Page images
PDF
EPUB

a

a

people, to take such general superintendence of matters as will be best calculated to secure the permanency, utility, and prosperity of school operations. These trustees are to hold their office for one year, and it was made their duty "to call meetings of the community, near the close of the year", for the purpose of reorganizing said board of trustees, and to call other general meetings for counsel and instruction, as occasion may require. It was likewise made the duty of the secretary, in addition to the usual duties of such an officer, to make such importation of books, stationery, and school apparatus as the board shall order.

The Spectator lauded this effort, and suggested that other sections might follow. This was the occasion when it said with prophetic vision, “Let the seeds of knowledge be sown broadcast throughout the land, and we shall ever have a vigorous, industrious, and happy population."

From the meager amount of information given, it is somewhat difficult to ascertain upon what plan the Tualatin Plains public school system operated. It may be noted that the Laws of lowa of 1839 had been adopted as the statutes of Oregon about 2 years previous to the inception of this system. Is there any reason to believe that the lowa school law was in operation at Tualatin Plains? There are some points of similarity which can be recognized. The directors were elected for 1 year. The lowa legislation had a similar provision. Again, the idea of a reorganization of the board at a "called” meeting near the end of the year, resembles to some degree the accounting at the year's end stipulated as a duty in section 6 of the lowa law. However, other provisions, as told by the Spectator, are so much at variance that much doubt might be expressed that those citizens had access to a copy of the lowa statutes. We are told in a petition of Oregon citizens to Congress, of October 2, 1847, that there were only two copies of the lowa Statutes in the Territory.14

The foregoing comments emphasized the necessity of a code of law in Oregon at that time. In the absence of available copies of the Iowa statutes, and also in the absence of local laws defining the plan of organization communities which were anxious to establish the publicschool idea were at a loss. People wanted schools. Public sentiment was growing in their favor. “Let us establish a school in every settlement in our land", wrote a correspondent to the Spectator, "provide good and comfortable schoolhouses, books, and apparatus. Let us employ teachers well qualified for the task, and sustain those well, who prove competent; so that our children may be benefited, and the teachers continue in their proper sphere. Let us through our representatives as early as practicable, urge the appropriations of pube lic lands, in every township throughout the Territory, for the purpose of supporting common schools. By doing so, the labor of our hands will not be lost, but on the contrary, our children will bless us, and our children's children will revere our memory, and become a blessing to the world." 15

* Houx Miscellaneous, 1st sess., 30th Cong., p. 3.

While there were other acts which bear upon this history with some importance, passed that year and the following, there was no school legislation despite the fact that Governor Abernethy again inserted a paragraph on education in his message of December 7, 1847. He said:

The cause of education demands your attention. School districts should be formed in the several counties, and schoolhouses built. Teachers would be employed by the people, I have no doubt, and thus pave the way for more advanced institutions. 16

This legislature busied itself materially with memorials to Congress, and in the early part of 1848 the memorial of the legislature, the one by J. Quinn Thornton, and a petition of citizens, all were presented to Congress. In the legislature of 1848 Vancouver County, which later became Clark County, was represented by Adolphus Lee Lewis. Levi L. Smith had been elected from Lewis County, but did not serve. This county was represented by Simon Plomondon.

It was not until 1849 that anything was done for the territorial system of education by the legislature. In the meantime Oregon had be come Oregon Territory, and Congress had endowed it with a liberal gift of land for school purposes. The Honorable Joseph Lane issued his first proclamation as Governor of Oregon Territory on March 3, 1849. The house of representatives had met the previous month at the home of Walter Pomeroy in Oregon City; a committee on education, including Henry J. Peterson, C. L. Curry, and William Portius, had done nothing. Indeed, Governor Abernethy's message of the 5th of February was silent on the subject of schools. Education needed an exponent.

Leadership of George H. Atkinson.—This leader arose in the person of the Reverend George H. Atkinson who had arrived in Oregon about 9 months antedating the issuance of Governor Lane's proclamation. Soon after the latter event the Reverend Mr. Atkinson called a public meeting in Oregon City to discuss several matters of importance. One question was “Shall we organize a system of free schools?" There was a lengthy discussion, and when the vote was taken the re, sult was 37 for and 6 against free schools. “At the request of Governor Lane the Reverend George H. Atkinson prepared the educational part of the forthcoming message to the first territorial legislature July 17, 1849. This was the first impulse toward the organiza. tion of our public school system.” 18

10 Oregon Spectator, April 29, 1847. 1Oregon Archives, vol. 1, 1843-1849. p. 210. 1 Gaston, Joseph. Centennial History of Oregon. p. 591.

We have seen, however, that this was not the first impulse toward organization. Perhaps it would be more nearly proper to say it was the greatest impulse. The Reverend George H. Atkinson was largely instrumental in securing the passage of the law of 1849. “In 1849 he obtained establishment of a public school system from the legislature", says Harvey W. Scott.10

Atkinson was a leading Congregationalist and the founder of Pacific University. He arrived in Portland June 22, 1848, and settled in Oregon City, where he served for 15 years as the Congregational minister, and organized Clackamas Seminary. In 1852 he secured the first funds for Pacific University from the American College and Educa. tional Society, of New York. He served as school superintendent of Clackamas County one term, and Multnomah County two terms. 20

It was not strange that the Honorable John Eaton, Commissioner of Education, at Washington, selected him to report on education for Oregon and Washington. Eaton says in regard to this:

In all the varied service to the different phases of education in these formative States, which the Bureau was enabled to render during the sixteen years of my supervision, I was especially indebted to him. His information was promptly furnished and trustworthy; his opinions carefully matured and thoroughly safe. 21

Soon after his arrival, he engaged with others in securing the common-school system of Oregon from the legislature of 1849, Gov. Joseph Lane also favoring the same. Dr. John McLoughlin, former governor of the Hudson's Bay Company, opposed it. Oregon, when he arrived, was without our common-school system. September 4, 1848, he wrote that there were no free schools, no school districts, no appropriations for education, and no plan for it, but that only a few subscription schools existed. He was the first superintendent of Clackamas County, 1861-62, and was the first principal in securing city graded schools of Oregon City.22

Probably no one man did more to foster and encourage education in the State than did the Reverend G. Atkinson.2

1 Ibid. * Scott, Harvey W. History of the Oregon Country, vol. 2, p. 276. * Scott, op. cit., p. 276, I. ** Atkinson, Nancy Bates. Biography of the Reverend G. H. Atkinson, p. 497. 1 Ibid., D. 487. 23 Hines, H. K.. History of Oregon.

5. The School Law of 1849

Governor Lane's Message. - Oregon had now become a Territory by act of Congress, August 14, 1848. On the day after the opening of the first Territorial legislature, July 17, 1849, Governor Lane stressed the importance of education. His message showed extended and scholarly preparation. It was couched in classical phrases and revealed that he regarded education as of paramount importance. It showed that he greatly desired definite action by the legislature.

Enactment of the bill.—The portion of the Territory now known as Washington had representation in both houses. This representative was M. T. Simmons, who was acting for Clatsop, Lewis, and Vancouver Counties. S. T. McKean was the council member. There is no doubt, then, that Washington actively participated in the passage of the first school law of the Territory, that of 1849.

A bill on education was presented early in the session. W. W. Buck, of Clackamas County, presented a petition to establish common free schools, July 23. This was referred to the committe on education. Mr. Blain, of that committee, presented a bill to establish a system of common schools on August 21, which was read the second time the following day. On the 23d the council devoted the whole afternoon to debating the bill and passed it 6 days later.

It was read the first time in the House on September 4, and on the second reading the next day, amended in committee of the whole, was read the third time and passed as amended on September 14. It was signed by the speaker of the house on September 19, 1849.24

6. Provisions of the Common School Law of 1849

From a state of nebulous ideas was evolved a splendid piece of educational legislation, which in the history of education in Washington deserves much attention. As will be seen its influence was greatly felt in later lawmaking.

In brief, its main provisions were as follows:

1. To establish a common-school fund, the income from which should go to the support of the common schools.

2. To establish an irreducible fund from the principal accruing from the sale of lands, donations, licenses, fines, forfeitures, etc., which were appropriated for the common schools, the income from which should go to the support of the common schools.

3. To provide a tax of 2 mills to support the schools. * Journal of the House. First Regular Session of the Legislative Assembly, p. 55.

4. To provide for a Territorial superintendent of schools.

5. To provide for a board of school examiners in each county, to be appointed by the district court for a term of 3 years. These examiners issued certificates and gave examinations.

6. To provide for a school commissioner for each county, elected for a term of 3 years by the legal voters of the county. (The duties of the commissioner were much like those of a county superintendent.)

7. To provide for 3 directors in each district, elected by the people for a term of 1 year.

8. To provide that one director should be chosen by the directors to act as clerk.

9. To give directors power to employ teachers, contract for the erection of schoolhouses, select sites, provide fuel, and so forth.

10. To provide that the directors must make an annual report to the school commissioner of the county. Failure to do so resulted in forfeiture of apportionment from the common-school fund. (This last provision was amended, however.)

11. To provide for the formation of school districts. 12. To provide for an annual meeting for the election of directors.

13. To give districts power to levy and collect district taxes for school purposes.

14. To provide that any school supported by taxation should be free and open to all children between the ages of 4 and 21.

15. To provide that no discrimination should be made because of religion.

Comparison with the Iowa law.—This law shows little of the lowa influence. There are a few points of similarity, however, that may be of interest. The lowa law provided that the common schools should be open and free to every class of white citizens between the ages of four and twenty-one years", while the Oregon law provided that schools supported by taxation should be open and free to all children between the ages of four and twenty-one years." A most radical change was found in the fact that the Oregon system threw overboard four of the seven district officials necessary in the Iowa system, and entrusted the district affairs to a board of three directors. The Oregon statutes were different in the matter of the establishment of the common and irreducible school funds, also in providing a 2-mill tax for school purposes. The lowa law did not provide a general tax. The provision of electing officers for a term of 3 years seems to go back to the Michigan law.

« PreviousContinue »