By Lily Kongslien
Special to the Star Journal
Seventy-some years ago, the last class of teachers graduated from the Oneida County Normal School, also known as the Oneida County Teacher’s Training College.
Oneida County was established Jan. 1, 1887, and the first Oneida County courthouse, which was built in 1887, became the home of the Oneida County Normal School, an institution established to train teachers for its rural schools. The “new” courthouse was constructed between 1908 and 1910 and is our current beautiful courthouse located on Oneida Avenue.
An organizational meeting was held in May of 1910 to establish the Oneida County Normal School and classes began that fall in the old courthouse building, which was located on Baird Avenue. On the board were A.W. Brown, Arthur Taylor and County Superintendent F. A. Lowell. In 1910, the first year of operation, there was an enrollment of around 32 future teachers. In 1911, the enrollment increased to around 40 and records verify that there were 12 graduates in 1912. Up until 1937, it was a one-year course. In 1938, it became a two-year course. Some of the class of 1937 who didn’t get contracts came back for the second year of training and graduated with the class of 1938.
The last class graduated from Oneida County Normal School in the spring on 1943. The building was, I am told, made into apartments and was later torn down to make way for St. Mark’s Lutheran Church.
One of the main reasons for creating the Oneida County Normal School was the great demand for teachers within the county and surrounding areas, as by 1910, the population of Oneida County was around 11,500 because the two railroads, Milwaukee Lake Shore & Western and the Soo Line, attracted settlers.
In 1910, after the creation of the normal school, the city of Rhinelander rented two rooms on the first floor of the building for grades 1, 2 and 5 with the training school to have the privilege of practice teaching with these pupils. Then in 1914, a model school was added with grades 1 and 4, and later all eight grades were taught with children also coming from the “Hogsback” and Pine Lake.
After 1925, all teacher trainees were required to teach one week in a rural school before graduating. This was called “cadet” teaching and one of the requirements for graduation and certification.
The five principals during the school’s existence were B. Mark Dresden, W.H. Macken, M.V. Boyce, R.S. Havenor and Frank Young. Teachers in the training school were Margaret Sutton, Nellie Plugh, Maude Calvert, Dora McKibbon, Viola Hopkins, Idella Ray, Olga Dalhstrand, Ruth Ledwell and Mabel Jensema. The model school teachers were Bernice Newell, Minnie Schofield, Jennie Levings, Elizabeth Quinnell, Leona Sloan Winat and Marion Blatchley.
Many of the normal schools did hold summer sessions for six weeks to provide the necessary certification for teachers lacking additional training.
The regular two-year course consisted of classes and instructions for the teacher-trainees and eventually the practice teaching of all eight grades and all subjects necessary to equip would-be teachers for their position as “the teacher” in his/her own school and to meet the requirements of certification.
In June 1977, a reunion was held in Rhinelander for the alumni of the Oneida County Normal School and graduates came from many different areas to renew acquaintances and reminisce about the days of their preparation to become a rural teacher.
I was a 1942 graduate of the Oneida County Normal School, and thinking back at some of the highlights of those years, I would have to include:
• the many, many daily lesson plans;
• working on unit lesson plans, with the dreaded “date due”;
• a week of cadet teaching in the spring of our senior year at a country school. We had to prepare and teach all grades and subjects (I did my cadet week at the Manor School in Pine Lake);
• getting to the normal school by 6 a.m. to type for several hours before school began (this was a NYA project paying .25 per hour and was needed to help pay rent);
• realizing that we had a long way to go before we could become a polished teacher, especially after being critiqued by the staff of teachers after practice teaching downstairs in the model school;
• four special teachers to me were Mabel Jensema, Ruth Ledwell, Olga Dahlstrand and Marion Blatchley. They cared and their encouragement and help were instrumental in making teachers out of “raw material”;
• our graduation in the spring, and the good feeling that we were offered a contract for the school year;
• the many close friendships during the two years; and
• two years of hard work and study. We were now certified teachers in the state of Wisconsin.