Saturday, April 28, 2018

Miss Julia Scott: Russell's first school teacher

Julia Scott Carpenter; her husband, George; and children, Ward and May.

Old settler reunions were annual events in Lucas County as the 19th century turned into the 20th. We're fortunate to have copies of many of the historically oriented papers produced to be read during them, including those from the Sept. 6, 1900, gathering in Chariton, published in The Patriot of October 18.

One of the speakers that year was Col. Warren S. Dungan, pioneer attorney, Civil War veteran and organizer of Iowa's first county historical society --- in Lucas County. That society did not survive, unfortunately; the current Lucas County Historical Society was organized in 1965.

In his 1900 speech, Dungan sorted out a number of errors that Dan Baker had made some 20 years earlier when preparing for the 1881 publication of Lucas County's first history book --- including the name of the first school teacher in Russell.

Baker had declared that James May was the first teacher; Dungan proved that the first term of classes actually had been taught by Julia Scott Carpenter. Here's the text of his remarks concerning the matter. The cited letters were to Henry Gittinger, at the time editor of The Russell Union.


Another point wherein I think the history of the county of 1881 is at fault is as to who taught the first school in Russell. I submit the following correspondence, which seems to me to settle that question and shows that Miss Julia Scott (now Mrs. Julia Scott Carpenter) was the first, and that her school was taught in the spring of 1869, and Mr. James May taught a winter term in the winter of 1869 and '70.

The following is the correspondence referred to:

Chariton, Iowa, Sept. 13, 1899
Russell Union: At the 30th anniversary of the organization of the Presbyterian church of Russell, held last week, in my remarks on the subject assigned to me, towit: Early recollections of Russell, I stated that from information received that morning I was led to believe that Miss Julia Schott, now Mrs. Julia Scott Carpenter, had the honor of teaching the first school in Russell, instead of Mr. James May, to whom the history of Lucas county published in 1881 gives that honor. To settle question and keep history straight and reliable, on my return home I wrote Mrs. Carpenter and received the following answer:

Chariton, Iowa, Sept. 9, 1899
Mr. Warren S. Dungan.
Dear Sir: Yours of the 6th inst. at hand and I will state that I taught the spring term in Russell in Russell in the year of 1869 and it has always been my understanding that I taught the first school in Russell. I did not keep an account of when the school began and closed but I can find it, and also I remember that there were 66 scholars enrolled and compensation per month (was) $25, and term, three months. The church was used for every gathering and long benches without backs and pole legs inserted through auger holes were carried in to accommodate the audiences and every Monday morning and two or three times during the week, the teacher would have all of these long, heavy benches to drag out and pile up behind the house. There was a large knot hole in the floor not far from my table and one morning a little before recess a large blue-racer raised its head a foot or more through it and took a survey of the toom and concluded that the school was not worth anything and then retired. If I have said anything that will help you, I shall be glad.
Sincerely, Julia Scott Carpenter

I then wrote to Mr. James May who kindly called at my office today and stated that he had no doubt that Miss Scott taught the first school and that he taught the first winter school as also the second.  Mr. May was much pleased at hearing Mrs. Carpenter's letter read and greatly amused at her snake story. This settles the question of who taught the first school in Russell --- Miss Julia Scott. It was a three months' term in the spring of 1869, and that the school was taught in the Presbyterian church. It is also settled that Mr. James May taught the first winter school in Russell and that it was also taught in the Presbyterian church, in the winter of '69 and '70. He also taught in the same place the next winter. She was paid $25 per month and he, $40 per month.

I am inclined to think that when Mrs. Carpenter finds her records she will see that her memory as to number of pupils enrolled she had is a little high.
Yours sincerely, Warren S. Dungan

(Mrs. Carpenter says she is not mistaken in the number of scholars. The railroad grade workers furnished more than half the attendance --- bright and healthy Irish boys and girls. The teacher was but fifteen years of age --- managing 66 pupils of all ages and sizes. --- Ed Union.)


There's at least one error in this account, too --- inserted by Gittinger rather than Dungan. Julia  was 16 going on 17 when she took on the task of managing 66 students single-handed, not 15. But note that she received only $25 per month as a teacher; her male successor, James May, $40.

Born May 13, 1852, Julia was the eldest child of Aaron Salter and Elizabeth (Wells) Scott. They were among the earliest settlers of Benton Township --- just west of Russell, founded in 1867 when the railroad arrived. Julia, therefore, was among the first youngsters born in Lucas County.

She married George F. Carpenter on March 19, 1879, and they had two children, Ward and May. She died on May 9, 1907, at the family home on North Grand Street in Chariton and was buried in the Chariton Cemetery.

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