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This brief digest suggests much of later legislation, some of which remains on the statute books to this day. In truth, coming out of those legislative halls only 6 busy years after the beginning of organized government, it shows remarkable judgment and foresight. 7. First Territorial Superintendent of Common Schools in Oregon
According to the provision of the law, which went into effect at once, the council repaired to the Hall of Representatives on September 27, 1849, for the purpose of electing several Territorial officers in joint session, among which was a Territorial superintendent of common schools. James McBride was elected to this office. 25 Mr. McBride took hold of the position with a great deal of enthu
а siasm, as is evidenced by his correspondence to the Spectator. Whether or not he had much to do with the passage of the law, does not seem to be on record. He wrote from Lafayette on the 29th of October, 1849:
I frankly confess that I feel a sort of Territorial or Oregonian pride in the law itself. It is indicative of a high degree of intelligence, scientific and literary; and also of moral worth for which we might seek in vain, in many of the States. That a country so new as ours, and settled too under so many disadvantages, yet amongst the Indians, as a portion of our neighbors; compelled to trade with them from the necessity which circumstances impose, * and farther, encountering the roughness and rawness, and labor and toil incident to “new settlers“, in a new and savage country, at the immense distance of two thousand miles from the nearest organized government, college, or seminary on the face of the Globe; should originate laws for educational pur. poses, so sage, and so applicable, is a bright constellation in the West, as praise worthy, as it is brilliant and magnanimous. 28
This is, without doubt, a splendid opinion on the worth of the new law. McBride seems to have been very active as a Territorial executive. In the Spectator of October 24, 1850, will be found an official notice to the school commissioners, and early in 1851 he submitted his report to the council. This was in the form of an annual report, the first ever made in the Territory.
On Saturday the 25th of January, the house passed a resolution, “That the council be, and hereby is, requested to furnish the house with a copy of the annual report of the superintendent of common schools." 27 This was delivered to the house 3 days later and read, and 100 copies were ordered to be printed.
We have not been able to find that the report was ever printed. In fact, the information has been obtained that because of the shortage 23 Journal of the House, 1849, p. 74. ** Oregon Spectator, Dec. 13, 1849. 17 House Journal, 1851, p. 69.
of money, much of the public printing was never done. It seems that McBride's report is among those lost documents. Oregon lost many valuable papers and records when the State House at Oregon City was destroyed by fire.
Dr. James McBride, a prominent physician of Oregon, came to the Territory in 1846 from Tennessee, where he was born in 1800. The doctor and his wife had 14 children, 10 in Missouri. Crossed the plains in 1846; settled in the Yam Hill County, Oreg., on a donation claim of 640 acres. Began in log cabin. Practiced medicine over much of the State, riding on horseback, and without compensation. He resided on his farm until he received an appointment from President Lincoln to the Sandwich Islands as minister. He was an active Republican.
The doctor moved his family to the village of Lafayette. He held the office in the Sandwich Islands until the death of President Lincoln and Johnson's succession, when he resigned and returned to Oregon. He moved his family to St. Helens, Columbia County, where he spent the remainder of his life. He died in 1884. McBride was a member of the first Territorial Convention held in Oregon.28
Superintendent's office abolished. Only 10 days after the superintendent's report was submitted to the house and ordered printed, an act passed both branches of the government abolishing the office.
The reason for this action is not fully understood. We can only conjecture in regard to it. Possibly it was not due to a sentiment that the office was unimportant; all evidence seems to indicate the opposite. However, it might have been due to the fact that the office was considered the least important of the many offices necessary to run the government, and on account of the expense involved the Territory could not well maintain it. On the other hand, the newness of the country, with its poor methods of transportation as well as other physical deterrents, may have demonstrated that the system was impracticable. The later action taken, putting this officer's duties into the hands of local officials, seems to bear out this latter contention.
We have information as to the amount of money Superintendent McBride spent in the 16 months that he held the office. On December 20, 1852, an act was passed authorizing the Territorial treasurer to pay Dr. James McBride for services as superintendent of common schools in the years 1849–51, the sum of $679.54. This is not a considerable sum today, but was much at that time, and possibly more than the benefits of the office seemed to justify.
a Hines, H. K. Illustrated History of Oregon, p. 1152.
School commissioner's office abolished.-The next important change in the law was an act passed on January 15, 1852, 1 year previous to the act of 1853. This new legislation abolished the office of county school commissioner, as provided in the law of 1849, and placed the duties of this officer in the hands of the county commissioners. Thus we virtually have the county commissioners taking over the powers of the officer now known as the county superintendent. Oregon had a system without either a Territorial or county school executive.
8. The Revised School Law of 1853 This same provision is found in the act of January 31, 1853, which is such a decided change that its other chief provisions will be abridged at this point.
1. Same provisions for school funds as the law of 1849.
2. County commissioners the instrument through which funds were distributed to districts.
3. Districts given power to assess and collect taxes.
5. Provided an annual district meeting in April. People voting had to be "taxable inhabitants."
6. Provided that each district should have a treasurer, assessor, collector and one school commissioner. The treasurer, collector, and commissioner constituted a board of directors with examining and superintending powers.
7. The Territorial tax provided in the previous legislation was abolished.
This law was in operation before Washington Territory was created. It resembles the lowa statutes in several respects, especially in the organization within the district providing for the levying and collecting of taxes. The lowa law similarly gave the power of handling the funds to the county commissioners, and like the new Oregon provision, had no Territorial tax.
This is the last legislation previous to the separation of Washington Territory from Oregon.
Early Territorial Schools
1. Fragmentary Records With admission into the sisterhood of territorial commonwealths one might expect to find a more systematic account of the time than during the previous period. But we must keep in mind that schools were not very well organized at that time anywhere in the United States. In 1853 the population was exceedingly sparse in the Territory of Washington. The new school law did not provide for a Territorial superintendent of schools. The county superintendents were untrained, poorly paid, and schools were of minor concern to most of them.
A good deal of uncertainty exists concerning the exact dates of the first schools in each of the counties. Unfortunately legal records were not made of many of those earliest ventures and the memoranda, letters, teachers' registers, etc., have long since been thrown away as rubbish, in too many cases. The files of the early newspapers of the State are very few and the accounts of the schools naturally were not written with the future historian in mind.
The earliest Territorial superintendent's report was published in 1862. The report did not become well known as it was printed only in the journals of the legislative assembly. As the superintendency was abolished a few days afterward and not reestablished until 1871 there is practically no authentic record of the schools of the Territory until the report of 1872 made by Superintendent Judson. That report inaugurated the historical record of Washington schools. Definite statistics were gathered beginning with 1872. The tattered copies still in existence furnish invaluable fragments, but they are fragments and almost as difficult to decipher as the record of prehistoric animals in the rock strata. Some of the statistics are not accurate and most of them inadequate. But a creditable beginning was made in a pioneer field of school administration.
There was no educational paper in the Territory until 1884. The newspapers printed very little pertaining to the schools, but still a number of interesting items are found scattered through the files of the weekly press of that early period.
2. Olympia a Leader Some of the preterritorial school ventures in Olympia have already been chronicled. In July 1854, Bernard Cornelius, recently from Canada, started a second school. He was a very well-trained man, a graduate of Trinity College, Dublin, and a member of the College of Preceptors, London. Before teaching in Olympia he had taught in private schools in California and Victoria, British Columbia. After leaving Olympia he taught in a boys' school in Portland, which later became the Hill Military Academy. While in Olympia he wrote an important series of articles on education which appeared in the Olympia Pioneer and Democrat.?
It will be remembered from a previous chapter that already there was one school at Olympia, taught by A. W. Moore, which had been designated a “Free School”, by the Columbian. They said in regard to it:
A tax has recently been levied and collected by which all indebtedness for the erection and completion, thus far, of the district schoolhouse has been liquidated, leaving a fund in the treasury of some $400 subject to appropriation for school pur. poses. This will secure the services of a teacher for three or four months to come, and be the means, we trust, of awakening an increased interest in the all-important subject of education.
The schoolhouse built at that time was destroyed by snow, a fact already recorded. Nothing daunted, the little settlement proceeded to build a second schoolhouse, which was opened as a private school. We read on September 21, 1855:
Olympia school will be opened at the new schoolhouse as a private school on Monday, 24th inst.
Bernard Cornelius had started the Olympia school on June 18 as a private venture, and in September moved into the new building.
A boarding school was opened the same year by George F. Whitworth, later president of the University of Washington. The follow ing notice appeared on March 7, 1855:
Mr. and Mrs. Whitworth propose to open a Boarding School for children of both sexes at their residence, distance about one and one-half miles north of Olympia. Should sufficient encouragement be given it is intended to commence about the 1st of April. The terms for boarding and tuition, which will be reasonable, can be ascer. tained by applying to the undersigned. Country produce will be received in rart payment if desired. G. F. Whitworth, Olympia.
1 Prom a personal interview with George H. Himes. ? See Pioneer and Democrat, Nov. 19, Dec. 3, 10, 17, 25, and Jan. 6. 1853–54. * The Columbian, Jan. 1, 1853.