-by Gladks (Franklin) Martin
First County School Superintendent
Harvey Shelton, wife Mae (Duncan)
and their son Harvey, Jr.
Today’s modern educational systems
are a far cry from those first public schools that came into existence
in Craig County with statehood in 1907-a date when the county’s first school
superintendent began his difficult duties in the new state.
County superintendents were selected
and Craig County chose a 43-year old Democrat and part-Cherokee experienced
educator. His name was Harvey Wirt Courtland SHELTON, son of a Texas
Confederate brigadier general of the Civil War. Hundreds of rural
and small-town public schools came after statehood, replacing the many
Indian schools and neighborhood subscription schools. Some of the
larger towns and cities had public schools, established after passage of
the Curtis Bill in 1898, which provided for collecting taxes to support
Smaller towns and settlements
were, for the most part, forgotten areas. White children could attend
Indian schools by payment of tuition. Craig County was typical of
the counties in Indian Territory. In one month after statehood, approval
had been given for the establishment of 60 schools in Craig County, and
by 1910 there were 62 regular schools and nine separate schools in the
Shelton served through two terms
as county Superintendent-the turbulent period of organizing and instructing
school boards in their duties, advising in the location of schools, helping
in the employment of teachers and giving examinations, looking after summer
normal work and carrying out the multitude of duties assigned to his office.
He was to receive from $3 per
day to $1,000 per annum. He and other first county superintendents
earned every cent of their warrants. Problems were many and varied.
Most of the school district board members were interested in promoting
education but many were uneducated themselves.
Teachers were paid from $35 to
$60 a month, and a job was easier to obtain by those who attended the summer
normal or institute held in the area.
Teachers were frequent targets
of complaints by patrons and school board members alike. One teacher
denied the charge that he had hugged one of the girls or used profane language
as claimed by a Maybelle district patron, and counter-charged that the
party was “trying to break up the school.”
From a West Cabin School district
patron came a letter wanting to know “if our teacher has the right to have
debating and literary societies and such like during school hours.” The
writer added that outsiders were attending the events-young men and ladies-“more
for courtship than anything else.”
A Welch district school board
member wrote complaining about the “lack of mature judgment of our 17-year
old teacher” and asking for another one a-bit older.
A Centralia teacher confessed
to the charge that he had given an unruly boy six licks with a piece of
an old buggy whip. “There are no switches here,” he added, and also
reported he was resigning because pupils were staying out of school, apparently
A Bluejacket school report told
of the employment of a janitor at their school for 10 cents per school
day. One board member wanted to know if the teacher could compel
children to sweep the schoolhouse after school. The official felt
it was the job of the teacher to sweep out.
There were fights over location
of the school that often became bitter just as there were disagreements
over the hiring of the teacher, the election of board members, the naming
of the school and the length of the school term.
Although the law required children
from 6 to 16 to attend at least three months of school a year, difficulties
were common in enforcing the compulsory attendance law. Lawsuits
were frequent in solving this problem as well as other school matters.
Epidemics of disease struck at intervals forcing the schools to close as
outbreaks were not uncommon. A letter from A.W.
HERRON, M.D., Craig County Superintendent
of Health, warned teachers and officers in 1909 to disinfect school rooms
regularly at least once a week, and in times of epidemic, more often.
A county superintendent was forced
to “wear many hats” and at times he was the judge and jury; at others mediator,
counselor, referee, accountant and advisor. School building and operation
were new to most people so they looked to him for guidance.
It was this type of dedication
on the part of the early county school superintendent and district school
boards, unfamiliar as these directors were with their duties, that helped
launch Oklahoma’s school system on its way upward.
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