History of Public School Education in Arizona/Chapter 6

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Chapter VI.


The period of 12 years between 1887 and 1899 may be characterized as one of retrogression and advance, reaction and progress. This changing condition is evidenced by the number of Territorial superintendents. Between 1887 and 1899 there were five, so that they served on an average only a little over two years each. They were: Charles M. Strauss, chosen by the people at the regular election in 1886, and appointed by Gov. Zulick in January, 1887. He served for two years, and was again appointed to the office in 1889, but a Republican successor to Gov. Zulick was then expected, the council refused to confirm the nomination, and on April 8, 1889, George W. Cheyney, a Pennsylvanian by birth, a mining engineer by profession, and at that time a member of the Territorial council from Cochise County, was lifted into the office by Gov. Wolfley, who had succeeded Gov. Zulick. Strauss, however, was not willing to get out of office and held on until about June, 1890; neither the old superintendent nor the new gave any particular attention to the office. Cheyney drew the salary, but Strauss was later reimbursed by the legislature.[1] Cheyney continued to serve for the term 1891–1893, but the legislature was then in opposition to the governor, and cut Cheyney’s salary from $2,000 to $750 per year. Frethias J. Netherton was confirmed as his successor on April 13, 1893. He was a native of California, an athlete, a newspaper man, and a schoolmaster. The office of Territorial superintendent was a movable one. Cheyney had conducted its affairs from Tombstone; Netherton now removed it to Mesa City, where he had a business. He was appointed by Gov. Hughes, and went out of office with the governor. His successor was Thomas E. Dalton, who said, in the report for 1895–1897, that he came into office about May 15, 1896. He was a native of St. Lawrence County, N. Y., and a college man. He was a teacher in the Phoenix schools, and when not engaged in the active work of teaching conducted a real estate business there. He had his office as Territorial superintendent in Phoenix and was at the head of the schools about a year. His successor was A. P. Shewman, a lawyer and editor, with an office at Mesa. He served till February 27, 1899, when he in turn gave place to Robert L. Long, who had been superintendent in 1885–1887, and had first started the schools on organized lines.

Of these five superintendents, apparently only two (Netherton and Dalton) had had any experience in educational matters. The others were business men, followers of particular governors, political favorites. They probably did in a school way what they could, but they had no permanent office, no money for traveling, and little salary.[2] It is rather remarkable that the schools in general showed for most of the time, as statistics will prove, a fairly uniform growth.

After this survey of the personal side of the Territorial superintendents during this period, it seems well to summarize the fortunes of the schools somewhat chronologically. In his message to the assembly on January 11, 1887, Gov. Zulick, after reviewing briefly the former years, utters a word of warning:

It is admitted that the permanency of our institutions depends upon the intelligence of the people. Free public schools are the means of diffusing knowledge among the rising generation and preparing the youth of the land to exercise with intelligence the duties of American citizenship when clothed with its cares and responsibilities. Since intelligence elevates communities and restricts crime, and ignorance degrades citizenship and fosters vice, it is our duty, as far as possible, to place within the reach of every child the means for obtaining a good, solid business education. Universities and normal schools are all right and proper, but should not be maintained to the detriment or injury of our public schools, upon the efficiency of which depends the education of the masses.

After pointing out what had been done officially toward the beginning of a normal school and of a university, he made a wise suggestion, which later became and even yet remains to a certain extent the principle of action in Arizona. He said in his conclusion:

I respectfully suggest that, as there are no high schools in the Territory where a scientific course and preparatory course of instruction can be taken to fit our youths to enter college, the normal school and university could be well utilized for this purpose.[3]

But the recommendations of Gov. Zulick received scant attention in 1887, for a reaction was due. The first manifestation of this reaction came within a month of the meeting of the legislature, when a fight on the public-school system began. On February 7, 1887, A. G. Oliver, member of the lower house from Yavapai, gave notice that he would introduce a bill to abolish the Territorial superintendency, and the passage of this bill was recommended by the committee to which it was referred and of which Oliver was chairman.[4]

The reasons for this action are not clear from the journals, but they are said to have been of a political character.[5]

In the fight which followed the superintendency won out; the office was not abolished, but it was shorn of its powers. The superintendent was no longer required to visit the counties and supervise the schools; his allowance for traveling and office expenses and for printing blanks was cut off, and any chance for a general supervision of the schools of the Territory was cut off.

McCrea, in reviewing the situation, remarks that—

All idea of making the superintendent of any signal service to the schools was abandoned, and from this time on no superintendent of public instruction in Arizona has been chosen from the ranks of those actually engaged in teaching, though three out of six have had experience as teachers.[6]

The new board of education appointed in 1887, none of whom were teachers, also began to get in its work; it amended (1887) the rules and regulations for the government of the schools of the Territory, and its amendments were not always for the best. Some of the old teaching certificates revoked by the former administration were now regranted, and a rule was adopted that practically abandoned corporal punishment. This caused great dissatisfaction among the teachers and was modified in 1890, so that the penalties of the law applied only to those who inflicted excessive or cruel punishment. Still more unsatisfactory was the dropping of the course of study from the requirements. The schools went back to the old system where each teacher worked out a course for himself. It is true that there was still an adopted series of textbooks, but with no fixed course of study it was impossible to make the classes uniform, and no other course was prepared until Long again became superintendent in 1899–1900.

This reaction against the schools in 1887 was doubtless due to the irritation of the people arising in part from causes other than educational. The governor points out in his message of 1887 that the assembly for some years had been wasteful and had been spending more money than had been allowed by Congress. A debt of $336,817 had been contracted in eight years for roads, bridges, and legislative expenses. Much of this money had been wasted or actually stolen in building the penitentiary and the insane asylum. Says McCrea:

The people were becoming restive under the great burdens of taxation and the wasteful and corrupt management of affairs. In seeking relief they had already begun to retrench on money spent for schools. This is hardly to be wondered at, as salaries and expenses of school officials had wonderfully increased, while the improvement of the schools was not so apparent.[7]

On the legislative side the situation in 1889 was a period of calm when compared with 1887. Gov. Zulick confined his attention to efforts toward securing from Congress the privilege of selling the school lands, in which he failed, and actual legislation was practically negligible. A compulsory school law was framed, which was substantially a reenactment of the law of 1875, but in 1895–96 it was declared to be null and void by the attorney general, and the Territory was without compulsory legislation until 1899, when a new law, differing but little from those of 1885 and 1889, was enacted.

Supt. Cheyney discussed in his report for 1889–90 the difficulties and tendencies of the period. A question then of much importance was that of providing funds for new schoolhouses. The older custom, begun in 1877 and brought to mature stature in the eighties, was by issuing bonds under special acts. A general act passed in 1891 (ch. 16) made this no longer permissible. Under the new act the district trustees might still issue bonds not to exceed 4 per cent of the assessed value of their property and there must be provisions for a local tax on the property of the district for repayment. In some places the burden of this additional tax was regarded as excessive and resulted in the rental or erection of unsuitable houses and of inadequate accommodations. As a way out of the difficulty Supt. Strauss suggested that the Territory create a Territorial loan and building fund based on the idea of the building and loan associations.

In 1889 four new schoolhouses were erected; in 1890 the number was 15.

At this time the finances of the schools were generally good. The Territorial administrative expenses were paid out of the 3-cent Territorial tax; in the counties the minimum county tax was levied and in all except one a surplus was reported. But the administration of the county school funds was complicated and unsatisfactory, because they were collected and expended by 187 local boards of trustees, 10 county treasurers, 10 county superintendents, and the Territorial superintendent, and all on different plans of accounting. The Territorial superintendent plaintively adds: “The result is inevitable. Confusion reigns, and tabulation of records at given dates as the law contemplates and requires is simply impossible.” He recommends, therefore, that a uniform system of record of school moneys be adopted and used and that the Territorial superintendent be required to visit each county at least once a year and audit the records of school moneys in each. He urged that the Territorial superintendent’s office be made elective and thought that while the schools had as much money as necessary, the school attendance, being 36.5 per cent only, was less than it should be. He intimates that a stronger compulsory law might be necessary, but points out that many children were so located that attendance was impossible; that in the towns private and parochial schools drew off a number of pupils, and that the summer heat, early and intense, was one of the main causes of the comparatively short term—about six and one-half months. The salary paid teachers, while falling slightly from year to year, was “equal to if not larger” than that paid elsewhere, while positions in the Territorial schools were “so eagerly sought as to render possible the selection of teachers of the highest grade.” The teachers’ institute, however—

seems to work rather a hardship than a benefit, and is frequently ignored. * * * The conditions in this Territory of distance and inaccessibility are such as to render it well nigh impossible for any excepting those at the county seat to attend. For the same reason it is impossible, with the funds he is permitted to use, for the county superintendent to provide the lecturers whose instruction forms the chief value of an institute. It is a question whether under the circumstances the improvement of the teacher is sufficient to compensate the school for the annual loss of a week’s services, and I recommend that the law be modified in so much as the annual institute is made obligatory.

The superintendent points out that, while the new normal school was intended primarily to provide teachers for the Territorial schools, it was hardly less useful in furnishing “an opportunity for an education at home beyond that possible in the grammar school, and the course of study has been so arranged that the pupil upon completing the grammar school course shall be fitted for entrance to the normal school.” Indeed, this was the first service to which the new institution was put. Before taking prospective teachers into the deeps of professional subjects, it was necessary to give them instruction in secondary subjects.

In his message to the assembly in 1891 Gov. Murphy has much to say on educational matters. He discussed the university, the normal school, and the school laws. He urged that the Territorial superintendent should be again required to visit the counties “and ascertain the true conditions of the schools therein” and urged that the law which prohibited teachers from serving on the county board of examiners was “an absurdity which should be corrected. It is in keeping with a provision that requires doctors to be examined by farmers or lawyers by merchants.” He made an argument against the special privileges given to towns in the matter of textbooks and urged that the rate of taxation be fixed at 30 to 60 cents instead of 60 to 80, as was then the law. He urged also that the Territorial superintendency should be maintained and its duties extended; that the services of the superintendent be made more effective; and that the superintendent “should be a capable and experienced educator.” Bills were introduced to carry the terms of these recommendations into effect, but along with them was another to reduce the salary of the superintendent of public instruction and to attach his office to the office of county school superintendent of the county wherein the capital of the Territory was situated[8] and another to abolish the Territorial board of examiners.[9] Fortunately these proposals did not become law.

The actual educational legislation of 1891 may be summarized as follows:

In matters of legislation the assembly was more active than in 1889. Besides a general law authorizing school districts under fixed conditions to issue bonds for building and to liquidate outstanding indebtedness, the law on textbooks was made more rigid and county examiners were forbidden under penalty to give special preparation to any candidates for teachers’ examination; a law to establish kindergartens was framed, and also an act to promote the education of the deaf, dumb, and blind, which was to be made a part of the university.

Things must have been making satisfactory progress, for in 1893 Gov. Murphy addressed the assembly in the following high-sounding, if not boastful, language:

The University of Arizona compares favorably with other institutions similar in character throughout the States of the Union. It is thoroughly equipped and is conducted by learned and experienced educators. * * * The normal school of the Territory at Tempe is a highly creditable and deserving educational institution and is popular with the people. * * * Our common school system needs no laudation; its thorough excellence is a reason for pride and congratulation and has great effects in commending the Territory to the approving attention of the older communities of the country.

He again recommends that the duties of the Territorial superintendent be “specifically defined” and that his compensation be made such as would enable him to “give exclusive attention to educational matters; otherwise it would be better to abolish the office.”

The legislature at the session of 1893 seemed to take the report of the governor as sufficient and practically let the schools alone. Supplementary agencies created included a Territorial library, to be located in the capitol and governed by a board of curators, with the Territorial secretary as librarian. There was also passed a law looking to a reform school to be located in Coconino County (ch. 81). This law became later the basal act for the northern Territorial normal school at Flagstaff.

There was during the years of Netherton’s administration, 1892–93 and 1893–94, nothing unusual or extraordinary to report. There was a gradual extension of educational activity into the field of libraries, normal schools, and kindergartens. An unfavorable symptom was seen in the increase of school indebtedness, and there was complaint that the high schools, grammar, and primary school interests were not represented on the Territorial board of education. It was again urged that the powers of the Territorial superintendent be increased so that he might be able to exercise “a more direct supervision over every branch of the public school work.” It was recommended that he prepare and prescribe a uniform system of accounts of school moneys and enforce their use; that he visit each county and that his traveling expenses be paid. There was here an effort both to come back to an abandoned custom and at the same time to escape from survivals of the earlier age. Says the Territorial superintendent:

At present the probate judge of each county is ex officio county superintendent of schools. The office is emphatically a political one and is usually filled by men who, though able, honorable, and conscientious, have no special ability in the line of superintending educational affairs. * * * The qualifications for a candidate for the office of county superintendent should be clearly defined and include the clause that he or she must have taught in a public school in this Territory at least two years on a first-grade certificate, and must hold a first-grade certificate or its equivalent at the time of receiving the nomination.

The superintendent suggested also that the requirements proposed for teachers should apply to county examiners, into whose ranks teachers had been admitted by act of 1893. He acknowledged the need of a course of study, but none had been compiled. This was made still more essential by the adoption of a new series of textbooks in 1893. The sentiment for free textbooks was growing. The law relating to school libraries was not flexible enough, for while the authorities might devote 10 per cent of their school income to the library, this was not permitted if there were less than 100 pupils in the district. The districts in which this prohibition of the law applied was where the benefits of a public library were most needed. There were then only 2,891 volumes in school libraries in the Territory.

There was as yet no special law for the organization of high schools, and the superintendent points out that there was in general more or less opposition to their organization in new counties. The necessity for them, however, was becoming more keenly felt. In 1892–93 the number of high-school pupils reported was 188; in 1893–94 the number had increased to 258. The superintendent suggested that a law be passed meeting certain conditions. These conditions were substantially met in the law of 1895 (ch. 32). This law is considered in detail under the subject of high schools.

In 1892 the Arizona Teachers’ Association was organized (Dec. 23, 1892), and held its sessions, along with the teachers’ institute, at Phoenix. The first officers were Prof. E. L. Storment, Tempe, president; Prof. F. A. Gully, of the university, secretary; and Miss Mamie Garlic, Tempe, treasurer. The second session was held in Tucson. Its declared objects were improvement of the school system, professional fellowship, and protection. The interest manifested seemed to warrant recognition by the legislature and authorization to outline a course of reading.

The superintendent said that the compulsory law was a dead letter. This failure was apparently because its enforcement was devolved upon too many persons, and no compensation was provided therefor. It was pointed out also that “the formation of so many small school districts is expensive and detrimental in more ways than one.” The consolidation of small districts with a controlling board as the trustees were then chosen was recommended as an improvement. Consolidation promised to be less expensive, and it was thought better supervision would follow.

In his message to the assembly in 1895 Gov. Hughes adopted in the main the suggestions of the Territorial superintendent and recommended them in his message. These included the enlargement of the duties of the Territorial superintendent, requiring him to visit each county at least once a year and to audit the accounts of the county superintendent and county treasurer. The representation of all classes of school work on the Territorial board of education and the separation of the office of probate judge and county superintendent were urged.

The governor said further:

The superintendent should be a teacher of experience and hold a valid first-grade certificate, or its equivalent, at the time of his nomination for the office; no increase of salary would be necessary. A restrictive clause, limiting, the renewal of certificates would do much toward maintaining a high standard in the teaching force. The Arizona Teachers’ Association should be encouraged by legislative enactment. Salaries should be graded according to the experience or efficiency of teachers. * * * A saving of about 40 per cent of the cost of school books could be made by the enactment of a proper law providing for free textbooks. General dissatisfaction exists with the custom of “farming out” teachers’ positions. This evil should be prohibited by law.

It should be remarked that while there was discussion and demand that high educational qualifications should attach to the county superintendent, there was neither suggestion nor demand that there should be such for the Territorial superintendent. From the educational point of view any man was good enough. It was a political job, to be filled by the choice of the governor and without any required considerations for the good of the schools themselves. It would seem that it was sometimes the case that men were appointed with few qualifications, or with professions which could in no sense serve as a basis for educational supervision. When the student takes into consideration that the office of Territorial superintendent was always the football of politics and that appointments were made without reference to the welfare of schools; that the confirmation of individual appointees was rejected to gain political advantage; that the salary of others was cut until the place was no longer attractive; that the superintendents were constantly changing, some resigning, and some being turned out; it becomes a source of wonder that the schools could do as well as they did.

The legislation of 1895 in regard to education was not great in amount but was of some importance. One act was to encourage military instruction in the public schools (ch. 15), and a more important one was that to establish and maintain high schools in the Territory (ch. 32). Another act (ch. 53) provided that there should be levied for the next two years a special tax of two-fifths of a mill for a “normal-school fund.” A special tax for the benefit of the university was also levied (ch. 75).

The successor of Supt. Netherton was T. E. Dalton, who first came into office about May 15, 1896. He was formally nominated and confirmed March 2, 1897. He reports “steady progress along all lines of educational effort.” He summarizes the statistics for the years 1894–95 and 1895–96, and shows a gratifying increase. He emphasizes the need of a course of study, and points out that the Territorial board was required to—

prescribe and enforce a course of studies in the public schools. As to the advisability of uniform courses of study, there can be no doubt. Why each one of 47 different districts in Maricopa County should have a different course of study there can be no good reason assigned.

When we consider that there are 223 districts in the Territory, and each one pursuing a different course of study and exacting different requirements for the passing from one grade to the next higher, and this changed every time the district changes teachers, the reason becomes more apparent. There should be uniformity, so that if a child has completed the seventh year’s work in the country schools and desires to enter the eighth grade in a city school, he will have a standing which will entitle him to enter that grade.

In the matter of the examination of teachers, Supt. Dalton recommended that the county board of examiners be abolished; that the county superintendent examine all applicants and that the papers be forwarded to the Territorial superintendent, who should examine and issue certificates. This would make requirements more uniform and discourage the issuance of low-grade certificates, of which there should be three grades—first, second, and the lowest or third. The Territorial superintendent’s office, it was urged, should be strengthened, especially in the matter of supervision. The weakest points in the school system, as the superintendent then saw it, was the want of thoroughness, the overcrowded courses of study, and no definite plan of work. The office itself was handicapped for want of authority, lack of funds for traveling, and no proper power for the regulation and control of the keeping of school accounts. He urged that the superintendent, who was then appointed by the governor, be elected, and that his salary be increased (at this time it was only $1,200). He urged that the county superintendency be divided from the office of judge of probate.

The superintendent pointed out that in the anxiety to expend all the funds remaining in the treasury toward the end of the year the committee sometimes fell into extravagance, and this was particularly the case in the buying of charts and library books. The amount of money levied for school purposes was in general equal to the need, but now and then it was necessary to bring a writ against the board of county supervisors to force them to levy a school tax in accord with the report of the county school superintendent.

The tendency to create new school districts with not more than 10 pupils had produced various weak ones, which sometimes lapsed for lack of attendance.

There was little recommendation for distinctive legislation in this report.

Supt. Dalton was renominated for the new term beginning in March, 1897, and continued without opposition, but he seems to have served only about one year in all, when his work was taken over by A. P. Shewman, who published, on January 10, 1899, his report on the work of the superintendent’s office for the last two years.

In his message to the assembly in 1897 Gov. Franklin discussed the public schools, quoted extensively from the superintendent’s report, and pointed out that the annual cost per capita based on the number of children enrolled in 1895 was $17.58, and in 1896 it was $16.34. This was a little higher than Iowa ($15.58) and some less than New York ($18.97). When the cost per capita based on attendance was considered, the balance was against Arizona. In 1895 this was $29.94, and in 1896, $28.98, while in Iowa it was $24.50. It was becoming evident that the children of Arizona were not making the best use of their opportunities.

The governor pointed out again the advisability of separating the county superintendent’s office from that of probate judge, and now, after many efforts, the school authorities were to see this desire consummated in the larger counties. Chapter 60 of the acts of 1897 provided that in counties of the first class (Maricopa, Yavapai, and Pima) the county superintendent of schools should be a separate officer and should receive $1,000 a year. In the other counties the situation remained as it was. Special taxes to aid the university and the normal school were laid, and an act was passed (ch. 69), the first of its kind, for leasing school and university lands.

The reports of Territorial Supt. Shewman for the years 1897 and 1898 contain nothing of particular significance. It should be said, however, that the statistics now presented from year to year are in much better form than earlier ones and carry the clearest evidence that progress was being made along most lines, although this progress was not uniform nor always where most needed. Thus the superintendent says that the Territorial board of education “realized the importance of a uniform course of study” but had been “more or less hampered in its work in that direction because of a lack of funds to pay for printing and distribution.” He points out also that because of a lack of funds the school term was only six and one-half months, and recommends that the rate of taxation be raised so as to extend the term “to allow at least eight months’ school in each district,” but, instead, in 1899 the law was so amended (ch. 56) that for the purposes of fifth and sixth class counties the minimum limit of a five-months’ term was reduced to three months.[10] This term was to be uniform and “as far as practicable with equal rights and privilege.”

The high-school idea as embodied in the law of 1895 was not making progress. The superintendent discusses further the necessity of a compulsory attendance law. About 25 per cent of the children in the Territory were not even enrolled; of those enrolled the attendance, as the statistics given in the supplementary tables at the end will show, was low; and this failure was due, in the mind of the superintendent, to the lack of real compulsion.

When the period of 12 years from 1887 to 1899 is reviewed as a whole, it appears that there was growth, not with matured, well-directed, intelligent development, but the undirected growth that comes with increasing population and wealth, developing resources and ambition to provide the best possible opportunities for the incoming school population. In 1890 there were 55,734 white persons in the Territory; in 1900 this number had grown to 92,903, indicating an increase of nearly 70 per cent. A large proportion of these immigrants were from States where successful educational systems were already in operation, and they demanded similar privileges for their children in their new homes. They found a system in operation, but it was often the football of politics, often without expert direction, sometimes without direction at all. The schools existed because the children were there and money for schools was available. The system had been organized, and it now rumbled on without particular aid, but with some important developments and a more or less steady growth during the period. Thus in 1886–87 the school population was 10,303; in 1898–99 it was 19,823. The per cent of enrollment stood at 58.6 in 1888–89 and 80.2 in 1898–99: the average attendance based on school population for the same years was 34.1 and 47.4 per cent, respectively, and when based on enrollment, 58.9 and 59.1 per cent. When these statistics are studied for the whole period it will be seen that, while there were ups and downs in enrollment and attendance, the general progress was upward. In these matters the Territory during the period compares well with some of the States. The total receipts rose from $159,956 in 1885–86 to $295,884 in 1898–99; the total expenditures from $135,030 to $241,556 in the same years, and school property from $176,238 to $490,504. The schools had increased from 169 to 347; the teachers from 175 to 373. Salaries, however, had fallen from $81 to $67.77 per month, this being due in part at least to a general fall in prices; and the school term fell from 143 days to 127 days. Laws had been passed providing for the organization of school libraries and high schools, and some progress had been made on those lines, but in general the schools were going on in the same way in 1898–99 as they were in 1887–88. They needed systematic organization, correlation of parts, and authoritative supervision.

  1. Ex relatione Robert L. Long, ex-superintendent.
  2. Salary, 1887–1891, $2,000 per year; 1891–1893, $750 per year; 1893–1895, $1,200; 1895–1897, no record seen that any salary was provided; 1897–1899, $1,200; 1899, $1,200. In 1889 the $500 for printing was restored; it appeared again in 1891 and 1893, but not in 1895, 1897, or 1899.
  3. Jour. Legislative Assembly, 1887, pp. 240–242.
  4. Ibid., pp. 361, 375, 385.
  5. Ex relatione Robert L. Long, ex-superintendent.
  6. McCrea, in Long’s report, p. 139. This was written in 1902.
  7. McCrea, loc. cit., p. 138.
  8. See H. J., 1891, pp. 190, 436.
  9. Apparently this proposal was not formally introduced, but notice to that effect was given. See C. J., 1891, p. 109.
  10. This was intended to meet special conditions in Apache County, where the refusal of the Santa Fe Pacific Railroad Co. to pay its taxes for 1898 had brought on a crisis in school affairs. After the trouble was settled the repeal of the law was recommended.