Volume III, No. 3, Spring 1976


By Nelle Franklin, Drawings by Jim Conner

The concept of free education for all is an American gift to the world. From the very beginning of settlement in America, as soon as the necessary and urgent details of securing food and protection were achieved, the settlers were all interested in the education of their children. At first they wanted them to know enough to read the Bible. Then later as life became more diversified, education was the key to advancement. Therefore, schooling had to be for all--and not just the elementary rudiments. Because of the yearning of the common people for higher education, there came into being the American high school which had no European counterpart.

But free high schools for all in southern Missouri are really quite a recent actuality, with the complete development in some areas occuring within the memories of our older people. The early high schools they attended seem strange to our students in today's big comprehensive systems offering over a hundred courses to students numbering in the thousands. On the other hand, many things about those early schools seem very familiar to students in some of our still operating small rural high schools.

After featuring the one-room country elementary schools (see Vol. I, No. 1) Bittersweet became interested in the next step secondary education in the Ozarks. Like the elementary schools, many high schools began in one room. This is the first in a series of articles in this issue about the development and characteristics of the rural and village high school in southern Missouri, based on local histories and the actual experiences of several people who attended these high schools from as far back as 1896 up to a contemporary small rural high school which is still very active.

The development of education for everyone above elementary level in the Ozarks came slowly. Even in Springfield the first high school was several years later than high schools in border areas of southern Missouri, such as Nevada on the west and Oak Ridge and Piedmont in the southeast. Those schools all had classes in the 1870's compared to the late 1880's for Springfield. Some of the smaller towns in the Ozarks like Lebanon did not have high school graduations until the 1890's, while many rural areas were as late as the 1920's and early 1930's in supplying high schools for their young people.


The very early schools in Missouri were church elementary schools supported as charities on the theory that the church must be responsible for education. Many people, however, felt that education was a family responsibility. This view led to the subscription schools where a private teacher charged students for lessons. This type of school continued up until the 1860's because of prejudice against public schools as charity institutions. (The educated and well to do could afford to send their children to private schools and Opposed public schools.) However, as loyalty to the state grew and the state began to give real financial support, the public school idea grew and won over for the elementary grades.

As early as 1853 the General Assembly passed an act to appropriate state money for school purposes, the first legislation on the principle of public support. However, very little real support came until a new law was passed in 1875 because of the intervention of the Civil War which completely stopped all education in Missouri for two years. The schools in southern Missouri were hardest hit because of the divided sentiments of the people, the presence of both armies and the widespread guerrilla activities which greatly hindered postwar adjustments. School was impossible for several years.



The first schools which could be classified as secondary were private or church academies. As early as 1808 the territorial government gave a charter to Ste. Genevieve Academy, a private school for teaching French and English. It began with a brave committment that when it became financially able, it would teach Indians and other poor people free. Though the school did not last long, it shows the desire of higher education for all even that long ago.

After Missouri became a state in 1821, many more academies, seminaries and colleges were chartered. Every community wanted one and every ambitious teacher wanted to organize one. These schools were the forerunners of present day high schools.

Academies were patterned after English schools, teaching academic subjects to both sexes of all ages, including a class beyond elementary level. W. T. Carrington, State Superintendent of Schools from 1899 to 1907, wrote, "They made no effort to adjust pupils to their environment or note individual differences. The mill was set to sift the superfine; then the fine; the ordinary; the shorts, and the let-outs. The process was much as the millers who cater to the finer or luxury tastes.

"These incorporated academies covered the field from beginners to preparation for college," he continued. "Of course, they taught reading, writing, spelling and arithmetic, but belle-letters[sic] and ethics and aesthetics were the goals. They served a high purpose while the human conception of the meaning of brotherhood was changing from the exclusion to inclusion; from the select to the mass; from the high brow to the common."

In 1850 there were 204 academies with 8,000 students in Missouri. The fifth or high class would be roughly equivalent in difficulty to high school subjects. The course of study continued the reading, writing and arithmetic, grammar, composition, declamation, history and algebra of the lower classes and added chemistry, geology, mineralogy, surveying, rhetoric, intellectual philosophy, logic and astronomy. The science courses were theory courses with no lab work.

One of these thriving academies in 1850 typical of many was the Old Academy in Lebanon. The academy, a rectangular frame building, was located in a grove of old oak trees on a beautiful campus, attracting students from as far as seventy-five miles away. These students stayed in private homes for one dollar a week.

The Old Academy, Lebanon, Missouri was erected in the 1850's.

The presence of the academy had its effect on the town. It brought some culture to the village with declamations and exhibitions at the school, caused the formation of a literary society which afforded some intellectual entertainment and created much more social life with the addition of the out-of-town young people.

Yearly the academy sent out its graduates to teach in the rural schools, upgrading the teaching there from the older itinerant school teachers of early settlement. In the last years of the 1860's the academy closed and the building became a district grade school.


The academy at Mountain Grove, though not as early as the one at Lebanon, lasted much longer, eventually becoming the high school. There the school was supported both by public and private funds. It was not until about 1904 that the school made a complete break with the term academy and began using the term high school.

The Mountain Grove Academy began September 4, 1876 under the capable direction of Professor George Smith Escott. To show the seriousness of their studies and to let pupils know his philosophy of education, Professor Escott began with a long speech.

"In the school-room our rule is "Good lessons and good order,' and to comply with this, we must have no loud talking or playing in the school-room at any time and during school-hours no communication in anyway between students without the consent of the teacher. This plan creates that independence of thought which is essential to good scholarship.

"Some teachers forbid all communication between boys and girls or young gentlemen and ladies while attending school, this I do not deem advisable or necessary, but I do require students to refrain from all flirtation or anything that has the appearance of courting or sparking, as it is commonly called. If there is any young gentleman or lady attending school who wants to marry, let it be banished from your mind until you are ready to leave school, for I never knew a case where a student could make good progress with his other studies while he was studying matrimony. If a young gentleman or lady has a preference for the company of one of the opposite sex, don't let anyone know by word or action until the school session closes, for if you do, our school will soon get the name of a 'sparking school.'"

Tuition to the academy that year was from $10 to $30 according to grade. Board was $1.50 a week, room $1.50 a month. Such expenses would limit attendance to only the well-to-do.

In addition to grades in courses such as arithmetic, grammar, penmanship, reading, punctuation and geography, pupils were also graded in attendance and deportment. Grades were by numbers up to 100.

In 1891 there was one man who taught all the academic or higher course, receiving $200 a month. There were four women teachers in elementary receiving $30 each a month. Since the financial situation of the school "was excellent" the school board enlarged the school house by building a small wing and a third floor.

Paul M. Robinett describes the physical plant in Education in Mountain Grove, Missouri 1835-1913. "The schoolhouse was still heated by wood burning stoves, but a manually operated elevator was installed just inside the front door on which the janitor hoisted wood to the second and third floors. A pump supplied drinking water. During the winter months the janitor placed buckets of water with dippers on a bench just inside the front door. Outhouses provided with wooden seats over pits, one on the south side for the boys and another on the north side for the girls, constituted the very unsanitary toilet facilities. Nevertheless, few other communities in the Ozarks had a better school plant at that time."

Graduation classes were small, from thirteen in 1892 to none some years, until 1913 when it began to grow as a high school.

Most of the academies ceased to exist at the turn of the century when the state committed itself to public support beyond elementary education. A few academies became junior colleges like Christian College (presently Columbia College) in Columbia and Cottey College in Nevada.


High schools gradually evolved from the academies with three major differences. High schools were specifically designed for grades eight through twelve, while academies were not graded and had pupils of all levels, even college. High schools were public rather than privately supported, and they operated on the principal of education for all, not just the academically-oriented students.

The first high school in Missouri opened in St. Louis in 1853 with seventy pupils who were admitted after passing an examination. In 1859 the state reported 385,639 children in public schools but "not more than 100 were doing work above ordinary elementary school subjects."


The second high school was in St. Joseph in 1866, the third in Kansas City in 1867. Though these schools had no legal status, they still set the pattern others in the state followed. The trustees of these early high schools gave credits for there was no standardization until 1887 when the University of Missouri set up standards for high schools. The State Department of Education took over this function in 1903.

The first real step toward public support of high schools was in 1883 when the General Assembly gave cities, towns and villages the right to establish high schools. But the real impetus was the consolidation law of 1895 which spelled the end of academies. This and succeeding laws allowed several districts to join, enabling them to have enough students and tax base to support a high school.

The effects of the consolidation movement is shown by the jump in numbers of high schools from 19 in 1890 to 274 in 1899. Other school legislation and school transportation laws greatly aided in increasing the number of high schools. By 1930 there were 1,015 four year high schools in Missouri.

The consolidation movement put Missouri much closer to the goal of high school education for everyone by creating high schools which had not been possible before, inducing a higher percentage of rural and village elementary graduates to enter and improving classification of high schools. This was the movement which gave hundreds of rural Ozarkians their first opportunity to attend high school.

The Springfield High School was one of the early high schools in the Ozarks. In 1887 it had three teachers and 160 pupils on the third floor of a downtown old style school building. It was typical of the beginning of many high schools that began as an extension of the grade school, usually sharing the same building and sometimes some of the same teachers. Early high schools usually had no equipment and operated on a one track program--one with no choice of courses. But Springfield's growth was rapid and by 1899 it had a new building, 16 teachers and 500 students with several elective subjects.

The schools at Springfield and Kansas City wanted high school for all young people instead of only those entering college. In 1890 St. Joseph and St. Louis had less than one percent of their population in high school. Kansas City and Springfield had two percent.

Even by 1919 a high school education was not available to many eighth grade graduates. In that year there were 31,330 eighth grade graduates in the state but only 8,699 high school graduates. A great percentage of those not attending high school were from rural areas of the Ozarks.

During the first three decades of the 1900's many farm youngsters had no interest in attending high school because of the inaccessibility of schools to most people, because of the lack of precedent of education beyond the eighth grade, the cost of tuition, books and keep, and the college preparatory nature of the curriculum. Even for those ambitious enough to want more education, about the only possibility most of them had was to repeat the eighth grade, hoping the teacher would have time to teach them more advanced work. Those close enough could walk or ride horseback to a town where a school existed--or drive if they were so fortunate as to own a car. But for most, the only alternative was to stay in town with friends or relatives, "batch," or get a room in a boarding house. Occasionally a family with several children to educate would move into the town, or the mother would rent a house to keep house for the children during school months while the father managed the farm. Such sacrifices for education were made, though not in great numbers.


Difficult as getting a high school education was for white students, it was even harder for some of the young Black citizens of the Ozarks. Though not in great numbers, there were settlements of Blacks in some Ozark communities like Springfield, Joplin, Lebanon and Hartville whose children needed an education.


In these communities their public schools were established about the same time as the white public schools after the troubles of the Civil War made education possible again. Lebanon School District had the only school for Negroes for miles around. The building was erected by the Freedman's Aid and purchased by the Lebanon School Board in 1871 soon after the Lebanon School District was organized. The school board added another room and employed two teachers to teach all grades. This included high school. Though there were only a few students in high school, the board employed a high school teacher for them until 1955 at which time the high school part was discontinued. There were only nine students at the time who had only the basic courses with no electives, no athletic program or other activities. Since that time there has been only one high school for all students.

Jacob Kenoly, a son of slaves who moved to Laclede County in 1884 is an example of how difficult it was for a rural Negro to get a secondary education. His older sister and he attended the Lebanon school under almost insurmountable difficulties. Having previously learned to read and write from their father, they worked mornings, evenings and Saturdays for board and room. The sister died in the winter from illness due to lack of clothing. Jacob, however, finished the year in Lebanon, going to St. Louis the next year where he worked to earn money to attend high school. So great was the distance that he had to walk to school that he had to leave at 3A.M.


The demand for high school for everyone increased in the 1920's. With favorable state and some federal support, many small rural schools opened, making high schools more accessible to white students in rural areas. Many of these schools began as a result of the Job High School Law. This law created two year high schools located in one elementary district, but drawing students from four or five surrounding districts. Many schools, like Morgan High School which began in 1930, opened with just one teacher in a small room built onto the side of the existing two-room elementary building.

After operating for ten to fifteen years and providing a high school education for a generation of young people who would not otherwise have earned one, many of these schools closed when buses from larger schools reached out into every community. These larger schools had more course offerings, more and better prepared teachers and more financial security. For the first time the trend of increasing numbers of high schools reversed. From the 1940's to the present time the number of high schools has been declining as smaller schools have given way or were reorganized into larger schools, though the numbers of students attending high school has steadily increased.


The teachers in the very early high schools had to be proficient in many subjects and be able to organize their time carefully. W. T. Carrington taught Piedmont High School in 1876. He wrote that his main responsibility was to teach "a large room full of high school pupils of all four grades, about sixty. There were some who had taught, some older than the teacher, and a goodly number of non-residents--a few from adjoining counties.

"I gave almost full time to teaching high school subjects. So far as possible subjects were eliminated from the daily program--especially such subjects as required much time to prepare for the daily lessons. Mathematics was taught to all. Emphasis was given structural English; literature was touched lightly. General history and American history and government were taught. Physiology and Hygiene, Physical Geography and Physics and two years of Latin were taught. Ail of these subjects were not taught at one time. There was a kind of alternation but not organized as such. Usually classes were formed in subjects that fewest number had studied. In that way small classes were avoided."

First public school for Negroes in Laclede County was built in 1870.



School was mostly all work and business in the early days with few extra-curricular activities. Those they had were oratorical contests, speeches, spelling bees and programs. Organized team sports which play such a major role in today's high schools had no place in the early high schools. Their introduction into the high schools can be illustrated by Mountain Grove Schools.

Their first organized team was basketball in 1909. Both boys and girls had teams that played other schools that year. The teams were organized entirely on the initiative of the students themselves. In the 1911--12 school year interest in sports increased and a teacher helped with no extra pay. The high school had its first track meet and first baseball team that year. Both boys and girls played tennis, but not in competition. Football was added the next year. These sports involved only a small number of students who did the work in preparing and keeping the playing fields. The boys carried rocks and cow manure off a pasture and lined the field for the first football game.

Basketball was usually played on out-door courts, However, the first basketball game in Lebanon in 1906 was played in the Opera House above Farrar Drug Store on Commercial Street. There two girls' teams played. The audience was seated on the stage and in and under the gallery while the girls played in the middle space converted into an indoor court. But until about the 1920's when some gymnasiums were built, most of the basketball games were played outdoors.


To get a better picture of the rural and village high schools of the past and present, the staff of Bittersweet talked with former students from several southern Missouri high schools whose experiences are typical of many throughout the area and over the period of time.

Jessie Burley attended Lebanon High School in the late 1890's, graduating in one of its early classes when Lebanon was not much more than a village. She later returned to be the first music teacher, teaching several generations of children in both elementary and high school to love music.

Ralph Cook attended Bloodland High School in the early 1930's. Bloodland was a small consolidated high school which was later disbanded when incorporated into the military area of Fort Leonard Wood. He has taught for many years in rural high schools, presently teaching in Lebanon Junior High School.

Hazel Cravens attended the small high school at Morgan in the later 1930's as a member of the largest class in the history of the school--twenty-two graduates. Her experiences are typical of students in the small schools just before modern busing closed them. 

To bring the coverage of small rural schools up to date, staff members visited Metz High School, a small rural school which has survived the recent push of the State Department of Education to reorganize all high school districts with enrollment less than a hundred into larger districts.

The succeeding pages tell their stories.

The information for this article came from talking with many people and the following books:
Carrington, W.T., History of Education in Missouri-Autobiographical, 1931.
Gleason, Frances, The First Hundred Years, A History of Lebanon, Missouri, Lebanon Publishing Company, Lebanon, Mo. 1949.
Nyberg, Leo, A History of Laclecle County, Missouri from 1820 to 1926, Rustic Printers, Lebanon, Mo. 1926.
Robinett, Paul M., Education in Mountain Grovel Missouri. 1835-1913~
School of Ozarks Press, Point Lookout, Mo. 1965.

Bloodland's girls basketball team, 1930


Copyright © 1981 BITTERSWEET, INC.

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