Education System in Early Oklahoma

Education System in Early Oklahoma

The beginning of the education history of Oklahoma is found in the story of the missionaries and mission stations, which were established, mostly after the migration of the five civilized tribes. (Two mission stations, Union and Hopefield, were established by the United Missionary Society before the migration of the five civilized tribes began.) Five religious denominations were represented in the Indian Territory mission field, Baptist, Congregational, Methodist, Moravian and Presbyterian. The Congregational and Presbyterian missions were under the direction of a missionary society known as the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. this society operated more mission stations and mission schools than all of the others combined. Most of the mission schools were boarding schools and few of them carried their pupils further than the common school grades.

One of the principal missions of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions was the Park Hill Mission, which was located about five miles south of Tahlequah. An extensive printing and book binding establishment was operated in connection with the Park Hill Mission. Most of the books which were published for use in the mission schools among the Choctaws, Chickasaws, Creeks and Seminoles by the Presbyterian And Congregationist missionaries were printed on the mission press at Park Hill, as well as the books and tracts which were prepared for the Cherokees. the Baptist Cherokee Mission, which was located near the present town of Westville, in Adair County, also had a printing establishment, from which books and tracts were issued for all of the five civilized tribes.

Ten years after the migration of the main body of the Cherokee tribe, the Cherokee National Council authorized the erection of two large school buildings and the Cherokee Male Seminary. These two institutions were opened for students in 1851. They were only operated a few years, however, having to be closed on account of the lack of funds, before the outbreak of the Civil War. They were reopened in 1875 and were continuously operated until the beginning of the statehood period. They exercised a great influence upon the Cherokee people.

The Civil War put an end to most of the missionary enterprises in the Indian Territory. While missionary work was resumed after the end of the war, it was not on the same scale and the operations were on different plans. the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions retired from the field permanently. An educational department was organized by each of the five civilized tribes and these operated systems of common schools, which were supplemented by the various tribal academies, seminaries and boarding schools. These neighborhood schools were maintained until the tribal school systems were taken over by the Federal authorities, in 1899.

When the Indians of other tribes were settled in the Indian Territory, between 1867 and 1875, schools for their children were established for them by the Government, at the various tribal agencies and elsewhere. Most of these are still in operation.

Within a few years after the Civil War, white people began to settle in the reservations of the five civilized tribes, as tenants of the Indians. In some places these tenant farmers tried to maintain schools for their children by private tuition, subscription schools, as they were commonly called. Such schools were poor at best. Many neighborhoods had no schools at all, consequently some of the people grew up to manhood and womanhood without any education whatsoever.

When the Oklahoma country was opened to settlement, the organization of schools was one of the first matters to receive attention in every community. Subscription schools were maintained in practically all of the towns in the Oklahoma country during the first year. After the Organic Act was passed and put into effect, and immediately after the opening and the settlement of each new tract, or reservation, and the organization of the counties, school districts were organized. Many schoolhouses were built of logs, in the eastern counties. In the central and western part of te Territory, the walls of some of the first schoolhouses were of sod.

The story of the establishment and development of the state institutions of learning is virtually a part of the political history of the state. The First Territorial Legislative Assembly established three such institutions. Three more were established during the Territorial period. A dozen more were added by 1919.

Later the State Department of Education was formed, and is, today, in charge of supervising all phases of the public school education. It is under the direction of the State Board of Education, consisting of seven members. The State Superintendent of Public Instruction, who is elected to a four year term by the people, serves as a voting member and president of the Board. The remaining six members are appointed by the Governor, and confirmed by the Senate and serve staggered, overlapping six year terms.

Legislatures in the early years after statehood wrote general laws for public school education, but in 1949 the first comprehensive School Code was adopted. This Code was amended frequently during the ensuing years and it wasn't until 1971 that a New School Code was written.

The Department operates through numerous divisions such as Instruction, Finance and Federal Programs. Within the divisions are various sectional functions such as school lunch programs, teacher education and certification, curriculum, textbooks, communications, special education and Indian education.

The State Department of Education is located at:
Oliver Hodge Building
2500 N. Lincoln Blvd.
Oklahoma City, OK 73105

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Ann Maloney, Bartlesville, OK.
Copyright © 1998 Ann Maloney all rights reserved.