History of the Nome, Alaska Public Schools:1899 to 1958 From the Gold
Rush To Statehood
Following the raucus seasons of her boom years, 1899 to 1902, Nome settled into the organized life of "a good, solid, substantial mining center, with interests that radiate to every part of the Seward Peninsula."1 The town had a summer population in 1904, of about 5000, and 3200 winter residents, who owned property with a taxable valuation of one and a half million dollars.2 A third beach line was discovered by J. C. Brown that year, and dependence on hand mining gave way to hydraulic and dredge operations by large companies, in the main.3 At the peak year of production, 1906, the output of gold on the peninsula was $7,500,000. After that time the yield began to decline, and with it the town, until in 1916, the total output was only $2,950,000,4 and the 1920 population was 852.5 But in the twenty years between the first prospecting in the region in 1897, and 1916, the gold taken from the Seward Peninsula, almost all of it from the placer mines, amounted to $74,292,100.6
These years of industrious toil and simple pleasures marked the golden era hallowed in the memory of the Alaskan sourdough. Doors were left carelessly unlocked, without insecurity. A miner near Nome used a five pound lard pail, into which he poured his daily cleanup of "dust", as a summer time doorstop – to hold the door open.7 As most of the inhabitants were single men in the prime of life, the saloons and gambling rooms were acknowledged as acceptable social necessities by the city government. A licensed district of prostitutes, known as "the tenderloin", thrived in a reserved block of town, behind an enclosure. That too was accepted.8 Though not without vigorous editorial protest.9
Family life and interests also thrived in the prosperous economy. The socially inclined and gregarious had available the many fraternal and cultural diversions that had early found root among, and across, all classes. Private teachers of music, dancing, and singing presented their pupils in recitals. The new school system as well offered entertainment and intellectual cultivation and certain types of business and vocational training in night classes. The school facilities were used regularly by literary, debating, and dramatic groups. After the building of the gymnasium in 1905, basketball tournaments were held there.10 Touring lecturers and stage artists also enlivened the summer scene. A balloonist made an ascent in 1902.
Across the expanses of the territory, staked dogsled trails led from settlement to settlement, and from camp to camp, with solitary roadhouses breaking the long stretches for the traveler. It was possible to travel from Nome to Fairbanks and Valdez or Seward without carrying dog food and without spending a night out in the open.11 After the freeze-up, the mail service came over the trails by dog team. A natural development was the famed dogteam races of the time, and the popular winter sports of skating, skiing, and bobsledding.
Living in Nome in the early days was a difficult life, that built durable character traits in the young, who learned by participation in the struggle the balance between effort and achievement. Work meant basic survival and comfort, a common denominator of responsibility whether in the youngsters' household chores and keeping the coal fire going, in the mother's homemaking, or the father's essential breadwinning labors which frequently needed suplementing through family effort. To bridge the employment gaps of the long winters, the boys commonly worked, too. Franklin Munter, at the age of five, sold popcorn in the saloons and sang songs to bolster trade. Jimmy Doolittle sold papers for the Nome Nugget12 and delivered laundry for his mother’s home laundry service, and Harrison Loerpabel, at the age of eight, sold his mother’s bread and pies to miners who paid him in raw gold.13 It was not a society for abetting the weak or indifferent.
The architecture of the town was late Victorian. The tents, crossed guy ropes, and tilted pipe chimneys had been replaced by new, substantial structures. The large businesses and warehouses, which had to store enough provisions to supply the community from the last ships in October until the first to arrive in June, dominated the city’s profile. The steepled belfries of the churches, the hospitals, fraternal lodges, hotels, courthouse, the mining company offices and shops, and the impressive new high school building also rose against the sky, while in the distance the huge mining machines and pay dirt dumps fanned out over the tundra, along the creeks, and on the hillsides.
The planked main streets were narrow and overhung by the jutting parlors of second story apartments above the places of business. The private residences were all new, built with cedar siding and bay windows, with ornamental windows set at a diamond angle, and decorated with finials, roof crowns, and all the nooks and gingerbread dear to the heart of that baroque age. Almost all the houses were two stories high and built close together, for land in suitable locations was scarce. The interiors of the homes were small as expense and the problem of heating dictated house architecture on a two-thirds scale, but often they were provided with lavish woodwork: artful staircases, arched doorways between living and dining rooms, corniced pilasters bracketing wall-divider bookcases, wainscoting, and fancy mouldings. Before the many fires, storms from the sea, and the decay associated with economic decline destroyed the original structures, Nome was a picturesque and imposing community. Its romantic gold-rush image drew visitors from every part of the world. Many of the public figures of the early twentieth century were its guests: explorers, statesmen, financiers, writers, entertainers, clergymen, junketing officials, or just the rich and the curious. To the sequestered citizens of Nome they gave as much diversion as they received.
Much like their elders who had developed an organized city from the chaos of a camp of strangers, the children in the first schools of Nome were confronted with the problems associated with getting acquainted and developing an espirit de corps. The first graduation – from the grammar department – gave one of those identifying experiences. Irving Reed and Mabelle Niebling were graduated to high school in ceremonies at the Golden Gate Hall, on Friday afternoon, May 29, 1903. Irving delivered an oration entitled "The American Flag," and Mabelle sang a solo, "Alaska Harvest Song," and recited a reading, "Old Actor’s Story." James Doolittle, now seven years old, gave a reading "On Whippings." Others who took part in the program were: Frank Burley, Margaret Hadley; Olga, Nora, and Ina Dahlstrom, Everett Hastings, Henry Cole, George Baldwin, Don Brown, Vesta Storey, Etta Wolfe, Lela McPherren, Ella Smithson, Irving Bogan, Laura Jaycox, May Murray, Dorothy Winslow, Genevieve Kennedy, Ruth McCormick, Edith Modini, Thomas Simpson, and two groups of elementary boys and girls. George Wilkinson, a first year high school student, spoke on "Physics."14
These youngsters, their friends, and younger brothers and sisters, together with the stream of incoming school-fellows who joined them were the pioneers. Ralph Lomen and Lucius Boardman were the first high school class of 1906. Of the original enrollees in the 1901 incorporated city schools, just two would have had all their schooling from entrance to graduation in Nome. These were Mildred Lehmann, class of 1912, and Hilda Johnson, class of 1913. Only five others who entered at that time remained to finish:
Lucius J. Boardman, 1906
The year 1916 marked the last high school graduation class of the first generation of the Nome Public Schools. Thirty-five graduates shared in this honor in the fifteen year period.
The long, sharp struggle among the city father, both on the city council and the school board, did not go unnoticed by the older students of the school. With the cry for financial retrenchment by the hard pressed city government, the establishment of a high school was seriously threatened. The dogged efforts of the first school board were rewarded with total rejection at the polls in April, 1902. Editor Strong of the Nugget pronounced that "…. neither the law nor the people ever intended that two or three men should use the money so provided in a reckless and extravagant manner. We venture the prediction that the school accommodation already provided will be quite sufficient for some time to come. We also will make another prediction: The next school board will profit by the errors and extravagances of their predecessors."15
The immediate effect of the change in boards, in compliance with the demands of the public leadership, was the discharge of the night school teachers, Mrs. F. A. Steele and M. N. Kimball.16 With another month of school to go, the city treasurer’s report showed a balance of only $68.79 in the school fund, $15.75 in the special street fund, and the largest amount, $122.90, in the city attorney’s fund.17 These figures obviously did not reconcile with the solvent condition reported by the outgoing school board.18
The second school board proved to have as much mettle as the first, but its public relations were better. An inspection of the high school building was made and improvements planned to utilize the attic as a storeroom with a stairway to be built up to it. A petition received from fifty signers led to the continuation of the night school at public expense, under the instruction of Professor J. A. Riley, who was succeeded as principal of the school by Professor Will Henry. However, the first request by a teacher, Alice L. Staples, for a salary increase was refused.19 In the spring elections of 1903, the school board asked for reelection. In a close ballot, only one member of the board, Colonel L. L. Sawyer, a man well respected by the mining community for his integrity of character, survived.20
It is significant of the quality of the Nome population that the school boards in the early years hired the school staff mainly from local applicants. J. A. Riley had organized the schools on a firm basis in 1901-1902; and until its discontinuance in the spring of 1905, he contributed forcefully to adult education in the night school. Will Henry strengthened the first year high school course in 1902-1903, and won an editorial admission from Major Strong, "In justice to the first school board be it stated, that the system was a comprehensive one, and quite equal to any that could be found in towns of similar size in the states."21 Professor Henry was educated in Ohio and began his teaching career in 1873. After serving as principal of the Pueblo, Colorado, public schools and superintendent of the Pueblo County public schools, he had come to Nome in the rush of 1900. His special field was mathematics.22
Now the establishment of a high school was in danger. Colonel Sawyer stated, in July 1903, that only two high school students had been enrolled in the past school year; he favored limiting the school system to an eight grade grammar school until the number of students warranted a high school. He proposed that the grammar department teacher be the school principal, adding that dispensing with a high school was in accord with "vox populi" in the spring election, although he further remarked, "This was said amid election excitement and at a time when the city was regarded as bankrupt, and the issue was to place Nome upon a sound financial basis. Retrenchment became the slogan as loud as that of a Scottish highland clan. The public schools were attacked in order that the city should receive more money from the school fund." The inference of Colonel Sawyer’s published statement was that the board would have preferred more constructive action.23 His boldness opened old wounds, but it polarized the latent strength of domestic opinion in the community’s households. "Cornelia’s" children, whether in ancient Rome or on the far shores of the American Bering Sea, were still her jewels and not to be denied their patrimony.
Fortunately, a school population explosion occurred in the fall of 1903, forcing the high school issue to a positive conclusion. From the previous year’s enrollment of 121, the figure reached 183, with an average daily attendance of 142.24 Although, as Colonel Sawyer had pointed out, there were only two students at the high school level in 1902-1903, there were now nine enrolled and thirteen others ready to be graduated into high school in the year beginning in September, 1905. Clearly, the high school could not be discontinued, but must be well provided for in the immediate future. Professor Delmar Harry Traphagen, an experienced educator "highly endorsed by the leading teachers of Seattle and of the Pacific coast," was employed by the board in the summer of 1903, to succeed Professor Henry as superintendent.25 It fell to his lot to make many needed changes under adverse conditions.
To take care of a large class of fifth and sixth graders, the board had fitted up a large room 20 x 40 feet in the upper story of the central building.26 When shortly before Christmas, J. Potter Whittren, a Harvard graduate and mineralogist, visited the school and classrooms, Professor Traphagen reviewed the curriculum with him.
Whittren, well impressed, thought the program a little "advanced" over the usual course of study of "outside" schools, but he found the new attic room poorly ventilated, odorous, and a hardship on the pupils and teacher. He thought that an addition to the building would have been a better investment.27 That, however, was not the kind of report the city fathers had expected of J. Potter Whittren, an erstwhile critic of the school management.
In November, Judge Alfred S. Moore allotted 45% of the license tax receipts to the school board and 55% to the city government, much less than the council had requested. The Nugget advised that the Judge was acting wisely in wanting to know how the council would budget monies turned over to it by the court,28 but went on to say that the city was now in need of an aggregate sum of $13,290 for operating expense, which would be covered by the court allotment, but also had an indebtedness amounting to approximately $30,000.29 During the school board’s fiscal year the original budget receipts of $14,189.95 from the court grew to $20,884.31, and the tempers on the city council were becoming short. Budget cutting was in the air – especially school budget cutting – by council suggestions of discontinuing the popular night school and consolidating the Bridge school pupils with the central school, and by reducing teachers’ salaries.30 Major Strong characterized the night school and salary cuts as a "peculiar brand of economy" on the part of the council.31
To the contrary, the school board contemplated more progressive plans. In the annual board report of March 31, 1904, just before the annual elections, the board charged that the annual change of teachers and board members, and neglect of needed supplies, had been detrimental as the school was compelled to open without the necessary supplies and equipment. The board had caused to be formulated a detailed course of study to correct deficiencies in all grade school work, including the fifth and sixth grades which had previously been disregarded. A four year high school course in harmony with the best standards in the United States was also developed by Professor Traphagen with the board’s approval. The night school, a part of the school system, had increased its enrollment to a peak of 75 students. All books and supplies were furnished without cost to all children and adults attending the day and night classes, respectively. The building ventilation had been improved and a steam heating system installed on the first floor.32 This was hardly the gloomy picture projected by Colonel Sawyer the previous summer, but it was a testimonial to the responsible courage of the Colonel and his colleagues of the board, Captain Harry Storey, and A. H. Moore.
Morale is an intuitive response to environmental situations which sparks the will to action in the human race. The arrival of Professor Taphagen, the determination of the school board, and the increasing number of the student body served to motivate the creative drives of the Nome school youth, as well as the teachers. Excellent public presentations were given by all grades and classes at Christmas time and at the closing of the school year.33 A notable contribution to school history was the first publication of the Nome High School Aurora, an octavo annual booklet of 28 pages with class pictures, editorials, articles of general interest, student feature essays, anecdotes, personalities, and supporting advertisements. Wilda Moore and Mabelle Niebling were the founding editors. Ralph Lomen, the manager, contributed the first of a succession of histories of the school by student historians.34
The young lady editors felt that the high school possessed literary talent and were ready, after five months of diligent study, to show that they were "now capable of publishing a superior panphlet containing contributions of Alaskan genius." They acknowledged some leanings towards women’s rights and avowed that "unlike our local contemporaries, we are ‘fearless and independent.’" The deficiency of school spirit was mourned but understood:
The lack of loyalty and spirit here is largely recent organization of the school, the passing population, the cosmopolitan nature of the pupils, and old school ties not fully severed…
If pupils anywhere ought to be loyal, those in the Nome School certainly should, for they are subject to so many attacks, both malicious and otherwise. There should be a strong feeling existing among the pupils to stem this tide of ill will.35
One year later, editor-in-chief Lutie J. Boardman proudly announced a reversal of that condition, "The enrollment in the High School has increased ninety per cent, but the High School spirit among the pupils, we are glad to say, has increased in far greater proportion."36
The young ladies further thanked the school board for the good work they had done in establishing the high school and weighed that they might continue their good work. Ralph Lomen noted that the combined weight of the four high school boys and five girls would aggregate 1206-1/2 pounds, sufficient proof that they were living in a healthy country.37 At an average weight of 134 pounds, it must be admitted that these youngsters were not undernourished.
Professor Traphagen’s aim was to put Nome High School on the list of schools having academic standards approved for college entrance by American universities.38 His tenure was too short, only two years, for the achievement of that goal, but his students were offered a substantial curriculum of Latin, physics, English and literature, ancient history, geography, algebra, geometry, music, drawing, physical education, and professional encouragement in the pursuit of excellence.39 Night school classes offered incentives for self-improvement to many foreign born adults and others who wished to supplement their knowledge after working hours. Courses were made up for any subject in which a class could be gathered, as well as regular courses in reading, writing, orthography, language, mathematics, history, geography, and bookkeeping.40
Mr. Ray Wallingford coached the girls of the high school in basketball at the Arctic Brotherhood hall. Soon their games were attracting the public, and the boys took up the game.41 The pretty young ladies who made up the first Nome high school team were Marie Odean, Grace Fisher, Olive Storey, Mora Parkinson, Arlene Wheeler, Rowena Lewis, Vesta Storey, and Alice Clum. The boy’s team were Lutie Boardman, Alfred Lomen, Irving Reed, Frank Burley, Russell Jeffreys, and student manager Richard Beale. Team captain and Aurora editor Boardman remarked that none of the boys had ever played before, but that with another year of such improvement they would be able to compete for the championship of Alaska.42 He also commented, "Skiing and tobogganing are the natural sports of this country. Any boy or girl who cannot slide down hill on a pair of skiis is behind the times."43
In the fall of 1904, Professor Traphagen’s second year as superintendent, the battle of the city council for control of the school funds broke out with renewed fury. Needing funds, the school board issued a writ of mandamus against the council with the resulting judgement of Judge Moore, detailed previously, that the court should decide the division of the license tax funds between the city and the schools. Although the court was reasonably liberal in favor of the board, the position was one of fiscal dependence on the court. The passage of the Nelson Act in 1905, further weakened the fiduciary independence of the school boards of the entire Territory of Alaska and the early promise of free school boards receded into total dependence on city councils for school budget approval. Nome was the ground on which the legal contest was waged. The outcome was a detrimental loss to the development of educational excellence in the schools of Alaska, that has persisted in degree to the present time.
Major John F. A. Strong’s keen editorial interest in public affairs reflected the Nome school system issues with the lucidity of value judgement that he later turned to statesmanship as a great governor of Alaska, when many beneficial changes were made, including the enabling act of 1915, providing for the present state university, and the territorial education act of 1917, establishing a territorial public school system. Major Strong’s continuous support of the Nome public schools in the Nome Nugget from 1900 until his departure in 1905, remains in the archives of the newspaper as a tribute to his valuable service to the education of the children of Alaska.
Major Strong editorialized:
The public school system must be maintained to the highest possible state of efficiency, and should be among the last to suffer from lack of financial aid. A mistake was apparently made in passing over to the municipality the control of all monies collected from licenses and other revenues. Under the old system, the schools had enough and to spare, but if the present policy of the city government is maintained, school warrants will be at a discount.44
When the council sent an "expert" to examine the schools for negative evidence, Strong took exception on the grounds that the schools were the business of the school board, and were doing an excellent job as the public was able to see in the exercises performed for them by the school children.45
The school board budget of 1905 showed the astronomical figure for the fiscal year to be $21,255.92 in funds defraying expenses incurred.46 Editor S. H. Stevens of The Gold Digger indignantly compared the annual cost of 130 children in Nome at $150 per capita with the per capita cost in Colorado, "the highest in the union for common schools," at $7.50 for each school child.47 Although nobody suggested that the economy would permit the education of 130 children for $930 per year, as in Colorado, retrenchment demands again dominated the spring electioneering. The handwriting was on the wall for an excellent board that would soon be replaced by three council henchmen. Facilitating the change was a rumor that all the teachers, janitors, and the superintendent were forced to "kick back" a percentage of their salaries to the board members to hold their jobs.
Sworn affidavits were published in the city newspapers by the professional staff and the custodians of the schools denying the accusations and exonerating the previous boards of such wrongdoing. Lutie J. Boardman took time from his basketball and scholarly activities to write a letter to the editors asking retention of the teachers at their usual salary rates, and the reelection of the present efficient board. Lutie said that he spoke for his school mates.48
While six new candidates for the school board published statements, a new note was struck in the political history of Alaska. City attorney George D. Schofield advised that separate elections must be held for city offices and school board offices, as subdivision 12 of section 4 of the federal Act of 1904, pertaining to Alaska, provided that school board members are to be elected annually by all adults who are citizens of the United States or who had filed their first papers declaring their intention of becoming citizens. Obviously the women were not excluded from voting, although they were denied suffrage in general elections by prior statutes. The school board election was separated and deferred a month.49 Miss Kitty Cordon, "an old time resident whose many charitable acts endeared her to all," became the first woman in Nome to run for public office.50 She was defeated, but not alone. J. W. Wright, E. T. Baldwin, and S. T. Jeffreys, all sycophants of the city council, won the school board seats. Morale in the schools rivaled Mudville’s on the day that mighty Casey struck out. A request was signed by 43 citizens for continuation of the night school under Professor Riley, stating on the petition that "we have derived great benefit therefrom."51 But that era was over.
Youthful exhuberance set in motion and encouraged by good leadership for two years carried over into the administration of the new superintendent, D. W. Jarvis, an able educator with 17 years of experience in the Portland, Oregon schools. The Bridge school was discontinued, as was the free night school, but a new gymnasium was added, as a friendly gesture of the city council, to the high school building. The cost of the annex was paid from the school funds, but the board did not have to formally request the payment and the three members thoughtfully deducted the amount from their annual budget, reflecting a reduction of $3,375 in their spring report. Other savings were gained by curtailing the consumption of water, although the athletic program had grown in popularity; one teacher was dropped, which caused the exclusion of chemistry, physics, drawing, and music from the curriculum and no natural science was taught whatever. The closure of the school for six weeks in mid-winter resulted in more economy by lowering fuel bills.52
In spite of the conscientious efforts of the new school board to effect these economies, some dissent was voiced. The Nugget editor asked several questions:
Are the schools stripped of supplies? Are the teachers paid with general fund warrants cashable at not more than 5% discount at the banks? Are the small savings on water and school supplies worth the loss in efficiency? Is the school board treasury as bare as Mother Hubbard’s cupboard, like the city treasury? If so, why did the board let the city use up its funds so that it has no running expense money? More light is needed on matters closely connected with administration of its duties by the school board.53
Whatever the purposes of the board might have been, a shocking condition of deterioration in school control had set in. By election time in April, 1906, S. H. Stevens of The Gold Digger urged a careful selection of the new board member as "the possibilities open to a corrupt board for graft and mismanagement are great and far reaching."54 A. A. "Scotty" Allan, the renowned Alaska Sweepstakes dog team driver and a parent of school age children, won a resounding victory for the vacancy. Mr. Allan served the community well for six years and helped to regain for the board a favorable reputation. However, the bond of the treasurer was raised to $40,000. Mayor Copley, on retiring from office, struck a happy note by stating that there had been no litigation with the school board during the year, but the board and the council had worked together harmoniously.55
On September 13, 1905, a disastrous fire destroyed fifty business places in Nome, at a cost of $250,000. In November, the grand jury was informed by the school board that their account books had burned in the fire and a financial report on the schools could not be given. The grand jury also reported that the school had no provision for ventilation and urged that fire escapes be installed.56 Although E. T. Baldwin, secretary of the board, denied that the accounts and school records had been lost, but were in his possession,57 none of the materials of the Nome Public Schools records up to that time, with the exception of a few teachers’ classroom attendance books, are known to exist.58 In fairness to the school board, it might be said that almost certainly the consequences of the great fire imposed burdens on them that could not be satisfactorily resolved. Transportation was nearly closed for the winter and the city’s disaster problem was immense.
The school board, with Mr. Allan replacing Judge S. T. Jeffreys, announced in The Aurora that the superintendent was authorized to revise the course of study, giving to physics and chemistry an important place in the curriculum; that apparatus had been ordered and would be installed during the vacation. The Latin course would be extended to four years and a three year German course introduced.59
A literary group, The Borean Society, became an institution in the high school in 1906, under the guidance of the English teacher, Miss Nell E. Blodgett. The object of the society was to promote social and literary culture and to discipline its members in self-government. A literary program composed of orations, debates, and musical features was given about every three weeks.60 For the next ten years the Borean Society developed the cultural and social talents of its members and entertained local speakers and distinguished visitors from the outside world who shared their knowledge and experience with the students, several of whom themselves became notable personages in adult life.
Lucius J. Boardman and Ralph Lomen were graduated as the Class of 1906, on June 1. Lucius was born in Buffalo, New York, in 1885. He went to the Klondike in the gold rush of 1897, with his father, and made the arduous trip down the Yukon in the fall of 1899, to become one of the Nome pioneers. He entered the sixth grade in 1900, having been out of school for five years. He distinguished himself in his high school career in academic achievement, leadership, and athletics.61
Ralph Lomen was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1887. He arrived in Nome in 1903, and entered high school. Ralph had served as a page in the Minnesota state senate, and in Nome he dropped out of school one year to work in the office of the clerk of the Untied States district court. He also participated with distinction in all phases of high school life.62
At the graduation ceremonies the two young men delivered orations, and Superintendent Jarvis presented each of them a dressed sealskin diploma with illuminated lettering, the work of a Mr. Wirth and Elmer E. Reed.63
Professor Jarvis instituted the new course of study in the fall of 1906, that led Ben Morris, editor of The Aurora, to write with pride:
The Nome High School, although it has only been established four years, and is the most northern high school in the world, now fits students for entrance to the leading colleges and universities in the United States.64
The course included four years of Latin, four years of mathematics, four years of German, four years of English; physics, chemistry, history, civics, physical geography, bookkeeping, and physiology. The largest incoming freshman class, from 18 grammar school graduates, was expected the next year. They had an excellent academic curriculum to anticipate.65 Irving McKenny Reed, the sole graduate of the high school class of 1907 and captain of the basketball team, would try his mettle in higher academic fields.66
The 1907-1908 school year was one of great vigor and excitement for the students, but it was also the turning point to defeat in the board’s fight for fiscal independence from the city council’s control of school funds, which has been explained earlier in detail. The renewal of hostilitites had begun on September 30, 1907, when the board submitted its annual budget in the amount of $18,275. The council reduced the request by $900, the salary of the clerk of the board, and approved the balance of $17,375, with the stipulation that only the prorated sum up to the expiration of the present council’s term in April would be paid by it and the newly elected council would be responsible for providing the remaining prorated portion of $3,050 needed for operational expenses to conclude the school year.67
The plan of the council to divide the payments to the school board for the year’s budget by proration between the outgoing and the incoming councils for periods in office covered by the school year and services appeared to negate the continuous character of the city government as being one of men, not of laws. The board obligated itself for the salary of its clerk in the amount of $350 in the original budget, and sued to recover that amount from the council.68 To the question as to whether the council "has to give the school board any money it requires and asks for school operations," the answer of the court was that the school board had already received all the monies necessary for the maintenance of the schools for the year.69 It was clearly a victory for the council, reducing the school board essentially to a working advisory school committee fiscally dependent on the city council and limited in budgetary planning by its pleasure.
The Nome Pioneer Press reported that 194 pupils were enrolled by November, and that although there were 78 less people in Nome than in the past year, there were 35 more pupils in the public schools. It also pointed out the unusual feature that the higher grades had larger enrollments than the lower ones, just the reverse of conditions existing in all outside schools and contrary to all precedent in Nome.70 The enrollment grew to 202 during the year and was the highest in the history of the school for the next 38 years. Irene Hannagan, Crit Tolman, and Vesta Storey graduated from high school in the spring.
The boy’s basketball team won glory for the school by defeating every team in the city, losing only one game against the Arctic Brotherhood, and won the Shaw-Brewster trophy for the championship of Alaska. The boys were popularly known as "the tall kids" as they averaged six feet in height. Twenty boys tried for the team but the successful players were Crit Tolman, captain; Jess White, forward; Chet Tolman, forward; Claude Shea, guard; and Charles Thompson, guard. They wore white v-neck jerseys, red pants, and red sox as their uniforms. Branson Telley and Harry Bloomfield were substitutes, and Alex Smith the "trainer." Benny White was the team’s mascot.
In the years 1906 and 1907, some of the first Alaska born children were entering the schools. The predominance of larger classes in the higher grades reflected the fact that most of the pupils had come from the states outside. However, the feeling of identity that had been missing five years before was firmly established and strengthened by a more stabilized population and pride in the school’s excellent academic program and its cultural and athletic attainments. The cosmopolitan backgrounds of the older students abetted high standards in the school society that were lost a generation later. This was a good era.
Professor Edgar E. Grimm, a former instructor at the Oregon State Agricultural College, served four years, from 1907 to 1911, as superintendent of schools. Professor Grimm had joined the faculty of the high school in 1906, in Professor Jarvis’s administration, as a science and math teacher, continuing to teach in both these fields until the time of his resignation. Grimm’s long tenure, in spite of his making controversial changes in the curriculum, was supported by a strong board led by the respected Scotty Allan. It is probable that Mr. Allan himself was the board’s main strength while he served on it, as he was a man of rugged determination and the energetic vitality of the great sportsman that he was.
Apparently Scotty Allan did not recognize the signs of defeat in the recent court decision favoring the city council. The board had contracted a complete renovation of the school building during the summer; a new floor was laid in the gym; fire escape ladders were installed from a window in each room; a ventilation system was installed, as well as new doors; walls were repapered; the lavatories were renovated; the engine room was enlarged; the steam heating plant remodeled; the building’s supports in the foundation were replaced; and it was announced that the outside of the large building would be painted before the opening day of school. The costs of the work added up to $2,500 before the painting was done.71
When the council refused to pay $3,000 which the board requested for its expenses, the board took their budget to the district court. Judge Moore decided in favor of the school board and apportioned 50% of the license monies to it. The council appealed the decision to the San Francisco Court of Appeals, where it was thrown out by the circuit court.72 But the council still received school funds and doled them out to the board, causing constant friction.
A lighter incident was the receipt by the mayor of a letter of non-payment of debts contracted by "a certain publication"73 put out by the high school students. The mayor referred the bill to the school board for payment.74
In 1908-1909, the high school reached its zenith enrollment for the pioneer period, a figure of 55 students, which it would not again attain until 1955. A dropping off in the town was in sight. The Fairbanks Times was quoted by the Nugget that "Nome is still here, still buoyant; a little disfigured, perhaps, but still in the ring," in 1910. But more people were leaving the city than were coming in, and by 1919, the high school had dwindled to three students.75 In 1909, one student, Charles Deyette, was graduated.76
In 1909-1910, a manual training department was initiated for the boys of the seventh and eighth grades and the high school. A skilled manual arts teacher, Mr. W. C. Davidson, who had taught at the Oakland Polytechnic High School, was employed as instructor. As music and drawing were dropped, and part of the gymnasium was partitioned off to make room for the new subject, repercussions of dissent were heard that increased in volume for the following two years. The students wanted their playing area returned77 although by the winter of 1910, the high school had the only basketball teams in Nome. The city fathers wanted to drop the manual arts department to save money. The program was soon embroiled in the contention of local politics.
Following the decreasing values of gold production, the population of Nome had begun to decline. In 1900, there were 12,488 inhabitants; in 1910, there were 2,600; and in 1920, only 852.78 When the city council met in late July, 1910, it found that taxable city property evaluations had dropped 40% in the past year, and levies reduced from $35,007.94 to $22,711.85. Although the previous school budget had approximated $17,000, the board suggested a school budget for the current year of only $14,000, to be practicable by reducing the school term by one month of time in December and January.79 Was this cooperation, victory, or defeat? And for whom? Perhaps nobody knew. The council filed the budget request without comment.80
Contemporary middle class attitudes toward education entered public opinion. Reminding its readers that music and drawing had been cut from the curriculum for economy, the Nugget stated that there was no justification for a manual arts department, with a teacher at $150 per month; it was a luxury – a fad of the principal:
If manual training is to be taught to half a dozen boys, at an expense of $150 for an instructor alone, let us demand a like salary for instruction in stenography and bookkeeping for the same number of girls. There is just as much justice in one proposition as there is in the other.81
The editor demanded that the school should carry a full nine months term, without manual training, and bear an equal portion of the city budget reduction. He quoted the superintendent of the schools of a large midwestern city as saying that "there is something wrong with the American school system. It fails to work as it should. A quarter of a million children are dropouts before the eighth grade. There is a great deal of talk about domestic science, schools for stammerers, night schools, and mechanical departments, and all that rot, but little about the essential three R’s."82 The training in the application of the three R’s was apparently not the proper function of education in the public schools, according to this philosophy.
Eight months before the school board election of 1911, the Nugget cast a seed for change:
There is a great dearth of suitable candidates for the school board. There ought to be more candidates for these places, men of affairs in various walks of life who would have a sincere ambition to leave the school system better than they found it.83
Although the school year seems by the records to have been productive, most of its basic problems resting on the perennial over-economizing, one of those minor incidents occurred in the spring that border on the ridiculous but often are turning points in human affairs. Three third and fourth grade pupils and a high school girl who had attended a dance at the Odd Fellows hall with their parents, were expelled by Professor Grimm, who said that they were unfit and not in proper condition to be in school, even though they were not tardy in the morning. Several others, first grade pupils, were not expelled. Professor Grimm stated that he was going to make an example of children whose parents allowed them to stay out late at night at dances and other affairs. An angry mother accused the teachers of going to dances and staying out as late or later than two o’clock, coming to school late, and maintaining low efficiency in the grade school. Mr. Grimm offered no excuse for the three teachers who had been at the dance, but he asserted that he would make examples of other children for failing to heed his warning.84
Mrs. Minnie B. Crowder, the teacher of the three younger children, had washed their mouths with soap before sending them home at the superintendent’s orders. Mrs. Crowder was an old fashioned teacher who never went to dances herself, but in the words of the interviewing reporter "set a good example." She looked on the punishments as unjust and had washed the children’s mouths with soap, not for going to the ball but for telling lies. The reporter added that Mrs. Crowder was esteemed as the model teacher in the building. He was not opposed to the mouthwashing, but opined that it should not have been done with the school soap which was unsanitary.85
Professor Grimm was now fair game. A letter from a 1910 graduate, Helen Kreps, in California, cast a reflection on the standards of the high school:
Well, Bob, we aren’t in Stanford after all, though we hoped to enter there this semester.. The cause, briefly, is that they wouldn’t accredit the high school… Consequently we have to graduate again from high school here before we will be allowed to go to Stanford…It was a terrible disappointment to us. So you see for yourself that they do not teach up to the standard methods up in Nome.86
Mrs. Sara E. Schofield, the wife of the city attorney, ran for the vacant position on the school board and became the first woman to hold an elective office in the city. The two other members at this time were A. A. Allan and J. Y. McCune. At a widely attended board meeting on June 8, the salaries of teachers were discussed, showing that Professor Grimm was paid a salary of $225 per month; Miss Fannie Brayton $166.65; and all other teachers, $150 per month. Mrs. Schofield spoke for better salaries to get better teachers. The Nugget reported:
Several times during the evening the questions were leading into quicksand when the standard of the school and the efficiency of the teachers were led up to, and once Yorkey /Sykes/ broke out and expressed what he believed was the popular belief of the conditions of our high school, but the least said the sooner mended so we will not publish what he had to say.
Before adjourning to visit the school building in a body it was agreed that the school board make out an estimate of the amount needed to operate the school for the coming year and cut down the appropriation, if possible.87
In a following meeting a week later, the board was divided, the two men opposed to Mrs. Schofield, on several questions. Mrs. Schofieild used fine tact in countering the proposal to rehire Professor Grimm by asking that it be deferred to a public meeting.88 Grimm’s resignation was accepted the next day, with the resignations of five teachers and two remaining. The board announced that teachers of music, drawing, French, and German, the subjects neglected of late years, would be sought.89
The editor of the Nugget, commenting on the resignations, mentioned that Professor Grimm was an able instructor in chemistry, but not a disciplinarian. It was largely in the lack of control reported by parents that the dissatisfaction lay. He concluded:
If the council will assist the board by granting them the amount asked for the new budget, or within a thousand or fifteen hundred of their estimate of the cost of running the schools, the public may have every reason to be thankful to the present board.90
Actually, Professor Grimm was not an unpopular man. He served four years in the superintendency, twice as long as any of his predecessors and longer than any board member other than Scotty Allan, up to that time. Following his resignation from the schools, he was elected as city clerk and won reelection many times. He also served as a member of the school board from 1915 to 1918. It might have been said of him, as it was in tribute to old Colonel L. L. Sawyer who died in February of 1911, that he had a good influence on the public schools and was "kind and charitable, and always willing to lend a helping hand."91
In the 1907-1911 school era the students continued to report their interests and activities in The Aurora. In 1909, Harrison Loerpabel wrote an excellent illustrated article entitled "Gold Mining in Alaska." Claude Kell reported on "Dog Days in Nome, " the story of Scotty Allan winning the Alaska Sweepstakes that year. Money earned from a vaudeville show, $200, given in 1908, was used to order reference books and novels for the library. There were seven seniors graduated in the Class of 1910; Nora Kreps, Helen Kreps, Barbara Stipek, Claude Kell, Harrison Loerpabel, Branson Telley, and Jess White. None were graduated in 1911.
In 1911, The Aurora featured a dedication picture of the high school staff inscribed: "To Professor Grimm, Miss Brayton and Mr. Johnson, in appreciation of their ever willing services, we the Nome High School, affectionately dedicate this issue of the Aurora." The format, typography, picture coverage, and value of school historical recording for the year made this 64 page issue an important contribution to the historical researcher. Mae Mayer, editor, and her staff, William Sellers, Earl Modini, Mildred Lehmann, and Anna Wittenberg, gave credit to their classmates, "Never before have the combined efforts of the students been so much in evidence."
On the 18th of February the school produced Goldsmith’s comedy, "She Stoops to Conquer." It was a tremendous success, enabling the students to pay the debt of a previous year, amounting to $106, that had been jocularly forwarded by the mayor to the school board in midsummer of 1910. Miss Brayton and Mr. Johnson directed the cast of players, Don Brown, Anna Wittenberg, Mae Mayer, Helen Lomen, Faxon Lewis, Ray Broste, Charles Brown, Christian Hansen, and a number of minor characters. A luncheon party was given by Professor Grimm for the players and directors at Modini’s Cafe, celebrating their success.92
Having had enough of trouble for a span, the town was ready to put its best foot forward in school matters in reception of a new administration. The board was assisted by the University of Washington in finding a well qualified superintendent. He was a young man, about 26, Frank X. Karrer, a graduate of Ellensburg Normal School, with a bachelor of arts degree from the University of Washington, and successful teaching experience.93 Also employed were Miss Lucile Wilson and S. R. Wilson, the son and daughter of the president of Ellensburg Normal School. Miss Wilson would teach English, art, and music; Mr. Wilson would instruct the Latin, history, and economics classes. Professor Karrer himself would be the instructor in mathematics, science, and German. Teachers in the grade school were: Emma Lee Orr, first and second; Catherine Dunn, third and fourth; Mrs. Minnie B. Crowder, fifth and sixth; Mary G. Ryan, seventh and eighth.94
When Professor Karrer and Mr. And Miss Wilson arrived, the school building had been renovated and painted. The gymnasium had been remodeled and fitted with swinging rings, flying rings, horizontal bars, and a climbing rope. Professor Karrer soon revised the course of study; the library books, references and texts, were catalogued and new books were added. New laboratory tables for the physics and chemistry courses were on hand and new equipment was on order. Rhetoric was to be taught as part of the English program and each student in high school would be required to learn public speaking and make two speeches a year. Although physical education would be given in a regular training program, the public was assured that it would not interfere with regular work. Scholastic standards were to be raised to highest quality and in another year the course of study would equal the best in the states.95 Professor Karrer kept his promises.96
This was to be a year of personal discipline – and some added private expense. Pupils would have to pay for writing pads, pencils, and personal supplies, with the exception of textbooks and laboratory chemicals. No pupil was to be entered in the primary grade after the third week of school, and all children fifteen minutes late were to be "warmed up" and sent home for the day.97 The method of "warming up" was not specified.
By this time the school board had grown accustomed to having their expenses doled out on request to the city council from time to time. The Nugget editor stated that "this is a good board," crediting Scotty Allan, who put up a good argument with his requests, as peppery and sharp and "knows the school finances."98 Undoubtedly, the influence of the charming and intelligent Mrs. Schofield contributed much to harmony between the two agencies, also. The city was solvent due to the liberality of the federal government with its license tax refunds, so that the retiring council was able to turn over $20,328.32 to its successors the following April.99 The school budget of $15,475 for the year was also apparently adequate.100 The pattern was one of "feast or famine."
The effect of young Professor Karrer and his youthful assistants, the Wilsons, was an electric surge of enthusiasm and high morale among the students. No teacher was out on social affairs after 10:00 p.m. on school night, and one of Karrer’s students recalled over fifty-five years later that "he piled on the homework and was a real disciplinarian." Helen Allan wrote to her in 1914, from the University of California, that "it isn’t any harder here than it was in our junior and senior years at Nome." The informant, Mrs. Carrie M. McLain, concluded, "I’m really grateful for what Professor Karrer did for us."101
The athletic program was revived and games were played with new teams sponsored by the army at Fort Davis and the Nome Kennel Club. The boys on the school team were Don Brown, Minor McLain, Faxon Lewis, James Bogan, Earl Modini, and Eugene Kell, with George Allan their mascot, and Mr. Wilson coach. The Borean Society gave some delightful programs, and class parties abounded throughout the year. Margaret Moldt was chosen queen of the All-Alaska Sweepstakes Race which Scotty Allan again won. Five seniors were graduated in June: Mildred Lehmann, Anna Wittenberg, Mae Mayer, Lillian Simson, and Linda Davison, a Negro girl, brilliant and lovely, the first of her race to graduate from this "white" high school.102
1912-1913 was the most peaceful year of council-school board relations in the history of Nome. Three prominent and respected citizens. S. N. Carman, Mrs. Schofield, and Ward Estey constituted the board. In the school, Professor Karrer gathered up the shards of past school records and organized them neatly in a large ledger showing accurately the scholastic standing of every high school student. He also plotted out a chart of the complete course of study divided into two branches, a general course and a college preparatory course, with intensive subject coverage in each. A German language club, Der Deutsche Verein, and a mathematics club were organized. Professor Karrer entertained each of the high school classes at his home during the year, and enjoyed a personal popularity that is accorded by the young only to a great leader.
The girls enjoyed the spotlight of the basketball season, as intra-city games seem to have fallen off that year, eliminating competition for the boys. The girls team, dressed in pleated bloomers and middy blouses, were Hilda Johnson, Euphemia Allan, Carrie Stipek, Helen Allan, and Sadie McDonough. After a sleigh ride, in January, the boys challenged the girls to a basketball game and were held to a tie score. The Aurora society section described the season’s end:
One of the prettiest and best planned receptions ever held in the gymnasium was given by the losing side of the Girls’ Basketball Team to the High School, coaches, referee and umpire. The gymnasium presented a beautiful parlor scene and five charming hostesses aided wonderfully in producing such a pleasing effect. A splendid program was cleverly given. Late in the evening games and dancing were in vogue. At the seemingly early hour a delicious luncheon was served. It may honestly be said that no moment escaped without holding its own share of fun.103
At the graduation exercises a new ceremony was introduced noted as "the pick and shovel oration," and explained in the 1914 yearbook:
The pick and shovel are the implements with which the Alaskan miners dig and toil laboriously for gold. They symbolize in school the tools with which we delve for knowledge.
The pick and shovel are made of copper, beautifully hammered. These were made by Mr. Charles Schifferle and presented to the High School.
In a very appropriate speech, the President of the Senior Class presents to the President of the Junior Class the pick and shovel, admonishing the Juniors, in their work as Seniors, to use these implements wisely. The Junior representative replies in a fitting manner.104
Among the graduates of 1913 was Hilda Johnson, the last of the children of Mess Florence Mauzy’s pioneer primary grade in the old Congregational Church library in 1901. Her five classmates were Harold Lyle, Rose Cameron, William Sellers, Carrie Stipek, and Euphemia Allan. These were representative of Nome’s finest youth, justifying the community efforts in establishing and providing the support of the public schools that had brought them to the fulfillment of this day.
Significant of the mellowing relationship between the council and the school board, in June, a committee of the council inspected the foundations and boilers of the school, on invitation of the board, and agreeing that the requested repairs were necessary, they pledged $3000 for the job – although the city had only half that amount in the treasury.105 But a curious act preceded the pledge by a day – the school board announced that it would not furnish free textbooks the next term.106 Crusading boards were out of fashion, and half a loaf was better than none.
In October of 1913, a great storm created a "terrible disaster" in Nome, accelerating the decline of the town. Homes, businesses, and properties were wiped out on a large scale by massive waves from the sea, resulting in losses estimated as high as one and a half million dollars. The storm began on Sunday, the fifth. Glass began to crash in sea front buildings, electrical power faltered erratically, and the sea burst into the first lines of buildings. By Monday morning the buildings were being destroyed and washed to sea, crushed, or tossed inland across the streets. Docks were demolished, the buildings on River Street were undermined and toppled over.
The native village on the sandspit vanished, and the old Bridge school building, lifted by the fold, descended on a residence and crushed it. The two graveyards were torn up and over fifty coffins littered the tundra. Corpses were spilled and scattered along the banks of the Snake River. The whole waterfront for a mile and a half was a continuous mass of wreck and ruin.107
Appeals were made by the chamber of commerce to the leading newspapers of the west coast and to the Portland chamber of commerce for economic aid. The Alaska delegate to congress and others in congress were asked by the city council, the chamber of commerce, and influential citizens to pass a relief appropriation for Nome.108
Although some of the destroyed businesses were rebuilt "in shortened buildings" from the wreckage, many business men, and families who had lost their shelter, departed for the outside. May sold their houses for amounts of $50 to $300 to the homeless Eskimos and left.109 From this time the "white" identity of the community began to change relentlessly, until eventually it became an Eskimo settlement, called by a travelling government Health, Education, and Welfare Department representative in 1967, "an oversized native village."110
Academically, the high school was in excellent condition, as shown by an article, "Public Schools in Alaska," in The Aurora, 1914:
High School students who complete the regular Course and who present, in addition to their diploma, a recommendation, covering their work in detail, from the present superintendent will be admitted without examination to the University of California at Berkeley, Leland Stanford Junior University at Palo Alto, University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, the University of Minnesota at Minneapolis, the University of Washington at Seattle, the University of Oregon at Eugene, the Washington State Normal School at Los Angeles. This should indeed, be gratifying to people who are truly interested in the welfare of the Alaskan schools.111
Professor Karrer had done his work well, always in the interest of his students and inclining their ideals of life and work to high standards. Every year of his tenure The Aurora had been dedicated to him: "To Professor Karrer Our Friend and Counselor…" He expressed his intention of leaving for the States. "We are sorry," wrote Helen Allan, "to lose such and earnest and excellent teacher and friend who has done so much to advance our schools."112
Three boys, James Bogan, Eugene Kell, and Jerome Simson were graduated as the class of 1914. James gave the "pick and shovel" oration and Helen Allan made a speech of acceptance of the trophies for the new Senior class.113
After the beginning of World War I, in 1914, editorial interest in the public schools dropped off, leaving only occasional and scanty coverage in the press. The Aurora, in its last printed edition to be found in the present study, appeared in 1915. With it, the details of the student life fade for a number of years. The staff of the annual that year included editor Elizabeth Neuman, Katie Bongard, Helen Allan, Sam Wittenberg, George Wanger, Fred Haering, and Peter Sather. Elizabeth, Helen, and Sam received diplomas as the class of 1915.
Expressing appreciation to C. W. Baird, their superintendent, and to Miss Rannie Baker, their English teacher, for their untiring aid in preparing The Aurora for publication, the editor commented on the conditions under which the work was done, and their hopes as concerned student citizens:
Few outside the school realize the amount of work which falls to the lot of each individual pupil in the preparation of press material. To you, dearest schoolmates, who have labored to make this Aurora a success and whose co-operation has made the editor’s work pleasure instead of drudgery, warm and heartfelt thanks…
For some time letters have been coming in from different exchanges asking questions about life in Alaska, school, sports, etc. We are gratified at the interest evinced and pleased to answer directly whenever possible, but wish to remind our correspondents, that if letters are written during the winter, it takes at least six weeks to have them reach us, and as many more for the answer to go out. The mail has to be carried by dog team over heavy trails, through storm and blizzard, all the way between Southeastern Alaska and Nome, and for a couple of months before the opening of navigation no letters can be sent. The staff has always striven to make the Aurora thoroughly representative of the school and country; consequently it may serve to answer some of the questions of our outside friends.
It is rumored again that the school appropriations is going to be reduced. This would necessitate the elimination of some subjects from the High School course. Were such a thing to happen, it would be doing Nome a serious injury. In order to secure school advantages children would have to be sent away from their homes, at the time when home influence is most necessary. "Alaska for Alaskans" is the slogan but "Alaskans for Alaska" might well be. Ought not her people do something for her, who does so much for them? Surely her sons and daughters are entitled to a good education, so that they may become intelligent patriotic Alaskan citizens.
We hope that not only will the High School be continued, but that in the near future, Alaska can boast as her own a college which will equal the best in any part of America.114
C. W. Baird served as superintendent of schools from 1914 to 1916. He was succeeded by Charles W. Thompson whose tenure from 1916 to 1918, ended what might be considered the pioneer era, as at that time the children of many of the early students were enrolled in the elementary grades – a new generation. The economic impetus of the Seward Peninsula area had declined, war conditions had caused a general exodus – including young men going into the armed services – and in the spring of 1918, apparently none of the five seniors of the nine enrolled in the fall finished the requirements for graduation. The 1916 class, the last to graduate in this period, consisted of four students: Catherine Bongard, Fred Haering, George Wanger, and Amandas Johanson. By 1919, the grade school enrollment was 102, but the high school was almost out of existence with only three students.