As the LCL observes the 175th anniversary of the official founding of Linn County, we note that its schools were an integral part of our County’s social and political history from almost the very beginning.
Claude A. Phelps details that prior to 1820 when the Missouri Constitution was written and the territory was ratified into statehood, laws concerning education within the territory were both surprisingly progressive in some matters and completely devoid of foresight in others. While territorial law provided that St. Genevieve Academy, Missouri’s first school, was to teach both French and English, but no ‘theology,’ and that poor and native American students were to be educated free of charge, there was no mechanism of public education funding and, therefore, no coherent system of public education.
In terms of the intellectual development of Linn County’s populous, our predecessors traveled eons between 1820 when one of the first hunters to winter in the ‘Locust Creek Country’ did so in a hollow log, and 1839 when the first township was organized ‘for school purposes.’ John Holland, Linn County’s founder, was also its original School Commissioner; he established the first county school fund ($1,054), which was generated in 1841 through the local sale of township plots. It would be 1847 before any education funding was provided by the State, and the amount first allocated that year was $51.43. In 1854, The 1854 Linn County School Fund contained $249.25 to be distributed among 16 one-room schoolhouses scattered across the county. Those one-room schoolhouses were log structures assembled by, and at the expense of, their patrons. In 1858, for the first time, a schoolhouse was built at least partially through the use of $106.59 from the county school fund.
The dark age of public education in Linn County came in 1861 with the outbreak of hostilities between the states and resulting Civil War. With the ‘flower’ of Linn County called away to participate in the bloodiest conflagration in this country’s history, little attention was devoted to maintaining the 16 one-room schoolhouses in Linn County between 1861 and 1865. The close of the Civil War was attended by the recognition that Missouri no longer had a system of public education. Looking back with the advantage of hindsight, the authors of the first volume documenting Linn County’s educational progress up to 1882 observed, “Society was turned asunder, and amid the general convulsion the education of the youth was almost entirely neglected. The children were growing up illiterate, unless something could be done...a cloud of ignorance would soon overshadow the whole state.” There was a reorganization of Linn County’s 16 existing school districts in 1866, accompanied by new state laws that functioned to dictate how those schools were to be funded. By 1871, the number of one-room schoolhouses providing elementary education in Linn County had grown to 103 for white students and five for children of color. With their number growing rapidly, these localized cottage industries of primary education were organized into five districts throughout Linn County: Linneus, St. Kate, Laclede, Bucklin, and Brookfield. They served a total of 4,717 white and 125 ‘colored’ students, who were presided over by 145 teachers.