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From History of Clarion Co., Pennsylvania, edited by A. J. Davis, 1887.

Public Schools

The early schools of the county have been adverted to in other parts of this volume, and we shall endeavor to avoid repetitions.

The first settlers were sturdy and industrious pioneers, but they brought with them from their former homes ideas of progress and culture, and within a year from the time the first community was fairly settled in the new forest home, a school-house was erected, and in 1803 Gabriel Glenn was duly installed therein as teacher.

This was within the territory now embraced in Clarion township.  Other settlements followed, and with equal promptitude school-house and place of worship were provided, sometimes in the same building, though not unfrequently the school was held in the house of some settler, where the children of the community could learn the rudiments of an English education.

Schools were established in the territory now included in the townships of Beaver, Elk, Farmington, Licking, Limestone, Madison, Monroe, Paint, and Toby between 1805 and 1815.  The first school-house in Richland township was erected about 1817 or 1818. The Shields school, near Smithland, and the Ardery school, near the head of Leatherwood Creek, Porter township, were built about 1818 or 1820.

Among the teachers during these early years were William Kelly, William Hopkins, John Cochran, Henry Black, William McGinnis, James Stuart, Matthew Philips, Daniel Delo, Hugh Kilgore, Robert N. Craig, Peter B. Simpson, John Gilleland, David Hays, Mr. McElwaine, Daniel Boyd, Thomas Thompson, David Conver, Miss King, and J. J. Livingston. Some of these belong to a somewhat later period, and Mr. Livingston is the only one still alive.

The early schools were supported by voluntary subscription, but practically all the children in each community enjoyed the benefits of school wherever one was established.  All the people were almost equally poor, and the class distinctions and sectarian prejudices which affected older settlements had gained no foothold here up to the time of the enactment of the common school law in 1834.  There was in consequence less marked opposition to the law in this new section of the State than in the southern and eastern counties; however, several townships, either through indifference, or, in rare cases, through active opposition, failed to accept the provisions of the act for some years.

Richland township accepted the provisions of the school law at the first election after its passage. Captain Henry Neely, Benjamin Junkin, John Alsbach, James Ritchey, Henry Gilger, and James Say were the first directors.  Charles H. Haas, John Cochran, John F. Conver, and William McGinnis were among the first teachers under the new system in that township.

In Toby township, David Lawson and George Means were ardent advocates of the public school system and were members of the first board of directors.  Mr. Lawson had been one of the earliest supporters of schools in his neighborhood, and contributed both time and of his means to support them.

Redbank township, then including Porter, accepted the new law in March, 1836, while Beaver tardily waited until 1839, before falling into line.

Although Clarion county was erected in 1839, yet the reports made to the State department, up to and including 1842, still embraced the several townships of this county with those of Armstrong and Venango.  The reports from these counties for 1842 exhibit all the districts as having accepted the provisions of the public school law, or "free school law," as it was then usually termed, and as being in operation under the law; but in 1844 Beaver, Paint, and Pine Grove [sic] townships and Clarion borough were reported as non-accepting districts.  The average length of the term in the county, in 1844, was four months; the average salary of male teachers was $14.39, and of female teachers, $7.30.  The number of schools was seventy-four.  In 1850 the number of schools had increased to 119, but a decrease in length of term to three and one-half months was reported, while the teachers' salaries had risen to $16.90 and $8.26 for males and females respectively.  "Boarding round" was universal in those days, and when we consider the scarcity of money and the low wages paid in other occupations, the teachers' salaries of that period do not compare unfavorably with the amount paid them at the present time.

In some districts teachers were paid in grain, and the miller was made collector, taking from the cereals brought to the mill by farmers, in addition to the customary toll, an amount equal in value to the tax levied for school purposes on the property of each citizen.

The State appropriated $200,000 for the support of the schools in 1836, and in 1837 the appropriation was increased to $700,000 only $300,000 less than was appropriated fifty years later, although the population of our Commonwealth has increased more than threefold, and its material wealth many fold, since that year.  In 1838 the appropriation was less than the preceding year, though it still amounted to one dollar for each taxable, while for 1885 and 1886 it was only eighty-four and a half cents per taxable.

Progress was slow, in fact almost imperceptible, until 1854, when the act establishing the county superintendency was passed by the Legislature.  Unfortunately, few records remain to show the growth of the school system of our county, until the county superintendency made it possible to obtain full and more accurate reports from the several districts.

The office of county superintendent was unpopular over the entire State; and while the people of Clarion County were less obtrusive in their opposition than those of other counties, yet there was a strong undercurrent of feeling hostile toward the new office, which found vent in unreasonable complaints against the person who filled it, and manifested itself in the beggarly salary voted the first officials by the conventions electing them.  This feeling continued until a comparatively recent period.

Rev. Robert W. Orr was elected the first county superintendent of Clarion County on the first Monday of June, 1854.  Mr. Orr was born January 18, 1808, near Greenville, Clarion County, and lived on a farm until he was twenty years of age.  He entered Jefferson College in 1829, and graduated in 1833, taking the first honor.  He united with the Presbyterian Church the year before he graduated, and determined to devote himself to the ministry.  He took the usual three years' course at the Western Theological Seminary, in Allegheny, and spent one session in Princeton Seminary.  In 1837 he was ordained as an evangelist by the Presbytery of Bedford, and the same year set sail with his young wife (whom he had married three months before) for Singapore.  For over three and one-half years he remained in this mission field, when failing health compelled him to return to his native land, which he reached in July, 1841.

He was principal of Clarion Academy from the spring of 1842 to 1844.  The latter year he became a member of the faculty in Jefferson College and continued a member until 1852, when, his health again failing, he resigned.

When elected county superintendent, a salary of $300 a year was voted him.  Although the salaries of county superintendents were paid directly out of the State treasury, and were not an added burden to the tax-payers, yet the convention voted a mere pittance to this excellent man, to administer our school affairs, while the directors of Lancaster County, more wise, voted their superintendent a salary of $1,500 a year.

In his first report (1854) Mr. Orr states that "in the greater part of the county, schools of one kind or other are enjoyed from four to eight months in the year."  The statistical reports for several years show an average of only three months' public school.  He also mentions as the greatest obstacle, in the way of carrying out efficiently the common school system, a want of qualified teachers.  He reiterates this assertion in succeeding reports.

In the superintendent's report for 1855 he mentions as obstacles, in the way of progress in the schools, lack of interest on the part of the people, and too low an appreciation of the value of education; want of uniformity of textbooks; wretched condition of school-houses; no school apparatus (some houses had not even a black-board); want of well-qualified teachers.  "The most hopeful sign of all is that the idea is beginning to prevail .... that the common schools ought to be greatly improved, and that the qualifications of the teachers must be elevated."

Only sixty teachers attended the public examinations to supply one hundred and fifty schools.  Others afterwards visited the superintendent's house for private examination, and detained him until near Christmas from visiting schools.

The first teachers' institute held in Clarion County met in the Clarion Academy on Wednesday, the 25th of December, 1855.  D. R. Craig was called to the chair, and R. P. Reyner was appointed secretary.  We find such names as David Kirk, B. J. Reid, James Craig, James Speer, L. Guthrie, and R. Sutton among the active members.  Hon. J. S. McCalmont, Amos Myers, esq., and Rev. John McAuley gave evening addresses.  A constitution was adopted; officers for the ensuing year were elected and installed:  president, Superintendent Orr; recording secretary, B. J. Reid, esq.; corresponding secretary, Robert Sutton, esq.; treasurer, Samuel C. Allison.

The institute was in session two days and one evening.  Other citizens beside teachers were active participants in the exercises of these institutes.  It was resolved that the next meeting be held on the third Tuesday of the following October, and continue in session three days.  On some account the organization failed to meet its appointment, and we have no account of another institute until January 26, 1857.  During the early part of the winter of 1856 the superintendent held educational meetings throughout the county, lectured on the art of teaching and invited the teachers to give their experience.  These meetings were instrumental in awakening a strong educational sentiment.

Among the members of the institute held in 1857, we note in addition to those who attended the first institute, such familiar names as J. W. Porter, M. L. Boyer, J. T. Maffet, S. K. Travis, J. H. Mehrten, James S. McGarrah, Thomas E. Thomas, Miss H. J. Wilson, Miss M. A. Guthrie, Miss M. J. Clover, and Miss H. A. Keatley.  Rev. Mr. Boyle delivered an evening address.  The exercises of the institute were conducted with spirit, mostly by members of the institute.

J. G. Magonagle, who had been acting as deputy during the illness of Superintendent Orr, presided at this meeting.

Superintendent Orr died in Mechanicsville, Clarion County, near the place of his birth, March 30, 1857, of consumption.  J. G. Magonagle was commissioned county superintendent on the 6th of the following April.  He was elected to serve during the ensuing term of three years, at the triennial convention which met on the 4th of May, 1857.  The new superintendent, while acting as deputy, held meetings throughout the county, and endeavored to organize educational associations in the several districts; few, however, outlived the presence of the deputy.  One at Clarion and one at Strattanville were kept in successful operation during the session of the winter schools.

On the first Monday of September, a convention of directors met in Clarion for the purpose of recommending a uniform series of text-books to be used throughout the county.  J. R. Strattan was chairman of this convention.  Osgood's Readers, Clark's Grammars, Ray's Arithmetics and Algebras, and Monteith's and McNalley's Geographies were recommended "to such boards of directors as have not adopted a regular series, and to such as have another series, the adoption of this one as soon as practicable."  Wright's Analytical Orthography was especially recommended to the consideration of teachers.  Osgood's Readers and Spellers and Ray's Arithmetics were used in most of the districts throughout the county for many years, and our county has never since those years enjoyed so nearly a uniformity of text-books.

At the call of Superintendent Magonagle, about thirty teachers assembled at Strattanville on the 14th of October, 1857, for a drill of two weeks.  This was carried on harmoniously and successfully.  The school was closed on the 26th, and the county institute opened on the 27th of October.  Near fifty teachers attended the institute, and the sessions were continued until the close of the week.  The exercises throughout were spirited and interesting. R. Sutton, of Clarion, addressed the association on Wednesday evening.  Miss H. A. Keatley read an essay on Physical Culture the following evening.  The day sessions were devoted chiefly to lectures on the branches taught in the schools.  Mr. Meredith and a committee of ladies, on behalf the Normal class, presented to the county superintendent a Webster's Unabridged Dictionary.

During the last days of the following January a teacher's institute held a session for three days at Callensburg.  Hon. R. Laughlin moved a resolution to call "a county convention of teachers, directors, friends and enemies of the common school system to take into consideration the necessity and utility of establishing a county normal school."  Twenty-nine years later this idea materialized in the form of a State Normal School located in the county.  Superintendent Magonagle, like his predecessor in the office, held that the pressing need of our schools was well-qualified teachers, and, with commendable zeal and energy, he set about to supply the need.  We find him again at Callensburg the 5th of the following October, conducting a normal institute for a period of five weeks.  State Superintendent Henry C. Hickok visited this institute, and addressed the public on several occasions, infusing new life into the school system of the county.

About fifty teachers were in attendance.  Professor Thickstun, of Meadville, A. Myers, Rev. J. E. Chapin, and R. Sutton were among the helpers.  During the last week of the Normal, the Educational Association held a session of five days.  A third convention for the year met at Shippenville, and held a session of four days.

The annual institute of 1859 met at Strattanville on October 24.  The exercises were varied and did not differ in any essential particular from those of the institutes of the present day, except that the teachers participated more largely.  William P. Jenks, of Brookville, was one of the evening lecturers.

This was the year of the June frosts, and some hesitation was manifested on the part of a number of school boards as to the propriety of opening the schools at all during the year.  Finally, all but four, viz: Curllsville, Highland, Knox, and Washington, opened the schools for at least four months.  The principal of the Clarion borough schools received fifty dollars per month salary during this year of general scarcity and hardship, and the teacher of the advanced room in the Rimersburg schools received thirty dollars per month, while these two districts, together with Licking and Piney each had a six months' term.  It occurs to one that not much progress has been made since then in the matter of teachers' wages and length of term, when we consider the increase of wages in other vocations.

In October, 1860, the county institute was held at Clarion.  About forty teachers were in attendance.  Deputy Superintendent Bates and ex-Superintendent Hickok rendered efficient aid as instructors at this institute.

Superintendent Magonagle was re-elected in May of this year, and his salary was fixed at $500 a year.  He continued to display the same energy and efficiency that had characterized his labors during his first term.  But we come now to a period in the history of our schools when the war-cloud is darkening the horizon, and they must inevitably suffer from the impending storm.  Our county superintendent is a patriot as well as a zealous educator, and now when his country needs men to go forth and do battle for her cause, he is one of the first to offer his services.  On the 3d of September, 1861, he is mustered into her service as first lieutenant of Company F, Sixty-third Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers.  The regiment joins the Army of the Potomac, participates in the Peninsular campaign, and on the 21st day of June, 1862, Lieutenant John G. Magonagle dies from disease engendered in the miasmatic swamps of Virginia, after having participated in the battle of Fair Oaks a few weeks before.

For a short time after Superintendent Magonagle entered the army, David Latshaw, of Perry township, acted as deputy superintendent, but C. S. Walker, A. M., of Shippenville, was appointed to succeed Superintendent Magonagle from November 1, 1861, until June, 1863.

The civil war bore heavily upon the people, and the schools suffered in consequence from short terms and low teachers' salaries.  Hitherto a majority of the teachers were males, but many young men enlisted as soldiers, and for the first time in the history of our schools the female teachers outnumbered the males, and they have held a majority ever since.

During the winter of 1862-3, fourteen district institutes were held regularly (semi-monthly) throughout the county.  In many cases two districts would unite for this purpose, and the whole number of teachers in attendance was one hundred and thirty out of a total of one hundred and seventy engaged in the schools.

Most of the institutes were regularly attended by directors, who took part in the exercises.  The secretaries of the school boards of Madison, Piney, and Washington townships acted as district superintendents with good results.  The following year eighteen secretaries acted as district superintendents, and received one dollar a day for their services in visiting the schools.  Superintendent G. S. Kelly, who was commissioned August 1, 1863, commends this feature of school management, and states that he noted marked improvement in the schools that were regularly visited by the district superintendents.

Twenty districts organized district associations, and two county institutes of nearly a week's duration each, were held during the year.  Mill Creek township and Mount Pleasant, Ind., district did not open schools this year.

Several school boards appropriated portions of their school funds to the payment of bounties to volunteers, to be credited to those districts, in order to fill their quota for troops required by the government in prosecuting the war.  In this way conscription was avoided for a time, but low wages of teachers and poor schools resulted.  Money was borrowed to pay bounties and the school funds were pledged to repay the debts thus contracted.  Several years elapsed before these debts were liquidated, and a much longer period was required to remedy the injury done the schools.

In 1867, an act became a law requiring the county superintendent to hold an institute of at least five days annually, and providing for expenses for instructors, lecturers, apparatus, books, and stationery for carrying on the work of the institute.  From this time the annual institute has been planted on a firm basis, and much good has resulted to the schools through the instruction gained by the teachers in attendance upon its sessions.

Superintendent J. E. Wood was commissioned in June, 1869.  During his term, the schools partially recovered from the effects of the Civil War, the institutes grew in interest and were attended by nearly all the teachers in the county.  Hon. J. P. Wickersham, State superintendent, was present one day at the institute held in 1871.  All the institutes held by Superintendent Wood were well managed and were productive of much enthusiasm in the ranks of the teachers.

The six years' administration of Superintendent Wood was an era, first, of recovery, and later, of marked educational growth.   When Mr. Wood assumed the duties of the office, there were 171 schools in the county, ten of which were graded; when he retired, in 1865, the schools numbered 194, twenty-one being graded.  During this period the oil industry was developed in the county, and the population was largely increased. In the eager pursuit of wealth, the interests of the schools were somewhat neglected, and education scarcely kept pace with the material growth of the county.  A faithful superintendent, sustained by a few earnest teachers and directors, did much to mitigate adverse influences.  New and more commodious school buildings were erected, the qualifications of teachers were advanced, and frequent visits of the schools by the superintendent had the effect to inspire a more friendly feeling toward the superintendency.

In June, 1875, A. J. Davis was commissioned county superintendent.  He was twice recommissioned, serving eight years, or all but the last year of his third term.  The year 1876 brought the International Centennial Exhibition, held in Philadelphia.  The State superintendent of public instruction, J. P. Wickersham, issued a call to the schools to prepare manuscript and other school work for exhibition.  The Clarion Collegiate Institute at Rimersburg and the Foxburg public schools forwarded some work, which was placed in the Pennsylvania building for educational exhibits.  Few other districts in the State, outside the large cities, had any school work on exhibition.

A county teachers' association was organized at Rimersburg on September 14, 1876, and P. S. Dunkle, principal of West Freedom Academy, was elected first president [note: Dunkle's memoirs are available on this Web site].  This association has been maintained, with some modifications as to the organization, to the present time.  Meetings have been held almost every month when the schools were in session, and occasionally during vacation, in different parts of the county.  Public sentiment has been enlisted in favor of the schools, and principles and methods of teaching have been discussed at the meetings of the association.

A teachers' reading circle was recommended by the county institute, which met in 1878, and a course of professional reading was adopted.  Page's Theory and Practice of Teaching was adopted as a text-book for the first year's course.  The following year a new book was selected, and the plan has been followed in a general way during all the years that have followed to the present time.  The examinations in Theory of Teaching have been based each year on the course of professional reading, pursued by the teachers during that year.  The results have been satisfactory.  A better knowledge of principles, and better methods of teaching, together with a more adequate conception of the dignity and responsibility of the teacher's position, are among the benefits that have followed.  Before this course was adopted, scarcely twenty works on teaching could be found in the libraries of the teachers in the entire county.  Five years after, more than one thousand volumes of professional works were known to have been purchased by our teachers, and more gratifying still to the mind of the educator, these books were studiously read by a majority of the purchasers.

This was probably the first county organization of teachers for professional reading ever formed in the United States.  A graded course of study for pupils was outlined the same year.

The first exposition of school work at the county fair in Clarion county was held in 1879.  "Children's day" occurred on the second day of the fair, on September 24th, and on that day several hundred school children, representing almost every district in the county, formed in line on the main street of Clarion and filed into the fair grounds, where they spent the afternoon pleasantly.  In the main building on the grounds were the manuscripts collected from a number of schools, also botanical and geological collections made by pupils, together with maps, charts, and apparatus devised by teachers and pupils in the county.

In 1881 a system of graduation for pupils in the elementary schools of our county was adopted.  Fourteen examinations were held that year from March to June; 175 pupils were examined, of whom 106 obtained a satisfactory grade and received a diploma.  On most occasions, after each examination, occupying the whole day, there were evening exercises, and an address by the superintendent; at the close the diplomas were conferred.  These meetings were largely attended by teachers, directors, and others.

Five courses of reading and study beyond the elementary branches were subsequently outlined and published, with the object of affording opportunities for the young graduates to press beyond the common school course.  It was thought that by thus directing the energies of these young people into right channels of self-advancement, they might be prevented from falling into habits of idleness and indifference, or into such reading as would lead to vice and ruin.  Several have since taken one of these courses and passed successful examinations in the same.  Following out the plan, eleven examinations were held in March and April, 1882.  Deputy State Superintendent Henry Houck was present at six of these, and Hon. E. E. Higbee, Superintendent of Public Instruction, attended the other five.  One hundred and twenty-four candidates were examined this year, of whom sixty-six were found qualified to pass.  Some who failed the preceding year were examined again this year and were rewarded for their perseverance.  The graduates held a meeting at the county institute in 1881, and formed a

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