Romance of Omaha, Chapter IX
Opportunity for free education - which now is the common lot of every child in Omaha and the vast surrounding territory - was not afforded the children of frontier settlements.
For several years after Omaha was founded, free schooling was unknown.
It was a hard struggle to establish a school system in the early days of our city and the pioneers overcame many obstacles to lay the foundation for the present magnificent educational structure that is the pride of Omaha.
The first objective of the early settler in this part of the world, after they had made their homes, was the establishment of schools.
Hardly a year had elapsed from the time Omaha was founded until the boys and girls of that time were called to school.
First School 73 Years Ago
Seventy-three years ago last July 1, Miss Julia Goodwill, daughter of T.G. Goodwill, first treasurer of Douglas county, opened a one-room school in the old "state house" that stood on Ninth street, between Farnam and Douglas streets.
She had 40 pupils and kept the school going until forced to vacate the room in order that the territorial legislature might meet. For several months thereafter Omaha was without a school.
It is indeed a far cry from that little one-room school of the 50s to the great high schools, fine grade schools and colleges of the Omaha of today.
Almost 50,000 boys and girls attend the public and parochial high schools and elementary schools, while nearly 5,000 young men and women are to be found in the universities, private and business schools of the city.
No Better Schools Than Omaha's
No city of its size offers greater educational opportunity to the youth of the land than does Omaha. Two universities, two medical colleges, a girls' school, a theological seminary, a school of individual instruction, 62 public and 39 parochial and private schools make up the system.
A boy or girl may, without leaving Omaha, pass from the kindergarten through splendid elementary and high schools, universities and professional colleges. They will, in so doing, receive an education second to none.
This fine educational system has proven to be one of Omaha's greatest assets.
It has attracted hundreds of residents to the city, because of the advantages for their children. It has not, however, been developed without hard work and perseverance.
In the first few years of the life of the city there was no way of raising school funds by taxation. Pay schools were the rule.
First Public School in 1857
The first attempt to establish a public school system was in 1857, when John H. Kellom was made superintendent of schools. He had the title and little more. His first act was to announce that J.S. Burt would open a "select school." He did, but it soon closed.
In the fall of 1859 the public school system was established on a permanent basis with Howard Kennedy, a newcomer from New York, as superintendent at a salary of $1,000 a year. Mr. Kennedy had five assistants. Each teacher had between 60 and 90 pupils. Tuition was charged.
The rates were fixed at $3 every three months for instruction in languages and "belles lettres," and $2 every three months for the "common branches," which included algebra and physics.
Primary pupils paid $1 for each three-month term.
That school continued until lack of funds caused it to close.
Prof. Samuel D. Beals then opened a private school with some 300 pupils. He taught until 1867.
Catholic Parochial School Opens
Some time in the early 60s the first Catholic parochial school was opened by Miss Joanna O'Brien in a little frame building on what was then Eighth street.
Later on John Rush, an outstanding pioneer, taught school. He opened his school in 1866 and among his pupils were Frank and Harry Burkley.
From those humble beginnings the splendid Catholic school system of the present day has been developed. It now consists of five large high schools, three academies and 29 elementary schools. They are attended by approximately 8,000 pupils.
Brownell Hall, well-known school for girls, now located in Happy Hollow, was first opened in an addition to Omaha called Saratoga. It was soon moved to Sixteenth and Jones and later to Tenth and Worthington streets.
Omaha's first public school building was a small frame structure erected in Jefferson square.
School Replaces Old Capitol
During 1869 the legislature gave Omaha the old territorial capitol that stood on the present sit of Central high school.
The old building was declared too dangerous for use and the people voted $100,000 in bonds for a new school. It was Omaha's first, but by no means last, school bond issue.
This school, when finished, cost $272,000, and was the pride of the citizenry.
The next step onward was taken in 1891, when the people voted $385,000 in bonds for new schools. That action marked the real beginning of the present mighty public school plant.
One of the finest technical high schools in the country, erected at a cost of $3,500,000, and attended by more than 3,000 pupils yearly, four other fine high schools, one junior high school and 57 elementary school buildings now make up the great public school system of Omaha.
They have a total enrollment of more than 40,000 boys and girls. They represent an investment of almost $25,000,000.
Creighton university, the outstanding educational institution of Omaha, was founded in 1878.
Creighton University Founded
The generosity and public spirit of Edward Creighton, noted pioneer of the west, made the university possible. Later Count John A. Creighton gave liberally to the university.
Now Creighton has an enrollment of more than 3,000 students, with law, medical and dental colleges of high repute.
Duchesne college, for women, was recently consolidated with Creighton, giving women equal educational advantages with men.
The University of Omaha, founded in 1909, now has 1,000 students, and is growing fast.
The University of Nebraska medical college, located here, has nearly 350 students. The Presbyterian Theological seminary was opened in 1892.
$30,000,000 School Investment
All these institutions of learning represent a total investment of more than $30,000,000. Omaha spends $4,000,000 a year on the public school system alone. There are 1,300 public school teachers.
The people of the city have been ever generous with the public schools.
The cost of education is more than 50 per cent of the total cost of government, but it is recognized that this is necessary. Teachers are well paid and the schools, on the whole, are well equipped.
The school system of "Our Own Home Town" has kept well up with the growth of the city.
Omaha ranks high in educational standing and affords to the boy and girl an opportunity for culture and learning not surpassed anywhere in this great western country.
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