Historically Speaking: Remembering Oneida County Normal School
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 January 1, 1887 and the first courthouse, which was built in 1887 became home to the Normal School. It was an institution established to train teachers for its rural schools. The “new” courthouse was constructed between 1908 and 1910 and is our present beautiful courthouse located on Oneida Avenue.
An organizational meeting was held in May 1940 to establish the Oneida County Normal School; classes started that fall in the old courthouse building which was located on Baird Ave., at the present location of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church. On that Board was 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 contract came back for the second year of training and so graduated with the class of 1938.
The last class graduated from Oneida County Normal School in the spring of 1943. The building was, I am told, made into apartments, and was later torn down to make way for the new St. Mark’s Lutheran Church.
One of the main reasons for creating the 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. 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 one, two and five with the Training School to have the “privilege” of “practice teaching” with these pupils. Then in 1914 a “Model School” was added with grades one to four 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 Dresen, H.W. Macken, M.V. Boyce, R.S. Havenor and Frank Young. Teachers in the training school included Margaret Sutton, Nellie Plugh, Maude Calvert, Dora McKibbon, Viola Hopkins, Idella Ray, Olga Gaustad Dahlstrand, 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 or 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. Graduates came from many areas, near and far, to renew acquaintances and reminisce the days of the preparation to become a rural teacher.
I was a 1942 graduate of the school and thinking back at some of the highlights of those years I would include the many, many daily lesson plans, a week of “Cadet” teaching in the spring of our senior years at a county school. We had to prepare and teach all grades and subjects. I did my Cadet week at the Manor School in Pine Lake; Noreen Bodwin was the teacher.
Other highlights include getting to the Normal School by 6 a.m. to type for several hours before school began. This was NYA project paying 25 cents per hour and was needed to help pay room rent, etc. We also realized then that we had a long way to go before we could be a policed teacher, especially after being critiqued by the staff of teachers after practice teaching downstairs in the model school.
Graduation in the spring was a highlight, and I remember the good feeling when we were offered a contract for the next school year. We made many close friendships during the two years in school. It was also two years of hard work and study, but in the end we were certified teachers for the state of Wisconsin.