©Jeanne Walsh, 1997


      One of the first community actions in all the new settlements in Nebraska was to organize a school. It was important to all the families to educate the children.  The first school district in Polk County was organized in 1871. A school district of nine square miles was organized in 1869 in the area of Ulysses in Butler County. Here a session of three months was held in the home of Dr. Thrapp. The next year another three month session was held and the following year a full nine month school.

(from Ulysses Centennial 1867-1967)

      According to an act of Congress one or two acres of land in a Precinct was to be set aside for a school. Celestean Delaet had homesteaded in Polk Co in 1872. A school was located north of his land but the families were not satisfied with the location. One night, Mr. Delaet and Henry Miller moved the little school house to Delaet's land , Sec 26 of Hackberry Precinct where the school remained, through several remodelings and rebuildings (from Shelby Centennial 1879-1979) It was called "Star".

(This history of Star School was found among some old papers in my motherís home in Shelby, written in pencil, author unknown. From the condition of the paper , the article appears to date back to the 1910-1920 era. The school was 2 miles south of Shelby and 1 and 3/4th miles east.)

History of Star School

The Star School, commonly called the DeLaet School, is situated in Hackberry Precinct, Range 1, District No. 22. The first school house was built in the year of 1877. It was a small building and faced the east with room enough to accomodate nearly thirty scholars. The land on which it was located was deeded to the county by Mr. DeLaet.

The first teacher was Miss Jennie Baker. Since then there has been different teachers, each one teaching a year or two.

Miss NellieCasselberry was a student of Star School and is now a music teacher of Shelby.

Miss Nina Inness got part of her education there and finished in Shelby. She is now a teacher of the public schools.

Frank Bennett also attended school there until last year when he went to Oregon and entered the College their and is preparing himself for a professor. His sister and brother went there also and entered the high school.

Mr. Charlie Casselberry, Frank Oestreicher, Glenn Chase and several others got their educations there and are now well-to-do farmers of this vicinity.

Mr. Pete DeLaet attended school there and is now a jeweler of Rising City.

The old school house was torn down in 1901 and a new one erected. The last teacher in the old building was Miss McKeag. Most of the pupils had spent a great many useful and happy days here and regretted to see it torn down.

The new school house is nearly twice as large as the old one and faces the south with room enough to accomadate nearly sixty scholars. Itís first teacher was Miss Dunning. Its present teacher being Miss Smith.

Most of the scholars are young and we hope they may each fullfill a position in this world and that Star School may some day prove to be one of the best educators in this country.

----- Author Unknown

(Star was closed upon the consolidation of schools in Polk Co A new school building was constructed in Shelby in 1961 and all students K-12 in the area attend this school.)

The photo (from Shelby Centennial 1879-1979) shows the wide range of ages that attended classes in the early days. Many  boys past the age of 10 or 12 worked in the harvest fields in the fall and in planting in the spring, attending school only during the winter months. They came back to school in the winter to the ages of 16 or 18. The Miller children are my mother, her brothers and sisters and two Miller cousins.

The following disbursement of school funds appears in Cox's "History of Seward County - 1888"

 The county superintendent reports the school fund as

     Apportioned by state              $1,452.42
    Dog fund                             193.38
    Fines and licenses                   100.00
     Total                            $1,745.80
  This was distributed to twenty-six directors as follows:

     District No.                              
       "   1, F. L. Roper, Camden               $ 85 25
       "   2, Orin Johnson, West Mills            44.58
       "   3. Sam Englehaught, on West Blue       51.15
       "   4, W. 3. Thompson, on Walnut creek     74.65
       "   5, Rev. T. M. Skinner, Milford        150.67
       "   6, Matthew Hackworth (east of Ruby)   110.00
       "   7, Geo. W. Lesenby, north of Milford   44.58
       "   8, Wm. Anderson, west of Seward        87.32
       "   9, H. L. Boyes,Seward                 125.92
       "   10, J. D. Thurman, on Lincoln creek    58.72
       "   11, W. W. Cox, north-west of Seward    44.58
       "   12, Thomas Poore, six miles north of  Seward.. 76  42
       "   13, C. C. Berkey, center of "A"        88.79
       "   14, E. C. Archer, west of Staplehurst  74.65
           15, wanting                           
       "   16, A. Montgomery, north-west of "N"   78.19
       "   17, M. M. Neeves                       62.28
       "   18, Sam Strohni, center of "0"         33.96
       "   19  Ed Healy, south-west of "P" ..     56.95
       "   20, 3. N. McCauley, center of "M "     58.73
       "   21, 3. A. Reymer, south-east of "I"    53.42
       "   22, Wolsey Weyant, southern "H"        46.35
       "   23, Thos. Healey, northern "N"         55.19
       "   24, II. J. McCall, west of "M"         44.58
       "   25, Wm. Halle, south-east of "N"       34.10
       "   26, George W. Losy (Batchelor)         51.65

(The letters as "A", "M" etc, refer to the county precincts
 where the schools are located. The area of  Seward County 
is a square grid, divided into 16 alphabetical precincts,
4 x 4 beginning in the northeast corner of the county 
with "A" precinct.)
A far cry from 1990 expenses!

This school building is representative of the second or even third building that was put up to accomodate the children of a rural district. Schools of this type were to be found about 3 or 4 miles apart over the entire area of eastern Nebraska. An eastern county might have 60 to 70 school districts.In western Nebraska the schools were much farther apart due to the sparse population. In 1915 there were 72 school districts in Polk County. Sometimes there was a pony barn, for the ponies the children rode to school. A windmill provided the water that the teacher carried in each day. Two small buildings "outhouses" provided toilet facilities. The small schools were heated with woodburning stoves A building as in the picture likely had a coal burning furnace in the basement. The teacher had to arrive early enough to get the schoolhouse warm and get the water carried in before the children arrived. After school, she/or he swept the floor, dumped the water, and in the case of the woodburning heater, carried in the wood for tomorrow's fire. Each school was governed by a local board, Director, Moderator and Treasurer, elected at a general meeting of the landowners and parents of the children which was held in June each year. They served for a period of 3 years at which time they could be re-elected. This board hired the teacher and determined the taxation needed to support the school. At the yearly meeting a cleaning committee was appointed to get the building in shape for the fall classes and decisions made on major repairs, if needed. One of the board members would mow the grass which was allowed to grow over the summer. School supplies were provided as each district saw fit, depending on the amount of revenue that was raised.

A "Course of Study" was determined by the State Board of Eduction and quarterly exams went to each rural school to give to the children (every nine weeks) and it was important that the curriculum be followed so that all children were receiving the same education. (I don't know when this began but at least by the 1930's)

There was a County Superintendent of Schools (elected at a county wide election along with other county officers) whose responsibility it was to oversee all the rural schools of the county. In Polk County (where I attended a rural school and later taught school) the Superintendent had a list of recommended texts for all classes. Miss Olive McBeth held this office for many years (1930's, 1940's) and she expected compliance in the use of these texts. She visited the schools on a regular, and "drop-in" basis, and she wanted to see the texts in use, the teacher's planning book, the buildings neat and in repair and an orderly classroom. She held "teachers' institute" in the courthouse in Osceola before classes began in Sept and thereafter quarterly during the school year which all teachers were expected to attend. There was no nonsense and no excuses with Miss McBeth!

State examinations were given to 7th and 8th grade rural school children (I don't know when this began, but before 1930) to determine if they had mastered the curriculum of the Course of Study set out by the State of Nebraska. These exams were not given by the students' own teacher. Usually the 7th and 8th graders went to the adjoining district or into the town school where the state tests were given. Exams were in Arithmetic, Mental Arithmetic, Bookkeeping, Reading, Hygiene, Grammar, Spelling, Penmanship, Drawing & Art, History, Civics, Geography, and Agriculture & Geography of Nebraska and these exams were tough! They were given in late April, and again in early May for those that did not get a passing grade of 70. A rural student could not attend high school until these exams had been passed successfully. It was a sign of a "good" teacher whose students passed the April exams.

Tuition was paid by the rural district to the town district for each rural student attending high school in town. "Rural free tuition" As a result of the close monitoring of the curriculum of the rural schools, the "country kids" were ready for higher education and did well in high school classes.


The very first teachers in Nebraska schools were former teachers in the east, maybe a maiden lady who had some education, perhaps a volunteer who had served as a lawyer in the east. Sometimes a mother would take in some neighbor children to teach in addition to her own. As colleges began courses in teacher training, so did the high schools. Any person who had completed the "Normal Training" course in high school and passed "Teachers' Exams" given at the county level 4 times a year with a grade no lower than 70 on any exam, and an average of 80 on the 14 exams could apply for a teaching certificate to teach a rural school. This certificate was good for three years. The certificate could be renewed only after taking 9 hrs of college credit in education. This was done by taking summer courses. During WWII this requirement was waved due to the scarcity of teachers. By the 1950's requirements became stricter until a degree in education at a 4 yr college was required.

Education in Nebraska Today

The consolidation of schools in Nebraska brought about the closing of the rural schools. Today bus routes bring the rural children into the small towns for their education. Even the small town schools have consolidated. Some large education complexes have been built equi-distant between 2, even 3 small towns. Electronic classrooms exist in many schools, bringing classes together in several schools, providing courses each school alone could not provide.

Who is to say that the children in the rural school of 1900 did not have as good a chance at a good life in their world, as the children of today have in our world with the complex system of education that has developed over the years.

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