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The Congress Street School 1870 - 1890 - Part 1

There is no record of a public school, in the sense that it was supported by taxation and open to all students, in Tucson from the closing of the first school, taught by Brichta, until 1872.

The census of Tucson in 1870 showed a population of 3,224 with males exceeding females 1,920 to 1,304. Housing was tight with 907 dwellings in the town and 907 families residing in those dwellings. Of the 3,224 inhabitants, 385 were children between the ages of six and 16 who were receiving no education of a public-school nature.

Possibly dampening public education endeavors--remembering that the first public school in Tucson closed because of the lack of funds--was the fact that no Territorial Legislature sat between December 16, 1868, and January 11, 1871, with the result that no state aid to schools was provided.

Anson P. K. Safford was commissioned governor of the Territory of Arizona on April 7, 1869, by President Grant with the advice and consent of the U. S. Senate. Safford arrived in Tucson on July 20 of that year.

He called no Legislative session that fall, as had been an annual practice, probably because an Associate Federal Judge in Prescott had held that the preceding acts of the Legislature were all illegal and that no laws were in force. Safford drafted a bill to make the acts legal and took it to Washington where Congress promptly enacted it into law, making the Territorial acts legal. Congress then provided that Territorial Legislatures would meet in the future only in biennial sessions, so Safford’s first Legislative session could not be held until January, 1871.

Another factor in the lack of interest in education has been placed on Indian depredations. When the Legislature met, according to Safford, “I prepared a school bill and presented it to the members as soon as they assembled. Scarcely a member looked upon (the education question) with favor. They argued that the Apaches were overrunning the country; that through murder and robbery the people were in poverty and distress; that repeated attempts had been made to organize schools and that failure had always resulted.”

John Spring in Troublous Days in Arizona revealed more condemning evidence. On the killing of settlers by Indians, he stated, “My own data give the number of murdered men, women and children during the years 1869, 1870 and 1871 at 223.”

There were some attempts to educate some of the Tucson children in this period. Cosulich reports that “a group of Spanish mothers tried to get donations for a girls’ school; they were worried about their daughter’s association with American children who had ‘unaccountable bad manners.’ “

The Weekly Arizonian, on July 24, 1869, printed a story of a Mexican woman and her foster brother arriving from Sonora and that they “opened a school and have been doing well.” The foster brother that summer reached the age of 21 and married the Mexican woman --the results of this union, educationwise, not being reported. There appears to be no record on the length of the school’s existence.

With the arrival of the Sisters of St. Joseph in 1870, a school was opened on a limited basis, called “Sisters Convent and Academy for Females.” It was sponsored by San Augustin Church, then located on the west side of Church Street just north of its intersection with Camp Street (now Broadway). The school building was south of the church at the intersection.

Gov. Safford, in his address to the Legislature, praised the Sisters and their school. But this was not a free, public school.

Safford told the legislators that the “object most desirable to attain is the adoption of a school system which would provide free public schools, so that the poor and rich alike can share equal benefits.”

Safford asked Council (Senate) member Estevan Ochoa (given the Spanish spelling of “Esteban” in the 1870 federal census) to introduce the education bill. He felt that Ochoa, a respected Mexican and retail merchant in the Tucson community, would lend prestige to the measure and perhaps shame the Anglo members of the Legislature into voting for it.

But, Safford reported, the bill received only half-hearted support. Efforts were redoubled, Safford wrote, and “Finally on the last day of the session, they passed the bill after striking out nearly all the revenue which had been provided. The measure was the best that could be secured and had to be accepted as it was.”

Safford had also asked for a small appropriation for school books for free distribution--the first evidence of the present policy of free textbooks below the high school level. That appropriation was not granted, although Safford did possess a number of textbooks, donated by an Eastern publisher, and Safford distributed them for student use.

Cosulich reports that Samuel Hughes was also instrumental in obtaining passage of the school bill, probably as a self-appointed lobbyist. The federal census of 1870 lists two Samuel Hughes as residing in Tucson at the time. One, a store clerk, was from Maryland. The second Sam Hughes was from Pembrookshire, Wales, and was the lobbyist--one of the best-known men in Southern Arizona as a merchant, mining man, politician, school organizer and banker.

Not a scholar himself, a document in the handwriting of Sam Hughes exists at the Arizona Pioneers’ Historical Society, reporting on his early school activities: (It is quoted as written):

“the Sistr chool in the Seventyes I don a that I could thar book will show “now com the Pride of my Life the public chool What I did do was no more than my Duty to do with the help of A.P.K. Safford.”

The school law, passed the last day of the 1871 Legislative session, was described by Samuel Pressly McCrea in The Establishment of the Arizona School System, a thesis written in 1902, as a “simple but effective” one.

The governor was made the ex-officio Superintendent of Public Instruction with $500 per year maximum travel expenses to tour the state and urge that school districts be established. He was to receive no salary for this job.

For school financing, the bill set a 10-cent per $100 property ad valorem tax, to be collected by the County Boards of Supervisors for a Territorial School Fund.

It also permitted a 50-cent per $100 property ad valorem tax to be set by the Boards of Supervisors in school districts.

A Territorial Board of Education was established to manage the school fund, to supervise the distribution of the Territorial school tax to the counties and to select a uniform series of textbooks.

The act provided for a County School Superintendent who was to apportion the district tax income among the districts, visit schools, examine teachers and keep records. The County Probate Judge was to be the ex-officio County Superintendent and was to receive $100 a year in expenses with no salary.

Under the act, each district was to elect three School Trustees, or three members of a School Board. The Board was to provide for the establishment of schools, employ teachers and could levy and collect an additional school district tax--above the 50-cents per $100 ad valorem tax--if taxpayers of the district voted for the increase.

Following adjournment of the Legislature, Safford entered into an “educational crusade” and visited every part of the state--in the five existing counties of Pima, Yuma, Mohave, Yavapai and Maricopa--to encourage Boards of Supervisors to establish schools.

On November 15, 1871, Pima County Board of Supervisors Chairman L. M. Jacobs and members P. R. Tully and J. W. Sweeny met, with O. Buckalew, clerk of the Board, and J. E. McCaffry, District Attorney, also present.

According to the Board minutes, the following business was transacted:

“Communication was received from F. H. Goodwin, secretary of the Board of School Trustees of Tucson School District, informing the Board of Supervisors that the Board of School Trustees of Tucson School District propose to rent a Building on the corner of Meyer and McCormick streets (on the northwest corner) at a monthly rental of $16.00 per month and to furnish the same with seats, desks, blackboards etc. at a cost not exceeding $300 and asking the approval thereof of the Board of Supervisors. Also asking the Board to district the County into school districts, and recommending that School District 1 embrace Tucson Laguna and San Xavier.”

This is the first record of the beginning of the enlargement of Tucson School District 1 into its present size--nearly 228 square miles.

The Board minutes continued:

“Ordered by the Board that all that portion of Pima County embracing the settlements at the ‘Laguna’ north of Tucson to and embracing the settlements at ‘Punta del Agua’ south of Tucson and all intermediate settlements be established and known as School District No. 1.”

The Board also authorized the renting of the building at the northwest corner of Meyer and McCormick streets and the purchase of the $300 in equipment.

The school trustees, who had requested the Board of Supervisors actions, were W. F. Scott, Sam Hughes and W. C. Davis, according to John Spring.

According to Cosulich, the Board members were William F. Scott, James E. Baker and Francis H. Goodwin. Minutes of the Board of Supervisors, dated November 15, 1871, however, refer to Goodwin as “secretary of the Board of School Trustees,” without referring to the members of the Board by name.

Apparently it required the time from November 15, 1871, Board of Supervisors meeting until the middle of the following March for the school to be activated. John Spring, Tucson’s second public school teacher, in March, 1872, was operating a brewery in Florence, Arizona Territory, and wrote in Troublous Days in Arizona:

“ .... towards the middle of March, a communication of the recently established School Board of Tucson reached me containing the inquiry if I were willing and ready to become the teacher of the first public school in that town, which now had become an incorporated city. I answered in the affirmative. My new duties were to begin on April 1.”

Spring later uses the date as 1871, but this is an error. The year had to be 1872. Authorization of renting a building was given by the Board of Supervisors in November, 1871, and Spring himself, acknowledges later in his writings that he was hired in March of 1872.

Spring was an outstanding pioneer figure. He was born Johann Arnold Spring on May 8, 1845, at Thun, Switzerland, third of a family of four boys.

He came from an educated family of merchants, lawyers, judges, goldsmiths, legislative councilmen and farmers.

He attended college and in June, 1864, a month after his l9th birthday, he sailed with other Swiss young men to join the Union cause in the Civil War. He was wounded by a rifle ball in the shoulder in an assault on the “Southside Railroad” April 2, 1865, and was mustered out of the service July 3 of that year. After a few odd jobs he re-enlisted in the regular army and served three years at military posts in Southern Arizona.

He left the service September 16, 1868, and worked at a number of jobs in the Tucson area, farming and running a general store in Tubac and becoming a bartender, clerk, quartermaster clerk, in various positions including work as a clerk, bookkeeper and salesman for A. Levin and Co., operators of the Pioneer Brewing Co.

The Weekly Arizonian of January 29, 1870, recorded Spring’s achieving citizenship, stating:

“Jno. Spring, Joseph Goldtree and Sam’l Drachman renounced their allegiance to the Faderland and are now running loose as naturalized children of Uncle Sam.”

Spring married Miss Manuela Molina on June 22, 1870. She was born in Sonora, Mexico, of a prominent family. He then entered the brewery business in Florence and was a financial failure.

Upon receiving the letter inviting him to become Tucson’s second school teacher, Spring reports:

“I arrived in Tucson March 27, 1871. After passing an examination as to my qualifications before Mr. Sidney R. DeLong, I was duly appointed teacher of the public school of that ‘ancient and honorable pueblo.’ “

Spring wrote that Scott conducted him to an oblong adobe building situated on the northwest corner of Meyer and McCormick streets, then the property of one Mariano Molina.

Ygnacio Bonillas, for whom an elementary school in District 1 is named (using the spelling “Ignacio”) was one of Spring’s first students. The Bonillas file at the Arizona Pioneers Historical Society has a report by Bonillas that the school was located in the “old Steinfeld house at the northwest corner of Meyer and McCormick Streets.”

(There is some discrepancy in the above paragraph. While Bonillas reports the school was located in the old Steinfeld home at the northwest corner of Meyer and McCormick Streets, Harold Steinfeld reports that to his knowledge the old home was not used as a school and that Steinfeld home was located on the southeast corner of Main and McCormick. Meyer is a block east of Main.)

First Hundred Years, By James F. Cooper, Edited by John H. Fahr, Tucson, Arizona, 1967