, improved stock, and expert farming, of such a system followed up for years, is beyond the power of imagination to compute. Certainly in course of time it would go far towards solving the insistent problem of the high cost of living, and many other of our national economical puzzles.

Already many a father among Greene county farmers is saying to himself: "If my boy can raise eighty bushels of corn to the acre, what is the reason that I can't do it, too?" And in order to answer his own question he is finding out how the boy did it, and his own crops will show the results in the future.

Thus from the humble, almost insignificant beginning the public school system of Greene county has kept step with the front rank elsewhere in progress, and in widening and deepening the lessons which it teaches. From the days when "The three R's" were thought all sufficient as a curriculum, to the good year 1915, with its great list of nearly eight thousand pupils, its one hundred and sixteen elementary, and its seven high schools, is a wide advance, and when all this modern machinery of progress is reinforced by thousands of library books, open to every scholar; and to all these are added the instruction and encouragement of the pupils in scientific agriculture, it can be seen that the great progress of the past is but a prophecy of greater progress for the future. That, indeed, the fathers of the community "builded better than they knew" when in their poverty they planted the seeds from which has in three-quarters of a century grown such a notable tree.


I most heartily endorse the ably written article on the Greene county public schools. I think the publishers are fortunate indeed to secure so ready a writer as Mr. Haswell.
J. R. Roberts


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