Mrs. Nell Skinner taught one term at Mcdonald School. Then the school board told her they were against hiring married women so she was out of a job. She ran into the same opposition from the Illahee district but when she told them she had a sick husband and three children to support, they relented and hired her. To get to her job each day she would walk to Captain Anderson’s place and was rowed across the bay to Fletcher Bay. Then she took the little steamer Chickaree from the Fletcher Bay dock to the Illahee dock. After landing at Illahee she walked up to her school and made a fire in the wood stove to heat up the room before her pupils arrived.
In 1902 after graduating from the eighth grade, Chloe Sutton took the State Teachers Examinations, passed and received a certificate to teach. Her first school was located between Brownsville and Keyport.
My second year of teaching at Kitsap Lake School I served the children a hot lunch. Hot cocoa was always served on Mondays and I cooked vegetable soup at my cabin. I bought the soup bone and meat at Silverdale on Saturdays and cooked the stock. Each child brought a potato and 15 cents each week for lunch supplies. Eliza Jane Hanberg
On May 14, 1931, the Bremerton School Board adopted the following resolution: That a married woman having private means of support, income producing property or other property capable of producing an income, or a husband who is physically able to support her, shall not be hired as a teacher by the district.
Excerpts from The Way It Was in Kitsap Schools, Kitsap County Retired Teachers
The local newspapers have been busy covering public education issues in the county over the past month. South Kitsap School District lost its bond election to build a new high school for the second time. The North Kitsap Superintendent is under fire for ignoring teacher and community input. Central Kitsap School District has a bus driver shortage. And I’ve been reading a fascinating book that appears to be the sole resource of collected historical information and archived memories on Kitsap County’s public education history. What was it like back in the day?
Schools in the county were built before Washington achieved statehood and were mostly situated at population centers near lumber mills. Unlike today where the county is served by five school districts: South Kitsap, Bremerton, Central Kitsap, North Kitsap and Bainbridge Island, each early school in the county was a school district. By the time Washington was declared a state in 1889, there were already 615 students in the county and 24 schools located in 24 school districts. As the population grew and shifted, more schools were built. At its peak there were about 34 K-8 school districts in Kitsap County.
The first school was built in Port Gamble in the current North Kitsap School District, though the building that housed the school was used for “public worship, social enjoyment or fraternal communion and to educate the children.” Given the multi-purpose use of the building, Bainbridge Island lays claim to the first building erected as a school which was built in 1860 at Port Madison on Bainbridge Island. The third school was built seven years later at Seabeck in what is now the Central Kitsap School District.
Those earliest schools only served younger students. It wasn’t until 1902 that the first high school opened in Kitsap County. The school was located in an existing elementary building in Bremerton and in its first year there were four students who attended – three ninth graders and a tenth grader. By 1905, there were 61 students wanting to attend high school so Bremerton School District and adjacent Charleston School District voted to create a merged Union High School and agreed to open it in a Lutheran church in what is now downtown Bremerton. By 1908 the only high school in the county had it’s own building and a student population of 106. Students in the rest of the county who wanted to go to high school either attended high school in Bremerton or in Seattle or Vashon and boarded with family or friends.
In 1920 six of the fourteen school districts in what is now the North Kitsap School District joined forces to build Union High School. Over the next ten years, the remaining eight districts joined them and by 1930 a bigger high school was built. Port Orchard built its first high school in 1921 after a similar history of its eighteen school districts voting for one consolidated high school. Silverdale’s districts opened their first high school in 1925. Bainbridge’s eleven school districts opened a high school in 1916.
The school buildings changed as the county populations shifted. Some of the first schools took place in local residents’ homes such as the first Bethel School school in Port Orchard and the Bangor School near Silverdale. Others took place in a tent such as the Harley School on Bainbridge or a grocery store where the first Bremerton School operated. The earliest schools were small one room board and batten or log buildings constructed by volunteer labor on donated land with no insulation, no plumbing and a wood stove for heat. Water was usually carried in by the teacher or students from a neighbor’s well and the lack of heat often meant that the school only operated during the warmer months. The 1891 Crosby School in what is now the Central Kitsap School could only afford to stay open three months a year. Blackboards, books and desks came from donations and the local community raising money at basket socials to buy equipment. When the school building became too small it was sometimes dismantled and the materials used in the building of a bigger school or abandoned only to be reincarnated as something else as my previous post on an early Keyport school illustrates or the land and building was returned to the resident who donated the property.
The earliest teachers were unmarried woman and men (who could be married); some who had only just graduated themselves from the 8th grade. They performed multiple duties beyond teaching; they were also the school janitors, cooks and according to the Rules and Regulations of the State Board of Education, air quality monitors: Every public school teacher shall give vigilant attention to the temperature and ventilation of the school room and see that the atmosphere of the room is changed frequently.
The county rule regarding the married status of female teachers didn’t change until 1942 when a regulation was passed entitled War Emergency Teachers. Because male teachers were called to military service, the change allowed districts to hire married women during the duration of the Emergency. Despite what would now be an illegal hiring practice, women who taught managed to serve in school leadership capacities. Most famous among them is Elizabeth Ordway who taught at the first schools built in the county and then became the Superintendent of County Schools in the 1880s and Jane A. Ruley, the first African American teacher in Kitsap County hired by the Sheridan School District in Bremerton in 1887 to open its first school.
Unlike today when collective bargaining determines teacher salaries, the first Silverdale teachers recalled that their salaries were determined by having them bid for how much they wanted to get paid with the job usually going to the lowest bidder. The average monthly salary of the county’s first teachers ranged between $30 and $40 per month and much of it was used to pay room and board to the families they lived with while teaching. In some of the first schools, such as the small 20 feet x 28 feet Seabeck School, an apartment for the teacher was part of the building and some students whose commute by boat or walking was too distant or dangerous boarded with the teacher when school was in session. (School transportation didn’t involve bus driver shortages back in the day. There are plenty of anecdotal memories in the book about students swimming to shore from overturned boats and getting charged by bears while commuting to school and teachers sinking in quicksand while walking home.)
In researching this post I discovered a website with old class photos from Kitsap schools in the early to mid 1900’s. Who do you know in these photos? What memories exist in your family records about early schools in the county?