History of Public School Education in Arizona/Chapter 2

History of Public School Education in Arizona  (1918)  by Stephen Beauregard Weeks
Chapter 2. The beginnings of public-school legislation, 1864–1869.

Chapter II.


For the purposes of this study the question of education prior to the time of the organization of Arizona into a separate Territory need not be further considered. This organization was effected under an act passed February 24, 1863, “to provide a temporary government for the Territory of Arizona, and for other purposes.” But that was a time of Civil War in the East and of Indian war in the West; and it was not till December 27, 1863, that John N. Goodwin, of Maine, who had been appointed governor, together with the other appointive officers, entered the Territory and formally inaugurated the government at Navajo Springs, 40 miles west of Zuñi, on December 29, 1863.[1] The capital was fixed temporarily at Prescott, and the first session of the Territorial legislature met on September 26, 1964.

The new government was not long in proclaiming its adhesion to the great American ideal. Gov. Goodwin uttered the first formal official expression on the subject of public education in his first message to the first session of the first legislature of the Territory when he said:

One of the most interesting and important subjects that will engage your attention is the establishment of a system of common schools.

Self-government and universal education are inseparable. The one can be exercised only as the other is enjoyed. The common school, the high school, and the university should all be established and are worthy of your fostering care. The first duty of the legislators of a free State is to make, as far as lies in their power, education as free to all its citizens as the air they breathe. A system of common schools is the grand foundation upon which the whole superstructure should rest. If that be broad and firm, a symmetrical and elegant temple of learning will be erected. I earnestly recommend that a portion of the funds raised by taxation be appropriated for these purposes and that a beginning, though small, be made.

The act organizing the Territory of New Mexico provides that, when the lands in this Territory shall be surveyed, * * * sections numbered 16 and 36 in each township are reserved for the purpose of being applied to schools. * * * It does not seem to me that any portion of this donation can be made immediately available.

To these words, which look to the future, were added others which looked to the past, for the final act which divided church and state was yet to be fought out in Arizona, and the public-school system did not enter on the inheritance of the church in that Territory without a struggle.

Gov. Goodwin continued:

The only school which I have visited in the Territory, though doubtless there are others, is one at the old Mission Church of San Xavier. If any such institution be recognized by an endowment, I suggest that some aid be given to this school. A small donation at this time would materially assist an ancient and most laudable charity of the church to which a large proportion of our people belong, and would encourage it in preserving one of the most beautiful remnants of art on the continent.[2]

The first official action of the legislature of the Territory at this session was to authorize the governor to appoint a commissioner to prepare and report on a code of laws as a basis of Territorial government. The bill for this purpose was introduced, considered, and passed by both houses in a single day, and on the same day, October 1, 1864, was signed by Gov. Goodwin, who immediately appointed Hon. William F. Howell, then an associate justice of the supreme court of the Territory, to prepare and report the proposed code. Judge Howell had come into the Territory with the government and had found—

that the laws under which we were required to act were so ill-adapted to our condition that a complete organization of the Territorial government could not be had until a code of laws was substituted for those now in force.

He thereupon undertook in advance the preparation of such a code, and his completed work was presented for the consideration of the legislature on October 3. The proposed code, based on the codes of California and New York, was then considered and discussed by the legislature; it was finally adopted as a whole as proposed by Judge Howell, went into effect at once, and became the basis for the legislative work of Arizona.

As adopted by the legislature of 1864, chapter 23 of the Howell code treats “Of Education.” It was divided into four parts and provided for (1) a Territorial university; (2) a common-school system; (3) a Territorial library; and (4) an historical department.

The Howell code may be regarded as a sort of constitutional outline under and in accord with which future legislation was to be developed. It was not in itself a school code, but it outlined the direction such a code when enacted should take. It proposed, first of all, a higher institution “for the purpose of educating youth in the various branches of literature, science, and arts” to be known as the University of Arizona. The university was to be under a board of seven regents made up of the governor, the judges of the supreme court, and three other members chosen by the legislature. The main support of the institution was to be derived from the lands granted to the territory for that purpose. The university, when organized, was to consist of (1) a department of literature, science, and the arts; (2) a department of natural history, including a history of the Territory; and (3) such other departments to be added as the regents should deem necessary and the university funds allow. The regents were directed to select a site for the university before January 1, 1866. In the meantime, university moneys accruing were to be kept in the hands of the State treasurer.

Under this law nothing was accomplished toward the organization of the proposed university. As McCrea has pertinently said, for the next 10 years the best energies of the people were to be devoted to a desolating Indian war; and the University of Arizona, the dream of this Michigan jurist and of his friend, the governor, was forgotten for a generation in the fierce struggle to hold the land for civilization.[3]

In the matter of common schools it was provided that—

as soon as there shall have accumulated sufficient funds and a necessity therefor exists the legislature shall provide for a system of common-school education at the public expense and may at any time authorize a tax to be levied by school districts for the support of schools until such system of common-school education shall be established.

The proceeds of lands granted by Congress for this purpose, appropriations made by the Territory, and the proceeds of gifts, grants, and donations “shall be and remain a perpetual fund, the interest, rents, and proceeds thereof to be inviolably applied to the object of the original grant or gift, and to no other use or purpose whatsoever”; and until such system was established by law all moneys were to accumulate and remain in the Territorial treasury as a distinct fund, to be known as the common-school fund.[4]

The remaining phases of the Howell code were supplementary to the above. They provided for the establishment of a Territorial library supported by moneys out of the Territorial treasury and in charge of a Territorial librarian. And in addition to the above it was provided that—

there shall be established and connected with the Territorial library an historical department, the object of which shall be to collect, preserve, and publish the natural and political history of the Territory. For this purpose the librarian shall procure, as far as possible, all writings, histories, letters, lectures, essays, maps, charts, and books relating to said Territory and its history, and carefully preserve the same. In like manner he shall procure specimens of geology, mineralogy, and botany found or produced within the Territory.

The librarian was to collect also all newspapers, pamphlets, books, and magazines published in the Territory and to print from time to time selections from his manuscript papers. An assistant librarian might be appointed to superintend this division, but after the university was established it was to be transferred to the historical department of the university.

After passing the Howell code the legislature turned its attention to the consideration of the question of the establishment of a public educational system. This was decided against:[5]

The joint committee on education report that after a mature consideration they have decided that it would be premature to establish or to attempt any regular system of common or district schools. At present the Territory is too sparsely settled, and the necessary officers for such an establishment would be more costly than the education of the children would warrant.

The committee did provide, however, that a gift of $250 be paid to the person “in pastoral charge” of the mission school at San Xavier del Bac, “for purchase of books of instruction, stationery, and furniture.” The pupils in this school were Mexicans and Papago Indians; it was characterized as the first school opened in American Arizona, and the grant was without limitations, but grants of similar amounts to Prescott, LaPaz, and Mohave were declared to be “for benefit of a public school”; and it was further provided that “said appropriations shall be void and of no effect unless said towns by taxation, appropriation, or individual enterprise, furnish an equal sum for the aid of such school.”

It was reported that there had been three primary schools in Tucson “during part of last year,” and to this town was given $500 with the general requirement that the town raise a similar amount and an additional proviso that “the English language forms a part of the instruction of such school.”

The public moneys appropriated were to be placed in the hands of the board of county commissioners, to be paid over by them when the schools had complied with the terms of the act. County and judicial district treasurers were also required to pay over to the county commissioners for the benefit of the public schools “all moneys in their hands that may have accrued from town licenses, and not otherwise appropriated.”

It was further ordered that the county commissioners “shall be trustees of public schools and may appoint a suitable person to examine the course of instruction, discipline, and attendance of said schools, and the qualifications of the teachers, and report the same to them at their stated general meeting”; neither commissioners nor inspectors were to receive any pay for their work.[6]

From these statements it will be noted that the church school was devoted to the instruction of Mexican and Indian children, and that some of such private schools as existed were not taught in English.

To meet the requirements of these appropriations the sum of $1,500 was voted,[7] but it does not appear that the conditions of the grants were complied with by the towns or that the money made available was used, for in his message to the legislature of 1867 Gov. R. C. McCormick says:

If I am correctly informed, none of the towns have complied with this requirement, and the funds of the Territory have not been used. The sums, however, are insufficient to be of more than a temporary benefit, and sufficient funds have not yet accumulated.[8]

By 1865 interest in the schools had begun to wane. Although practically nothing had been done, Gov. McCormick then thought that “the existing provisions for schools” in the various parts of the Territory were sufficient;[9] and, as usual, like governor, like legislature, no bill looking to the advancement of education was passed or even considered. Nor was anything done educationally in 1866. In 1867 Gov. McCormick had concluded that “in the opinion of many of the people the time has come for some definite and liberal provision for the establishment and maintenance of public schools in the Territory,” and an act on schools was passed in October, 1867.[10]

The law of 1867 provided that the county board of supervisors[11] should have power to establish school districts. Any settlement with a resident population of 100 persons might be set apart as a school district, and any number of legal voters might make application for a school in such district. The board of supervisors were then to levy a tax of not more than 5 mills on the assessed value of all taxable property within the limits of the district “as shown by the last assessment roll of the county assessor.” This tax was to be collected by the county tax collector and paid into the county treasury. The supervisors were to determine the site of the schools, purchase, build, or hire rooms suitable for school purposes, “furnish the same with proper desks, tables, books, and seats, and shall, from time to time, hire competent teachers for such schools, for such periods as the funds on hand may allow.”

It does not appear that much was accomplished under this law, for then, as later, many communities in Arizona could not qualify in population requirements. It is probable, however, that the framers of the act of 1867 had in mind the organization of schools in the towns and cities, and if the law had been faithfully carried out public schools might have been organized in the four county seats and in one or two of the larger mining camps.[12] Nothing seems to have been done, for the United States Bureau of Education said in its report for 1870 that it was unable to ascertain “whether any schools have gone into operation under this law.”[13]

Gov. McCormick had nothing to say on the subject in his message to the fifth assembly (1868), but nevertheless on the 16th of December, 1868, the legislature tried its hand on a more detailed school law than had been hitherto attempted.[14]

This law had in view an elaboration of the act of 1867. It provided that the county board of supervisors should be constituted a county board of education and have under its authority all matters pertaining to education. The board was to recommend legislation, alterations, and amendments and make annual reports. They were to select and adopt the textbooks to be used and divide counties into school districts of not less than 20 children.

The counties were to choose at their annual election a county superintendent of public schools, who was to make an annual report and have charge of the public-school interests of the county. He was to apportion the school fund in proportion to the number of school children living in each district between 4 and 21 years of age, visit the schools, examine into their progress, and advise with the teachers. He was to hold at stated times public examinations for all persons offering as teachers and grant certificates for not more than one year to such as were qualified to teach orthography, reading, writing, arithmetic, geography, and English grammar.

The voters in a school district meeting had authority to vote such tax as necessary to furnish the schoolhouse with blackboards, outline maps, and apparatus, provided this tax did not exceed one-fourth of 1 per cent per annum. A district school board consisting of a director, clerk, and treasurer was to be elected, and the school district when thus organized was given corporate powers. The voters were to decide also how long the schools should be kept open and whether they should be taught by a man or woman or by both, and whether the school money should be applied to the summer or winter term. The district board had general charge of the schools, and its clerk was to make an annual report.

It was provided that the district tax should not exceed 1½ per cent per annum, but the county board might levy an additional one-fifth of 1 per cent on all the taxable property in each county for the support of public schools in the county. The funds raised in the county by taxation or coming from the legislature or other sources were to be known as the common school fund, and were to be used for no other purpose; taxes for schools were to be “assessed on the same kind of property as taxes for county purposes are assessed.” They were also collected by the same officers and in the same way as other county taxes.

In neither of these acts was there any provision for Territorial oversight. There was, however, something of a county organization, with a county superintendent; a county tax; a district organization with required and special taxes. A part of the machinery for schools was being evolved, but the acts of 1867 and 1868 provided for local taxes only for schools, and this phase of taxation has not even yet attained full success within the State; further, the school officers—most of them ex officios—were to receive nothing for the performance of these new duties, and there was always the unsolved problem of distances. It is to be presumed that school organization would begin with the towns, and although Gov. McCormick complimented the legislature and himself by saying that they had laid “the foundations of a thorough system of common schools, an act in itself sufficient to make your meeting memorable,” there is little or no record to show that anything was done. As McCrea has suggested (p. 82), what the Territory needed was an educational leader, and founding schools was not Gov. McCormick’s forte.

In justice to the officers of the Government and other leaders, it must be remembered also that in 1870 there were reported but 9,581 persons living in a territory that covered more than 113,000 square miles, or if they had been evenly distributed only about one person to every 12 square miles of territory; that in addition much of this was barren desert infested by the infernal Apaches, perhaps the most cruel and devilish of all American Indians.

As a matter of fact, however, the conditions were much better than the above would indicate. The few families living here and there on individual ranches may be ignored educationally, for they were lucky if they escaped with their lives. But most of the settlers lived in small towns or villages, in communities that were convenient to farming or mining operations, and with them the beginnings of a public-school system were possible. As McCrea points out, in several of the mining camps there were enough Mexican children to start a school, but there were no buildings, books, or teachers. Half the population spoke no English; few of the children had ever seen a school; and while the more intelligent of both races were anxious for schools, the great mass of the people were not only indifferent, but sometimes even hostile.[15]

Perhaps what these people needed most was educational leadership. This they did not have. Gov. Goodwin went out of office after one year; Gov. McCormick was more interested in exploiting the natural resources; and it was not until the time of Gov. Safford that the schools might feel that their educational Moses had arisen.

Of the law of 1868, of the work of Gov. McCormick, and of the schools and school prospects in general, McCrea says:

The administration of the new school law rested on the slow-moving boards of supervisors, and on a county superintendent of schools elected by the people, but whose compensation was in the supervisors’ hands. The schools were to be supported entirely by local taxes, which were limited in amount, and must be raised by the people of the respective districts. I do not know whence this school law was obtained, but it was entirely unsuited to a people who had no training in local self-government. The people of Arizona have not even yet learned the valuable lesson of partially supporting their schools by local taxes, and rarely levy special taxes upon districts except to meet the expense of erecting new school buildings.

While there was enough authority in the law to provide schools, there was as yet nothing to create a strong desire for them. Gov. McCormick had done much to advance the material interests of the Territory, but founding schools was not his forte. What the people most needed was an educational leader, and he was soon to be supplied. * * * The Federal Census of 1870 supplies the background of the seemingly hopeless picture. The large foreign element, mainly Mexican, would lead us to expect a startling illiteracy. Few children attended any kind of school. The professions were hardly represented at all. The Territory had but one newspaper—The Arizona Miner—at Prescott, with a circulation of 280 copies; though a second paper, the Arizona Citizen, was founded at Tucson that year. No Protestant Church had yet been founded, though there had been some missionary effort. The Catholic Church was strong, and was soon able to begin founding parochial schools and convents. The situation from an educational standpoint was bad enough. The only redeeming feature was the fact that the Territory had no debt, and the counties but a slight one. Some property had been accumulated by the limited population in the face of a constant struggle with the worst Indians on the continent. But a brighter day was about to dawn for Arizona.

The first period of effort had now passed without tangible results. In his summary for the period McCrea remarks:

In the first period 1864–1869 the people of the Territory were engaged in a fierce struggle for the possession of the land. The great mineral wealth of the Territory was becoming known, though other occupations than mining and freighting were developed slowly and under great difficulties. Neither life nor property was safe. While such industrial conditions continued, stability and thrift were largely lacking in the population, and the necessity of educating their children appealed to them but slightly. The chief men of the Territory wanted to see those institutions founded which would help to make the possession of the Territory secure, and which would aid in attracting to it a more intelligent and stable population.[16]

  1. Jour. First Legislative Assembly, Arizona, 1864, p. 13. Navajo Springs is about 40 miles east of the present town of Holbrook, on the Santa Fé Railroad.
  2. Governor’s message, Sept. 30, 1864, in Jour. First Legislative Assembly, Arizona, pp. 39–40.
  3. McCrea, Samuel Pressly: Establishment of the Arizona School System, in Report Supt. Public Instruction, 1907–8, p. 79 et seq. Mr. McCrea was educated at Muskingum College and at the Indiana State Normal School. He has taught in various sections of the Territory and was in 1897–98 principal of the Tucson public schools.
  4. On the income from Territorial lands McCrea remarks (p. 78): “As was true elsewhere, the Arizona legislators had an exaggerated idea of the amount of income likely to arise from the grants of land made by Congress for education. Until 1898 Arizona derived no income from the school lands within her borders, and then and since only a small amount from leasing sections 16 and 36 in the farming regions of the Territory.”
  5. See report of joint committee in Jours. First Legislative Assembly, 1864, pp. 176–77.
  6. Approved Nov. 7, 1864.
  7. Act of Nov. 10, 1864.
  8. Jours. of Fourth Legislative Assembly, 1867, p. 42. In his message to the assembly of 1865 (Jours., 1865, p. 47) Gov. McCormick had said that Prescott had availed itself of the opportunity and that “a school has been well sustained during part of the year.”
  9. Message in Jour., 1865, p. 47.
  10. The first bills to establish schools in Arizona were introduced by Hon. Solomon W. Chambers, of Tubac, and Hon. John B. Allen, later a resident of the same place. The Chambers bill was defeated, and the Allen bill became the law of 1867. See Historical Sketch of Public Schools of Arizona in Report Tucson Public Schools, 1893–94, p. 25.
  11. These are presumably the same officers as those called county commissioners in the act of 1864.
  12. McCrea, in Long’s Report, 1908, p. 81.
  13. Rept. U. S. Commis. of Educ., 1870, p. 318.
  14. See Compiled Laws of Arizona, 1871, pp. 213–223; also session laws, 1868, known as the Chambers bill because introduced by Hon. Solomon W. Chambers, who had introduced a bill in 1867 of which this was an elaboration. See Historical Sketch of the Public Schools of Arizona in Report Tucson Public Schools, 1893–94, p. 25.
  15. McCrea, report, 1908, pp. 81–82.
  16. McCrea, loc. cit., p. 74.