Schools and Education

By act of the Michigan territorial legislature it was provided that so soon as twenty families were settled in a township they should select three commissioners of common schools. To defray the cost of a public school system lands were set aside to be sold or leased by the commissioners. Unfortunately, land had little value in those days and income from sale or leased was negligible. Schools were housed in log huts or shabby frame structures, teachers' salaries were small and equipment primitive.

The first school in Grand Rapids was public, for the government established and maintained that at the Baptist mission, where in 1826 Isaac McCoy, and in 1827 Leonard Slater, his wife and Miss Purchase, gave instruction to Indians and a few white children. Later other young women came to labor at the mission. Baxter mentions Miss Thompson, Miss Day and Miss Bond, probably all three teachers. Children of the pioneers attended the mission sessions, crossing the river in canoes. Miss Day in 1835 taught school in the upper story of a frame house erected that year by Darius Winsor at Fountain street and Ottawa avenue, but after three months left for her former home in Massachusetts.

A school was established at Reed's Lake in 1834, in the upper part of a log house, by Miss Euphemia Davis, daughter of Ezekiel Davis, and Miss Sophia Reed, daughter of Lewis Reed. This was maintained until in 1835 a school house, probably the first in Grand river valley, was erected near the lake, in which Francis Prescott taught. He married Miss Bond.

In 1836 Miss Sophia Page kept school in a new barn on Monroe avenue, opposite the present Morton hotel. In 1836-37 Daniel Smith of Cazenovia, N.Y., taught young men, and Miss Mary Hinsdill young women at the National hotel. Average attendance: 25.

May 9, 1835, the first public school district within the present city limits was organized. In 1837 the commissioners, William A. Richmond, Charles I. Walker ad Noble H. Finney, engaged Miss Celestia Hinsdill of Kalamazoo as teacher and her term continued throughout the summer. Sessions were held in a frame dwelling erected on Prospect hill by Aaron Sibley---later used to house the fire engine.

In 1839 the village built its first real school house, a small frame structure on the north side of Fulton street, nearly opposite Jefferson avenue. Joshua B. Galusha, son of the governor of Vermont, taught here. Other teachers were Warren W. Weatherly, O. R. Weatherly, Elijah Marsh, and Thomas B. Cuming, the latter being in charge when the building burned February 22, 1849.

Old Stone School House

In 1848 the first large school district was divided. At the meeting of the southern or No. 1 district, May 6, 1848, James M. Nelson was elected moderator, Stephen Wood, director, and W. G. Henry, assessor. June 24 of that year $2,500 was assessed on the property of the district and a committee of six authorized to buy a site for a stone school house and to receive bids for construction of the building. July 25 following the committee recommended the purchase for $300 of six lots on Ransom avenue at Lyon street, and the report was accepted. January 8, 1849, the contract was let for the erection of the famous "Old Stone School House." Stephen Wood drew the plans and David Burnett built the structure, three stories, 44 by 64 feet, the stone being taken from the river bed. The building, completed in the fall of 1849, contained three large study rooms, six recitation rooms, a dressing room for girls, and a room for library and school apparatus. In 1854 it accommodated 760 pupils. It was torn down in 1867.

September 24, 1848, the first district was organized under the union school system, and the number of trustees increased to seven. At the succeeding election the following board was chosen: Moderator, Thompson Sinclair; director, Henry K. Rose; assessor, Michael Connelly; trustees, W. G. Henry, John Ball, Zenas G. Winsor, T. H. Lyon. The first term opened in the old stone school November 12, 1849. E. M. Johnson was principal; the teachers were the Misses Hollister, Elizabeth White, Almira Hinsdill and Thirza Moore.

Before the school opened the board of trustees advertised the "Grand Rapids Union School" in the Enquirer saying:

"It is intended to make this school one of the most thorough kind; second to none; combining in itself all the desirable qualities of a district or common school and an academy of the first rank, enabling a child to obtain an education extending from the alphabet till he is prepared for the university, or for business. While the instruction will be of this capable and thorough character, the rates of tuition will be much lower than have heretofore been paid in other schools. The trustees do not intend that the tuition for all English branches, of scholars residing in the district, shall exceed $1.63 per quarter of eleven weeks. Tuition in Greek, Latin and French, $2.50 per quarter; scholars residing outside the district, ordinary branches, $2.50 higher."

Mr. Johnson resigned and was succeeded February 18, 1850, by James Ballard. Three years later Edward W. Chesebro became principal, to continue in that position from 1853 until five years before his death, January 31, 1862.

Professor E. Danforth was the next principal. During his term the schools were graded and the high school establish, September 26, 1859, under legislative act of that year. The act providing for six district school trustees, the following were chosen: James H. McKee, Charles Shepard, J. W. Peirce, George Kendall, John Ball, Wilder D. Foster.

First commencement exercises of the high school were held in Luce's hall at the close of the 1861-62 year. There were 13 graduates---all girls.

In 1861 E. A. Strong had succeeded Professor Danforth. In October, 1862, Mr. Strong was requested by the board to act as superintendent and "thoroughly organize all the schools of the district and make them effective." He continued as superintendent and principal of the high school until 1870, when he resigned to teach two years in a normal school at Oswego, New York. Then he returned and for 13 years was principal of Central High school, when he again resigned and went to Ypsilanti.

Coldbrook School District

When the large school district was divided in 1848 the northern on the east side became District No. 6, better known as Coldbrook. It included all that portion of the city north of a line between Newberry and Mason streets. In September a quarter acre of land was bought from C. W. Taylor, for $10, and a school house 18 by 24 feet erected at a cost of $150---including a stove.

September 25, 1848, Elihu Smith was elected moderator, C. W. Taylor, director, and Franklin Nichols, assessor. Next year, $12 was voted to underpin the school house. In 1851 "it was voted to have four months school and to have a man teacher." Professor Franklin Everett was employed as the "man teacher," at a salary of $55.32. Miss French, who taught during the summer, was paid$30. In 1857 it was voted to raise $1 per pupil on the taxable property of the district for teachers' wages, "the whole number of scholars between the ages of 4 and 18 being 86."

In 1859 the district purchased from C. W. Taylor for $300 the site of the present East Leonard school. In April, 1860, a contract was let to W. H. Stewart to erect on it a two story, two room, brick building to cost $1,500. The two rooms accommodated 128 pupils. September 2,1867, it was resolved to grade the schools and elect a board of six trustees in accordance with the law of 1859. The new board consisted of Daniel G. Brown, B. C. Saunders, William M. Wylie, L. M. Page, Amos Quimby and Francis Drew.

Among the early teachers in the second district were A. J. Tucker, Maria A. Jipson, C. W. Borst, who served as principal from 1862 to 1864; Mr. and Mrs. G. H. Bell, Adelaide Tucker and A. Carrier. Fannie Tucker was principal in 1867.

Early West Side Schools

Baxter tells this about the original west side public schools:

"The first school expressly for white children on the west side was taught by Miss Bond, afterwards Mrs. Francis Prescott, in a log house not far from the bank of the river and a little south of Bridge street. The furnishings were neither expensive nor elaborate. Two desks for writing extended the length of the side of the room; slabs, flat side up, with pegs for legs, served in lieu of patent seats. A huge sheet iron box stove, the wood for which was furnished by patrons of the school and cut by the boys in attendance, furnished superabundant warmth in the room to those near it, and left the unfortunates seated far off in the corners, where the chinking was defective, a prey to the winter's cold. Here Miss Bond taught some two dozen pupils.

She was succeed by Miss Mary L. Green, who taught during the summers of 1839 and 1840. This primitive school house served the educational interests of District No. 2 for several years. Later this log house was succeeded by a small frame building situated a little south of bridge street and east of what is now Court street (Scribner avenue). When the population of the district had increased so that still larger accommodations were needed, a larger, one-story frame building, spacious enough, it was supposed to shelter the entire school population of the district for a hundred years, was erected on First street. Milton S. Littlefield taught in this school for several years.

In 1853 the district adopted the union school organization. The Reverend James Ballard was chosen the first principal. In 1854 the frame school house, notwithstanding its spacious proportions, was found inadequate to the growing needs of the district, and Ebenezer Anderson, one of the trustees, was given a contract to erect a new union school house on the lot, corner of Turner and West Broadway streets, which had been purchased by the district. In the following year the new school house was completed. At the intercession and with the financial backing of Lucius Patterson, Baker Borden, and other citizens interested in the organization of a militia company, Mr. Anderson increased the height of the building by another story, to be used as a drill hall by the militiamen. Subsequently this story was fitted up and used for school purposes. When thus completed the building furnished sittings for 464 pupils.

Before the union of the school districts of the city in 1871, two other buildings, the old Turner and Jefferson street schools, were erected.

W. F. Kent succeeded Mr. Ballard as principal. During his administration the district took advantage of the legislative act of 1859 and graded the schools and established a high school, in which algebra, geometry and the higher branches of study were taught. No graduating classes were organized in this school, however, many pupils preferring to finish their courses of study and receive their diplomas at the high school in No. 1 district.

From September, 1861, to June, 1865, J. C. Clark acted as principal and was assisted in his labors by his wife, who was principal of the primary department. Professor Kent served another short term as principal, and Stewart Montgomery was at the head of the schools when the districts were consolidated in 1871."

Three School Districts Consolidated

There was considerable friction between the old districts, none of which had sufficient funds to employ the ablest educators. One of the most important events in the city's history is the consolidation of its school system, made possible by act of the state legislature March, 15, 1871, when the population of Grand Rapids was about 18,000.

The legislative act provided "that the city of Grand Rapids and all contiguous territory which shall hereafter be added thereto, shall constitute one school district, and all public schools therein shall be under the direction and control of the board of education and shall be free to all residents of said district over the age of five years."

At a public meeting called by Mayor L. H. Randall April 11, 1871, the first board of education was organized. Its members were: A. L. Chubb, president; Ebenezer Anderson, C. G. Brinsmaid, M. S. Crosby, F. B. Day, J. B. Haney, John Hill, W. P. Innes, A. E. Linderman, John McConnell, J. H. McKee, D. M. Page, Amos Quimby, Julius Houseman, B. C. Saunders, H. W. Slocum, W. D. Tolford, J. H. Tompkins.

The first superintendent of schools was Anson J. Daniels.

Some Old Time Private Schools

Of the many private schools established in earlier times a few should be mentioned.

Miss Sarah P. Stevens in November, 1844, opened a school for young women in upper rooms of the dwelling of C. P. Calkins, Ottawa avenue and Fountain streets. The same year H. H. Philbrick had a "Science of Music" school in the Dutch Reformed church, Fountain street and Ottawa avenue. In the winters between 1847 and 1851 W. K. Wheeler had a school for dancing in the National hotel. In 1848 and 1849 Mrs. A. F. Jennings kept a select school for young women on Prospect hill. In the fall of 1848 Mrs. E. T. Moore had a "school for young ladies and misses" at her residence, south side of Monroe avenue above Market. In June, 1850, St. Mark's college was opened in the vestry rooms of St. Mark's church. Miss J. A. Hollister was in charge of the female department and D. D. Van Antwerp in charge of the male preparatory department. Baxter says the college lasted only about three years.

The most famous was the Grand Rapids academy. June 6, 1842, Henry Seymour opened a select school in the Dutch Reformed church. All the English branches were taught, and the rudiments of Greek and Latin, at $3.50 per quarter. May 6, 1843, the Grand Rapids academy opened in a small building on Prospect hill, Mr. Seymour, principal. The institution was incorporated March 11, 1844, with the following trustees: Daniel Ball, James Ballard, Francis H. Cuming, Jonathan F. Chubb, Charles Shepard, Samuel F. Butler, Amos Rathbone, Truman H. Lyon. In October, 1844, the academy occupied the old court house in Fulton Street park and the female department had quarters in a nearby cottage. E. B. Elliott was principal and was succeeded the next year by Addison Ballard. In October, 1846, Franklin Everett became principal and his wife preceptress. Miss Elizabeth White and Thomas B. Cuming were assistants.

When the union schools began to function the academy declined and it was closed in May, 1852. However, the Everetts maintained a private academy for twenty years at their residence. Professor Everett was one of the ablest educators the city ever had. He wrote a history of the Grand river valley, a valuable source of information for the modern historian.

Present Public School System

With the public school system properly organized and control centralized in a competent board, 1871, it was possible to plan for the future. But at first few residents foresaw how rapidly the city would increase in territory and population. Buildings erected before 1900 were considered thoroughly modern, but many of them have had to be torn down and replaced by what now is considered modern. Growth in scope of the building plan, advance in methods of instruction and extension of the work cannot be traced here step by step. Latest statistics are resorted to in order to indicate what the schools of today are and what they accomplish for the good of the community.

There are now 36 elementary, three junior and four senior high schools. Grand Rapids maintains an auxiliary school, ungraded, for delinquent children; a school at the Blodgett Home for Children, a school at the Juvenile Home, an oral school for the deaf, an orthopedic school, a vocational and high technical school, the Preventorium school, Junior college, and until this year the so-called truant school. Fresh air schools are maintained at Coldbrook, Palmer, Sigsbee, Walker and Harrison Park. Sight conservation schools are held at Buchanan, Henry, Jefferson, Lexington, Union, Stocking and Creston High.

The 1925 government census of school children gave the number as 42,203, with 36,716 enrolled--25,454 in public and 11,262 in non-public institutions.

General statistics of the public school system, divided according to departments, giving enrollment in each department, follow for the year 1924-25: Junior college, 627; high schools, 5,544; grammar, 9,140; primary department, 11,532; kindergarten, 2,619; vocational, all day, 409; vocational, part time, 1,449; ungraded department, 996; orthopedic department, 86; truant department, 71; oral school for deaf, 57; auxiliary, for exceptional children, 490; open air, 139; sight conservation, 104.

During 1924-25 the night schools enrolled 4,490 pupils, 350 in Americanization classes, exclusive of those enrolled in the regular evening school Americanization classes.

The vocational school employs 13 men teachers and 11 women teachers for full days and 11 men and 6 women for evening classes. In this way persons regularly employed during the day may take advantage of the vocational training in the evening.

There are 62 kindergarten teachers, with a class in each regular grade school.

Approximately 1,000 teachers are employed, including superintendents.

Pictures of some of the new grade and high schools, included in this history, indicate the progress made in the building program. During 1924-25, $44,591 was expended for new sites, $1,698,436 for new buildings, $97,080 for equipment. About $33,000 was devoted to alterations of equipment for older buildings.

Expenditures by the board of education for 1924-25 totaled $4,822,015. This amount covered the cost of administration, instruction, operation, maintenance, auxiliary agencies, new buildings and equipment and miscellaneous expenses.

Health Activities in Schools

In 1910 the board of health relieved the board of education of the responsibility of medical examination of school children. Today there are sixteen graduate nurses and three staff physicians whose duties are to examine each year all the children of the public and parochial grades 1 to 5. Immunization from diphtheria by means of toxin-antitoxin is given to all who request it. During 1925-1926 not one school child died from diphtheria. Immunizing the school population against small-pox and the prevention of communicable diseases in general, inspection and sanitary control of the buildings, is part of the work carried on by the health department.

School nurses assist physicians. Each nurse is assigned to a certain number of buildings, each of which she visits at stated interval. Inspections of enlarged tonsils, adenoids and decayed teeth are rigid. Reports of these inspections and examinations by physicians are sent to parents or guardians of pupils, with recommendation that children have any defects corrected by the family doctor or dentist. If the financial status of the family is such that this cannot be done, the case is turned over to the welfare department. Work of school nurses and physicians requires many home visits and consultation with parents or guardians of children.

The High Schools Central High school opened in 1871 with C. C. Emery as principal. Succeeding principals: E. A. Strong, 1872 to 1885; William A. Greeson, 1886 to 1896; Albert J. Volland, 1897 to 1906; Jesse B. Davis, 1907 to 1919; Arthur Andrews, 1920 to 1925; Claude F. Switzer, 1925 to this time.

The principals of Union High school begin with J. B. Haney, 1871; followed by S. G. Milner, 1872 to 1885; I. W. Barnhart, 1886 to 1890; Orr Schurtz, 1891 to 1898; Albert Jennings, 1899 to 1910; Isaac B. Gilbert, 1911 to 1922; Charles A. Everest, 1923 to the present.

South High school opened in 1915 with Paul C. Stetson as principal. Upon his resignation in 1917, Arthur W. Krause, present principal, took office.

Creston High school was occupied as a junior high school in 1923 with Claude F. Switzer as principal. Creston becomes a senior high school this year, Samuel Upton, principal.

Grand Rapids now has three junior high schools: Harrison Park, opened September, 1925; Ottawa Hills, opened September, 1925, and Burton, opened September, 1926.

Junior College

Junior College opened 1914 in quarters at Central High school, with 49 students enrolled. Jesse B. Davis was president until he resigned in January, 1920, and Arthur Andrews took his place. Enrollment for 1925 was 627. At present Junior college employs 18 men and 16 women instructors.

In the fall of 1926 the college occupied the buildings formerly used by Strong Junior High school. Strong grades were then removed to Central High, making it possible for a student to begin at Central in the seventh grade and there complete the twelfth.

Superintendents and Present Management

Superintendents of schools and their terms of office: Anson J. Daniels, 1871 to 1883; I. N. Mitchell, 1884 to 1886; F. M. Kendall, 1887 to 1890; W. W. Chalmers, 1890 to 1898; F. R. Hathaway, 1898 to 1900; William H. Elson, 1900 to 1906; William A. Greeson, 1906 to 1924; Leslie A. Butler, 1924 to the present.

Members of the board of education are: John K. Burch, Ernest W. Dales, John Dalton, George A. Davis, Lee M. Hutchins, Mrs. J. B. Nicholson, Edwin F. Sweet, William Timmers, Mrs. David A. Warner.

Educational department: Leslie A. Butler, superintendent; Mrs. Therese Townsend and Charles D. Dawson, assistant superintendents.

Business department: Herbert N. Morrill, manager.

Salaries of Teachers

Salaries of grade teachers are based on a schedule fixed by the board of education. For the first year the salary is $1,200. For each succeeding year a grade teacher discharges her duties satisfactorily she is compensated with an additional $100, to the maximum of $2,000.

Basic salary of principals of grade schools is the maximum paid to grade teachers. Schools are classified into four groups according to size, number of pupils, number of grades taught, etc. The principal of each school in a group is additionally compensated as follows: Group I, $300; Group II, $450; Group III, $600; Group IV, $750.

The schedule of grade salaries also applies to manual training teachers of sewing and knife work.

Session room teachers of grade schools receive the same salary as grade teachers, with additional compensation based on the following enrollment of the first three weeks of each semester: 50 to 74, inclusive, $100; 75 to 90 inclusive, $150; 100 to 124 inclusive, $200; 125 to 149 inclusive, $250; 150 and over, $300.

Teachers of home economics, after one year of successful experience in Grand Rapids, may be given $50 above salaries of regular grade teachers.

Teachers of ungraded rooms receive $50 more each year than the salaries based on those paid grade teachers.

Salaries of kindergarten assistants are $1,200 minimum and $1,400 maximum.

Salaries of class room teachers in high schools are based on a $1,500 minimum and $2,500 maximum schedule. Session room teachers' salaries are determined from schedule of salaries paid class room teachers, with additional compensation according to the net enrollment for the first three weeks of each semester. The schedule allows $50 for each additional 25 students enrolled above the first 25.

Calvin College

The Holland Christian Reformed seminary was established in 1876, and in 1888 its theological course was extended to three years. This was the beginning of Calvin college. Various courses have been added to the curriculum and at present four years of college work are offered. In 1910 a campus of 10 acres, between Thomas and Franklin streets and Benjamin and Giddings avenues, was procured. The public subscribed liberally towards erection of a substantial building, which was occupied in 1917.

Denominational Schools

Grand Rapids has a large number of denominational schools, the following being listed in the city directory:

Christian--Alpine Avenue, Baldwin Street, Baxter Street, Creston, Franklin Street, Grandville Avenue, Hastings Street, Oakdale Park, Pine Avenue, Grand Rapids Christian High, Christian Normal.

Catholic--Boys' Central High, Girls' Central High, Holy Name, Mt. Mercy, Franciscan Fathers, Redemptorist Fathers, Sacred Heart, St. Alphonsus, St. Andrew, St. Anthony, St. Francis Xavier, St. Isadore, St. James, St. Joseph, St. Mary, SS. Peter and Paul, Mount Mercy Academy, Sacred Heart Academy, St. Joseph Seminary, 18 convents.

Immanuel Lutheran, Hebrew, Seventh Day Adventist.


Transcriber: Ronnie Aungst
Created: 16 January 2000