Source: scanned picture from 1878 History of Knox County, IL.
Miss Mary Allen West. In the spring of 1836 the advance guard of the Galesburg colonists reached Log City. Among the company were Nehemiah West, Catherine, his wife, and their 5 children. Here, in a log house, July 31, 1837, was born Mary Allen West. The log house is still in existence, and is now occupied by Mr. Crosscup's hens. Mr. West soon removed to his new house in Galesburg, and here his daughter grew to womanhood; educated entirely in the Galesburg district school and in Knox Seminary. The peculiar atmosphere which surrounded her childhood's home must have had much to do with the formation of her character. They were rigid Puritan folk who formed that little colony, and although they loved all the bright and pleasant things of life, yet placed the interests of religion and education before everything else.
When Miss West was 13 she passed the required examination to enter Knox Seminary, but the rules of that institution admitted no pupil under the age of 15. Prof. Hitchcock, much to her amusement, advised her to teach a year or two. This she did; entering Knox Seminary as soon as permitted, she graduated at 17, and immediately entered upon what has since proved to be the great work of her life, the work of a teacher; for a teacher she preeminently is, whether in the school-room, the superintendent's office, at her desk, or in society. With the exception of 3 years, she taught constantly, until her election as Co. Supt. A characteristic episode of her teaching was her connection with the colored school. During the first years of the war a great number of contrabands flocked to Galesburg; they were anxious to learn to read. Miss W. offered to teach the colored school, and did so for a year and a half, working under great difficulties. Her pupils often numbered more than a hundred, of all ages.
When Miss W. was little more than a girl she wrote an article on "The Use of Wine in Cooking." This was published in one of the Galesburg papers, and was her first attempt at writing for the press. Since then she has found time in her busy life to do much of such work, writing occasionally for the Christian Union and other papers. For 2 years she edited "Our Home Monthly," of Philadelphia. But in her literary work, as in everything else, she has shown that she is pre-eminently an educator. She has written largely for various educational journals, often giving her articles to some struggling publication devoted to the interests of education, when, if sent in other directions, she would have received liberal pay for them. She has been offered positions on various editorial staffs, and is now Illinois correspondent of the New England Journal of Education, Boston. We understand that she is engaged on a literary work of a more permanent character.
April 3, 1873, the Legislature passed a law making woman eligible to all school offices in the State. Immediately leading gentlemen besought her to become a candidate for the office of Co. Supt. of Schools. This she refused, and was greatly astonished to find, at the close of the Republican Convention, that the nomination had been given to her. She was elected over two opposing candidates by a good majority. She was again nominated, in 1877, this time by acclamation, and re-elected by a large majority.
We have not space to speak, even superficially, of all that Miss W. has done for the co.; we refer the reader to chapter on "Education." She has read papers at the State Teachers' Institute, and at the State Association of Co. Superintendent., and has been, ever since its formation, a member of the Examining Committee of the State Teachers' Association. She is also a member of the International Council of Education of the Permanent Exposition in Phil. It was the aspiration of her girlhood to be a missionary, but she has striven to work for her Master in the place He has given her. She has been for several years Pres. of the little mission band, Prairie Gleaners, from whose number have already gone 4 foreign missionaries, and 3 to work among the Indians and freedmen. She has ever been a hard Sunday-school worker, conducting for many years a large Bible class for young ladies in the S. S. of the First Church, and, since the removal of the jail to Galesburg, working every Sunday afternoon among its inmates. Miss W. has always been deeply interested in the temperance cause. She organized, and has since superintended the Center. Div. of the Band of Hope. She has been active in the local Temperance Union and Vice Pres. of this organization in the 9th Congressional Dist. She has also delivered many temperance addresses, and has been heard to declare that whenever it is too stormy for the gentlemen to keep an appointment in a country neighborhood, the committee always come to her, knowing, by experience, that neither rain, cold or Knox co. mud will keep her at home when there is work to be done for temperance. Gale&burg was not behind in sending her soldiers to the ranks during the late war or caring for them, and high up on the list of those who did indispensable work at home, stands the name of Mary Allen West. She was, during the entire existence of the Soldiers' Aid Society, either its Rec. or Cor. Secretary. It was her work to look after Galesburg boys wherever they were, particularly the sick and wounded; and her correspondence was very large, not to mention the constant appeals and reports which came from her pen. To the 4 days' Sanitary Fair that was held in Galesburg, Attorney General Bates sent his photograph, with the following written on the back, as his autograph: "To the best woman at the Galesburg Fair: from the old fogy, Edward Bates of Mo." This was unanimously voted to Miss West. She has represented her city, co. and State in various State, National and International Conventions. She was a member of the Woman's Centennial Commission, and was one of the Com. that presented the petition for home protection to the State Legislature. She is much interested in the "Social Science" movement, and is Vice President of the association for this Congressional District. She is always ready to give her thoughtful advice and more substantial aid to all who come to her; and although, perhaps, it is not fitting to dwell upon such things here, yet there are many young girls through the county who would be glad to acknowledge that she has helped them to attain not only a higher education but also a higher life in every way.
Her abilities as a housekeeper are great. She is also something of an artist, and enjoys spending her spare hours—of which she has not found any of late— with pallet and brushes. That she has been able to accomplish so much in her life, is, as she herself often says, largely owing to the fact that she never lets a moment go to waste. Source: 1878 History of Knox County, IL,
The school charter, which was granted by the Legislature in 1859, contains no provision for the education of colored children. This was a strange omission, considering that Galesburg was, at that time, noted for its abolition sentiment and was one of the stations on the Underground Railroad. In providing for taking the school census, the charter uses the term "white children" only; and in defining the qualifications for admission to the schools, the phrase, "all free white persons" is used.
The subject of a separate school for the benefit of the colored children of the city was introduced at a meeting of the Board of Education held July 22, 1863, and, after some discussion, it was voted that the Board would furnish a teacher and pay all the expenses of conducting such a school, if the colored people would furnish a suitable room for the purpose at their own expense. This would seem to indicate that the idea of a separate school for colored children originated with the colored people themselves, which would not be at all strange. A separate school for colored children was opened in September, 1863, with Miss Mary Allen West as teacher. In September of this year the Board voted, "That colored children in the district are expected to attend the school provided for them, and no other." There is no record indicating the location of this school.
On May 01, 1882, The Fourth Ward School building was burned. The second story being totally destroyed and the first practically ruined. It was discovered by the Principal, Miss Sara Pettee, about 9:30 o'clock in the morning. The signals for dismissal were sounded and the children marched out of the burning building as quietly and orderly as though no danger threatened. In three minutes every child was out of the building. Miss Mary Allen West, then the County Superintendent of Schools, commented on this fire in the educational column she was editing in the Republican-Register, in part as follows:
"Those of us who remember the panic which occurred in the High School, when it took fire the year after its completion, fully appreciate this result of discipline. If we mistake not, the beautiful exhibition of orderly movement shown at the late fire reaches back to the panic of the first. Superintendent Roberts instituted fire drills which we believe have been continued ever since. Occasionally, and always at unexpected times, signals of dismissing are given, and the children form in order and march out of the building. So perfect in this drill did the pupils become, that we remember once emptying the entire High school building two minutes;"
Source: Galesburg Public Schools Their History and Work, 1861-1911 William Lucas Steele, A. M. (Monmouth), Ph. D. (Knox), published Galesburg, IL: published by the Board of Education, 1911.
more on Mary Allen West later... Miss West was one terrific woman in the history of Knox County, IL.