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Defeat and Trouble 1890 - 1900

The 1890’s weren’t “Gay 90’s” as far as School District 1 was concerned with the defeat of a bond issue for a new school building, another defeat of a special tax election to provide operating funds, trouble with the principals (or superintendents) and teachers and criticism from the Daily Citizen.

A number of “firsts” also appeared during this decade.

On August 7, 1891, the School Board, composed of Charles A. Shibell, Charles H. Strauss and Lon Holladay, resolved that “it is advisable to erect a school house- at the south end of this city and another at the north end, also to supply the school house on Military Plaza (Safford School) with a water works.” A bond election for $10,000 in 20-year, 6-per cent bonds was called for September 1. The voters turned it down.

It is possible the voters saw forthcoming events more clearly than did the Board members. On May 31, Charles H. Tully, the Superintendent, reported that attendance at the Main Street School in the Barrio Libre was but half of that in former years. The cause, he said, was the “moving of parents to other sections of the territory.”

The school, being taught by Lizzie Borton, was discontinued as a result of Tully’s report. Miss Borton was placed in the Safford School. The Congress Street School was continued in operation.

At this writing, there are three known living former students of the Congress Street School in this era. Mrs. Dave Bloom and Al Buehman, both of Tucson, attended the school. The third was Mrs. Charles F. Solomon, of San Gabriel, California.

Mrs. Bloom is the former Clara Ferrin who was a student at Congress Street in the late 1880’s and the early 1890’s. Mrs. Bloom later taught school in District 1 for 11 years. Mrs. Solomon is Mrs. Bloom’s sister, the former Hattie Ferrin. She was two years ahead of Clara in school. Mrs. Solomon later taught at the University of Arizona.

Buehman, son of photographer and early School Board member Henry Buehman, attended the school from 1890 to 1893. His mother, Mrs. Estelle Morehouse Buehman, taught a kindergarten during that period in the Congregational Church on the site of the old building in the present City Hall complex.

The east side of Tucson, across the present Southern Pacific tracks in the vicinity of Broadway, 10th, 9th, 8th and 7th streets was becoming more heavily populated in the 1890-1900 decade and parents became disgruntled at the distance their children had to walk to the schools either in Military Plaza or on East Congress Street. On July 17, 1896, a number of residents on the east side petitioned the Board to open the Old Adobe School in the vicinity. The petition was denied, all members voting in the negative, for the reason that available funds would not warrant the necessary repairs to the building and the additional teacher necessary.

The residents persisted in their efforts and finally on August 9, 1899, the Board ordered that the Old Adobe School be readied for classes in the fall. It was to have one teacher.

One other effort during the decade to obtain additional funds for the district was made. On February 4, 1898, the Board decided that it must close the schools unless more money was forthcoming. A “special tax election” for $4,000 was called for February 21 It was defeated by a vote of 163 to 123.

No report on the closing of the schools made but the Board minutes do not show teachers salaries as being paid in April or May of that year.

High school classes were discontinued during the decade. On September 24, 1896, Supt. P. McCrea told the Board that “there is no necessity for it (the high school). It is not attended. The teaching force is needed in the lower grades, some of which are already crowded.” The Board complied with his request and tried to deal with the overcrowded conditions by instructing the Board clerk “to request the School Boards of Ft. Lowell and Amphitheater districts to return the school desks loaned those districts in October, ’93.”

Responsible for the low enrollment in the high school classes was the opening of the University of Arizona at Tucson in 1891. The University established a “Preparatory Department” which taught high school classes to prepare future students for entry into the University.

McCrea began special classes in vocal music, freehand drawing and vertical penmanship. He built up the library by purchasing the International Education Series of more than forty volumes of standard works on teaching. He extended the course of study in the Tucson schools to eight years and said of the course:

“Pupils completing the course can enter the first year of the Normal School at Tempe without condition. They can enter the middle year of the Preparatory Course of the University and be allowed credit in English and Civil Government.”

Records on exact enrollments of the schools were incompletely kept during the decade. On opening day in September, 1890. a total of 365 students enrolled. Of these, 43 per cent were of Mexican parents, 19 per cent were of a Mexican and an Anglo parent and 38 per cent were Americans,” according to School Board Minutes.

A large number of eligible students were not attending school in the early 1890’s.

The 20th Territorial Legislature in 1899 acted a compulsory school attendance law which provided penalties against all parents or guardians who failed to send children between the ages of eight and fourteen to school. There were exceptions: Those children who were taught at home, when the child had already acquired a common school education, when the parents were unable to purchase suitable clothing, when the child was physically or mentally incompetent, and when the nearest school house was two and a half miles away from the child’s residence.

Following adjournment of the Legislature in 1899, a school canvass was made in Tucson District 1 with the discovery that 471 children between the ages of eight and fourteen were not attending school. The names of these children were sent to the sheriff, but results are not known positively. One result may have been the continuation of the operation of the Congress Street School, which the Board had considered selling, and the opening of the Old Adobe School, as noted above.

During the years 1890-1900, the School Board experienced a number of difficulties with superintendents and teachers, as well as parents, but probably no more than growing pains would normally merit. The Board seemed to have particular trouble with its superintendents.

The troubles of Superintendent W. W. Gillette were mentioned in the preceding chapter; he had sued the School Board for unpaid salary during July and August, 1889, and had been criticized by the Board for condoning severe punishment of pupils.

On March 18, 1890, the Board received the following letter from Gillette, still the superintendent:

“In order to do away with all annoyances in our school relations, I will sacrifice my chance for obtaining what I deem is my just due and authorize you to cancel the two orders given to me for my salary of July and August, 1889. I do this to maintain the interest and harmony which should exist in every public school.” The letter is cited as a prelude to a new policy of the Board which would follow.

After receiving the Gillette letter, the Board decided not to pay Gillette his salary for May and June, giving no reason, and Gillette’s resignation was read and accepted.

On July 10, 1890, the Board hired W. C. Bowman as the new superintendent with the same $125 per month salary. In doing so, the Board members were careful to point out to Bowman that he was hired for the school year, not the calendar year, as they wanted no repetition of a suit for salary in the summer months. (The superintendent and high school principals are at present hired on a 1 2-month basis. )

The Board also made Bowman sign a contract that gave the Board the right to “dispense with his services whenever the school funds of the district should be insufficient to pay said salary.” He was also to serve, month to month, at the option of the Board.

A total of 12 teachers were to be hired under the same rules. However, both Bowman and the prospective teachers protested the contract terms and on July 18, the condition that they were to be hired “by option of the Board,” was deleted. The Board also said they would not be paid for days on vacation, but the teachers won one point. The Board agreed that they could not be dismissed other than for “good and sufficient cause,” except “provided for want of funds to maintain said schools shall be deemed a good and sufficient cause.”

That fall, in 1890, three schools were in operation--Main Street School (Barrio Libre) with one teacher, Congress Street School with three teachers and Safford School with eight teachers. The teachers were paid $75 and $70 per month.

W. R. Holladay, on November 20, 1890, was again brought before the Board charged with excessive punishment, this time to Myra Drachman, sister of Mose Drachman who appeared against Holladay. The Board refused to sustain the charges.

The following year, the Board adopted further new policies regarding the dismissal of teachers. They could be dismissed if school funds were exhausted, if their method of teaching was found unsatisfactory and if they failed in the duties of teaching, including ‘exercise of diligence in the preservation of school building grounds, furniture, apparatus and other school property.”

Bowman’s contract was not renewed in 1891 and Charles H. Tully was made superintendent.

On March 8, 1894, the Board found itself facing an irate Mrs. Henry Buehman, who complained of no supervision on the playgrounds and that the female teachers were not allowed on the boys’ ground to administer discipline. The Board replied that there is “less viciousness and the standards of morality (are) higher at the present time than it has ever been in the history of the public schools.”

The School Board experienced criticism from the press in 1895 but dismissed the complaints summarily.

On March 15, 1895, the Daily Citizen editorialized that “under the present system, great wrongs have been perpetrated and the dear public have been made to foot the bill. Our authority for this is derived from a statement made by one member of the present Board of Trustees to the effect that the Tucson Public Schools were notoriously corrupt and that personal considerations rather than educational fitness for teaching were the only requisites that have been considered.”

The Board on May 22 resolved “that we each and severally, declare it to be absolutely false that such statement was made by any member of the present Board,” signed, R. W. Gray, chairman; C. F. Richardson, member and F. A. Odermatt, ember and clerk.

The criticism by the Daily Citizen may have been one of the “firsts” mentioned previously Accounts up to this time showed pride in the blossoming public schools.

What the “corruption” within the system was alleged to be is not known, but an examination of minutes in the period would not seem to indicate corruption, at least, in the case of purchases and expenses. Sample vouchers paid at the May 22, 1895 meeting at which the Board resolved as to the falseness of the editorial were as follows:

"David Kennedy salary for May $75
S. P. RR Co. water for June $15
David Kennedy extra labor,
manure, etc. $10
L. Zeckendorf Co. supplies $ 2.10
Joe Soldini dinner for
election board $ 2.50"
The dinner, incidentally, was for five persons. Kennedy was janitor at Safford School.

Winding up of complaints by parents against teachers for the decade occurred at a Board meeting held November 23, 1899. Miss Edith E. Stratton, a teacher, was said by a Mrs. Vail and a Mr. Carrillo to have lost control of her class and that “confusion and disorder” were the rule rather than the exception. It was said that 19 students had been removed from her class. One of Mrs. Vail’s chief complaints was that children were not permitted to recite. Miss Stratton was dismissed.

The need for new school buildings was repeatedly shown during the decade with numerous repair bills approved by the Board for the Congress Street School and Safford School. The dirt roof at the Congress Street School needed constant attention and the tower, or cupola, at the Safford School was found unsafe. It was finally removed due to a danger of its collapsing the roof.

As was mentioned, W. C. Bowman was the superintendent in 1890. In 1891, Charles H. Tully was made Superintendent and was retained in that position during 1892. It was a good financial year for Tully. In addition to his $125 per month salary, he was hired as school census taker for the year for $125 and was employed to dig some tree holes for the district. He was re-elected Superintendent for 1893 and 1894.

It was under Tully’s administration that the first class was graduated from the High School, held at Safford School.

Early in 1895, the County Treasurer informed the Board that the school fund had only enough money to pay Tully’s and the teachers’ salaries until April 12. He and the teachers huddled and volunteered to serve without pay until May 10, if funds did not appear to pay them.

In the spring of 1895, Lizzie Borton was elected the first woman superintendent of Tucson Public Schools, but a month after her appointment she informed the Board that she could not pursue the duties because of ill health. What happened between the Board and Supt. Tully is not known. The Board then promoted Mrs. J. F. Warren, a teacher, to the superintendency.

Board Member F. A. Odermatt objected strenuously to “the election of any lady to fill the responsible positions of principal of the schools of this district on the grounds that the duties and responsibilities of the position are too arduous to be properly fulfilled by a lady teacher and the schools will suffer.” Mrs. Warren had taught the seventh grade and Miss Borton was retained to fill that vacancy.

In the spring of 1896, Mrs. Warren was not rehired as superintendent. A. J. Mathews was hired in her place. Mathews, however, didn’t last long. A month later he asked to be released from his contract and Charles H. Tully was again made Superintendent. Member J. Knox Corbett objected and refused to sign Tully’s contract, but it was issued without his signature.

For some unexplained reason, Tully only lasted a month that fall and J. N. Pemberton was made the new superintendent. Board Member R. W. Gray protested the hiring on grounds Pemberton “being said to be suffering from tuberculosis of the lungs.” The problem was soon resolved when it was found that Pemberton could not obtain a teacher’s certificate because “of the absence of his diplomas.” S. P. McCrea was then appointed Superintendent.

McCrea again was appointed superintendent in the spring of 1897 for the 1897-98 school year.

McCrea kept up the Discipline Book. One interesting entry:

Dec. 15,1897&--Frank Seymour from Miss Cole’s room whipped for throwing lighted cigarette down the neck of Harold Steinfeld.

Steinfeld, born in Tucson June 1, 1888, is a well-regarded merchant in Tucson. It should be pointed out that corporal punishment in those days was contrary to a territorial law.

In the spring of 1898, F. A. Cooley, of Phoenix, was made Superintendent at a reduced salary of $100 per month. He was re-elected at the same salary for 1899.

Cooley made only four entries in the Discipline Book. He recorded whipping four students, one of whom had “told the teacher to close her face.” The Discipline Book closes in April,1899.

At the beginning of the decade, 1890-91, the School Board consisted of W. P. Haynes, J. S. Mansfeld and Lon Holladay.

Haynes resigned and Charles N. Strauss was appointed in his place by the County Superintendent. At the trustee election June 27, 1891, Charles A. Shibell received all votes cast, 291, and took Mansfeld’s seat. Holladay was elected chairman.

Strauss died March, 1892--school was closed for the day of his funeral--and James Finley was appointed in his place. At the Board election June 25, 1892, C. F. Richardson, the only candidate, took the place of Holladay. Richardson received 41 votes.

On June 24, 1893, F. A. Odermatt received 223 votes for Board member in the first-recorded contested election, against Holladay who received but 57. Finley, the appointed member, was the retiring member.

The 1894 school election was held June 30 with R. M. Gray elected uncontested. He was also elected chairman of the Board. Shibell was the outgoing member.

J. Knox Corbett was elected in 1895 replacing Richardson; in the spring of l896, V. W. Whitmore replaced Odermatt; in 1897, Richardson came back, taking Gray’s seat; in 1898, Thomas F. Wilson succeeded Corbett in a contested race against Corbett, 298 to 256; and in 1899, Samuel H. Drachman replaced Whitmore in an uncontested election. Drachman received 101 votes.

Among the “firsts” of the 1890-1900 decade already mentioned were the conditional contracts, setting out grounds for teachers’ dismissal.

Others included new vacations. In December, 1892, the normal one-week Christmas vacation was extended to two weeks to enable teachers to attend the “Teachers Institute” in Phoenix and this was continued for a number of years.

Not a “first,” nor an established vacation, was the closing of the schools from February 20 to February 27, 1893, to “fumigate against the disease known as diptheria.”

On October 3, 1863, President Lincoln had signed the first proclamation establishing Thanksgiving as the fourth Thursday in November. There is no record that the Territory of Arizona schools followed this holiday celebration by closing the schools until Tucson District 1 granted a two-day holiday Thursday and Friday, November 30 and December 1, in 1893. The year 1894 was the first year the schools closed for Washington’s Birthday--and a two day holiday was granted, Thursday and Friday, February 22 and 23.

A question as to the religious observance of Good Friday came up at the April 20 Board meeting in 1895. The Board decided not to grant time off from school for the Easter services.

Another educational advance was the drafting of a course of studies for all grades of the district. Until this time, some attempts had been made, but it was usually left up to the superintendent and the teachers to decide courses. On the drafting committee in 1890 were Superintendent W. C. Bowman, Miss Lizzie Borton and Mrs. J. F. Warren.

A new trend was brought about in 1893 when the School Board hired a woman janitor. She was Rosa Van Alstine, hired to clean the small Congress Street School at $20 per month. The practice of using a woman janitor at that school was continued until it closed.

Although a music teacher, as such, was not hired during the decade, musical scales were decreed to be painted on all classroom blackboards and $12 worth of music primers were ordered for the school year of 1894.

The principle of average daily attendance payments, based on the attendance of the preceding year, was established in 1895 by the Territorial Legislature. Based on anticipated income, the School Board decided it could operate the schools during the 1895-96 session for only seven months. In an attempt to reduce expenses, cuts were made in the salary of the superintendent and the teachers. The principle of average daily attendance payments from the state is still used in Arizona’s public school, although the payments are based on current attendance--not the actual attendance of the previous year.

On April 2, 1898, the Board resolved that teachers must present medical certificates stating they were free from tuberculosis or any infectious or contagious disease before they could teach. The policy is still in force.

The first school district budget--although a rudimentary one--was established on June 29, 1898. The Clerk of the School Board was instructed to notify the County School Superintendent that the estimated school district expenses for the 1898-99 school year would be $13,500. No evidence of a budget existed in the district before that time.

For the first time, in 1899, formal commencement exercises were held for the graduating classes. The Tucson Opera House was rented for the ceremony.

The first librarian, on a part-time basis, was hired by the district in 1890--at $5 per month.

In 1899, the Board instituted a rather strange practice. It ordered that the students shall not be required to take their school books home with them, “but shall be required to do their studying in school as much as possible.”

An interesting “first” occurred on September 26, 1898 when a fire was discovered in the Congress Street School. Damages to the school were in the amount of $255.13, paid by the Imperial Insurance Co.

Early School Boards, prior to the building of the Safford School in 1884, met at the Congress Street School. Minutes of those early Board meetings, prior to 1884, are not in existence and a fire was reported to have destroyed them. It is interesting to speculate that they may have been lost in the Congress Street School fire.

As the school year 1889-90 ended, the School Board was composed of Lon Holladay, J. S. Mansfeld and Henry Buehman.

On June 28, 1890, Willis P. Haynes was elected unopposed to succeed Buehman, who did not run in the election. Number of votes cast for Haynes is not recorded. Mansfeld was elected President of the Board and Holladay served as Clerk. Haynes resigned the position shortly after his election and Charles H. Strauss was appointed in his place.

On June 27, 1891, Charles A. Shibell was elected to the Board unopposed and received 29 votes. He succeeded Mansfeld, who did not seek re-election. Strauss died that year and James Finley was appointed to his position on the Board. Holladay was made President of the Board and Shibell was made Clerk.

On June 25, 1892, C. F. Richardson was elected to the Board with 41 votes. He succeeded Holladay, who did not seek re-election. Finley was elected President and Shibell was elected Clerk.

On June 24, 1893, F. A. Odermatt was elected to the Board over Holladay, who decided to try to regain his seat on the Board. The vote was 223 for Odermatt and 41 for Holladay. Odermatt was elected President and Shibell remained as Clerk.

R. W. Gray was elected to the Board on June 30, 1894, with the number of votes received not recorded. He succeeded Shibell who did not run for re-election. Gray was elected President and Odermatt was elected Clerk.

On April 20, 1895, J. Knox Corbett was elected, unopposed, to the Board. The number of votes cast is not recorded. He succeeded Richardson. Gray was re-elected President and Corbett was elected Clerk.

Dr. W. V. Whitmore was elected to the Board in March, 1896, (the Legislature repeatedly changed the month of the election in those days ). He succeeded Odermatt, who did not run. Corbett was elected President of the Board and Whitmore became Clerk.

On March 27, 1897, C. F. Richardson was again elected to the Board. No record of the votes cast in the unopposed race was kept. Richardson succeeded Gray. Corbett was elected President and Whitmore became Clerk.

Corbett was defeated for re-election on March 26, 1898 by Thomas F. Wilson, 298 votes to 256. Richardson became President and Whitmore remained as Clerk.

As the decade closed, Sam Drachman was elected to the Board, unopposed, on March 25, 1899. Whitmore did not run. Drachman received 101 votes. Wilson became President and Drachman was elected Clerk.

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