Early Statehood Era

    Lower Shell Schoolhouse (1903), Big Horn Co
Lower Shell Schoolhouse (1903), Big Horn Co
Photo: State Historic Preservation Office
Photographer: Richard Collier, 2000
On November 5, 1889, voters of Wyoming Territory accepted a constitution devised by the state constitutional convention and on July 10, 1890, Wyoming was admitted to the Union. The state constitution and the first session of the state legislature adopted the basic structure and organization of the territorial education system with one significant change: the new state constitution stipulated that the office of state superintendent of public instruction be an elected position, along with four other elected state officials. The new constitution also established two funds, the Permanent Fund and the Common School Fund, to manage income from the state school lands (sections 16 and 36 of each township).


Hudson Elementary School (1914), Fremont Co.
Hudson Elementary School (1914), Fremont Co.
Photo:State Historic Preservation Office
Photographer: Richard Collier, 2001
As public education developed, the number of schoolhouses in the state was consistently lower than the number of schools being taught, indicating that schools were regularly housed in buildings other than schoolhouses. In 1890, only seventy per cent (198) of the state’s 282 schools were taught in schoolhouses. This percentage remained more or less constant until 1910. The number of schoolhouses doubled between 1905 and 1915, and by 1915, the percentage had increased to 95% (1,043 school buildings for 1,100 schools).

While rural schools were updating from log to frame, one-room schoolhouses, the schools in town were updating their frame schools to brick schools with raised basements. New high schools were also established in Lander in 1890 and Sheridan in 1893. By the turn of the century high schools had been established in every county. Examples of extant high schools from the early statehood period include the Evanston (2nd) High School (1914), now used as school district administration offices; Torrington School and Dormitory (1908), now vacant; Washington School in Laramie (1911), now apartments; and the Lusk High School (1910), now the Elks Lodge.

Torrington High School (1908), Goshen Co.
Torrington High School (1908), Goshen Co.
Photo: Supt. of Public Instruction Biennial Report,
1918
Wyoming was slow to embrace the concept of kindergartens. Wyoming’s first recorded kindergarten was established in Sundance in 1892. Occupying one room of a four-room schoolhouse, it apparently operated only a brief period. This was followed by the initiation of kindergarten classes within existing schoolhouses in Casper (1892) and Rawlins (1894). In 1895 the state legislature recognized the importance of kindergartens and empowered each school district's public trustees to establish free public kindergartens for children between the ages of four and six; but by 1916, there were only nine public kindergartens in the state, located in Carbon, Converse, Fremont, Goshen, Hot Springs, Lincoln and Sweetwater Counties.

Transportation presented a severe problem for Wyoming’s rural schools due to the extreme weather, the poor roads, and the long distances between families. In 1894, the Sheridan County school superintendent reported that the county had 32 schoolhouses spread out over 2,100 square miles, noting that, "Broncos are plentiful, and although saddles are sometimes lacking, the average Wyoming boy or girl will make a distance of four or five miles to a schoolhouse in less time than an Eastern child would traverse half a dozen blocks. Now and then you will see a cute little cart with two or three children within, headed for a distant school house."

Jelm-Frank Smith Ranch School (1900), Albany Co.
Jelm-Frank Smith Ranch School (1900), Albany Co.
Photo: State Historic Preservation Office
Photographer: Mark Junge, 1970s
The weather and remoteness of the school determined the length of its school year. Some of these schools were only able to operate in the summer months. In 1912, Carbon County operated summer schools in seven districts, with some of those beginning in spring and continuing until December. Carbon County also had a "traveling school,” moved from one ranch to another, with a session of three months at each ranch. All pupils boarded at the ranch where the school was being held, then moved with the school to the next ranch.

During this period, women teachers outnumbered their male counterparts by more than a 5:1 ratio. Rural school teachers might be products of their same schools, a “school marm” from the East, or a mother living on an isolated ranch. In addition to job opportunities, women often came west seeking religious or social freedom, seeking romance as engendered by popular fiction of the period, or seeking marriage, given the encouraging number of eligible bachelors out on the ranches or in towns. Teaching comprised one of the only respectable professions available to women in Wyoming. Schoolhouses usually numbered among the earliest buildings in the nascent towns, after the brief hell-on-wheels period passed, and the territory was desperate for teachers to occupy them. A public school represented culture in places that had little else, and, as symbols of learning and moral rectitude, teachers were usually counted among society’s upper strata

American Mine near Colorado-Wyoming Border
JAmerican Mine near Colorado-Wyoming Border:
Miss Martha Moore, Laramie teacher on horseback,
was teaching at Howell Ranch, 1903.

Photo: Wyoming State Archives, Department of State
Parks and Cultural Resources
Many women found frontier life too daunting and returned east. Those who stayed often discovered that the job entailed more than bookwork. Teachers boarded with local ranchers, lived in the backroom of the school, or lived in "teacherages," a small log cabin or frame building constructed beside the school. Teachers typically cleaned their schools, stoked the coal stoves, and tended to all kinds of emergencies since the children's homes were often several miles from school. Some teachers even had to haul water to the school.

Valley School (1915)
Valley School (1915)
Photo: State Historic Preservation
Office
Teacherage (1936)
Teacherage (1936)
Photo: State Historic Preservation
Office
Education in the early statehood period was distinguished by rapid growth, both physical and administrative, as the state developed from a scattering of frontier settlements to cities and towns connected by rail and stage lines to each other and the rest of the country. With this development came increasing expectations for the state’s children. Despite this growth, the state remained relatively unsophisticated in the quality of its education well into the 20th century. It would not be until the Progressive Era that Wyoming would begin to catch up with the rest of the country in terms of the content of its education and the quality of its school buildings.
Department of State Parks & Cultural Resources