Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture

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In December 1890 the Oklahoma Territorial Legislature provided for the gubernatorial appointment of a superintendent of public instruction (and ex officio territorial auditor) and a Territorial Board of Education, thereby joining other U.S. territories and states in assigning supervision and oversight of public education. Comprised of superintendents from the seven original counties of Oklahoma Territory and the territorial superintendent, the board was modified in 1893 when the county superintendents were replaced by the presidents of Territorial Normal School (now University of Central Oklahoma) and Territorial University (now University of Oklahoma) and one city and one county superintendent. After an assistant superintendent, stenographer, and clerks were hired in the superintendent's office, the framework for the Department of Public Instruction was formed.

The board addressed such topics as the development of teachers' examinations, textbook adoptions, the manner of paying teachers' wages, standards and qualifications for teaching certificates, courses of study, and the creation of normal schools and county institutes. Separate from his board duties, the territorial superintendent apportioned the territorial school fund income and annual school taxes, interpreted the provisions of the school laws for the county and city superintendents, published the school laws every other year, prepared and distributed the forms necessary for collecting data, visited each county at least annually, and submitted a biennial report to the governor. These reports, both narrative and statistical in nature, provided the superintendent a forum to inform the legislature about necessary statutory changes and the public about the progress and the expansion of the educational system. With this delineation of duties, the major responsibility for the governance of the schools lay with the county and city superintendents.

At statehood in 1907, school was held for at least three months of the year in 3,648 schools operating in 3,441 districts of the twenty-six counties of Oklahoma Territory. More than thirty-six hundred teachers were employed to teach the 167,803 pupils enrolled, an increase from 438 teachers and 9,395 students in 1891.

All seven territorial superintendents were college graduates, and five had previously held education positions. James H. Lawhead, who served as the first superintendent from December 1890 to August 1892, had worked as Kansas state superintendent. Joseph H. Parker (1892-94) was a teacher and principal in Vermont and a Congregationalist minister in Oklahoma. Evan Dhu Cameron (1894-96) was a Methodist minister, and Albert O. Nichols (1896-97) was assistant auditor. Stuart N. Hopkins (1897-1901) worked in Iowa as a teacher, principal, and county superintendent before becoming superintendent in El Reno. Louis W. Baxter (1901-06) was superintendent of the Guthrie schools, and James E. Dyche (January-November, 1907) was a teacher, principal, and superintendent in Kansas.

The superintendent's office was not free of controversy. Parker was forced out for allegedly devoting too much time to his ministry, Nichols was charged with unfair purchasing practices relating to a textbook company, and Hopkins' tenure ended when the legislature adjourned without confirming his reappointment. However, the political climate did not keep these men from working to build a solid foundation for the supervision of the schools during the Territorial Era.


BIBLIOGRAPHY: A. Kenneth Stern, "Laying Groundwork for the Future: The Oklahoma Territorial Superintendency and Superintendents of Public Instruction," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 77 (Fall 1999).

A. Kenneth Stern

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