Education and Religion

  1. THE early priest-explorers left little mark upon the Northwest wilderness. Attracted by the fascination of discovery and the prospect of spiritual conquest, Marquette, Joliet, Hennepin, and their contemporaries made heroic expeditions into a primitive country, evangelizing along the way. The first Christian mission on Minnesota soil, established in 1727 at Fort Beauharnois by Michel Guignas and Nicolas de Gonnor, was as shortlived as the French attempts at settlement in the land of the Sioux and Chippewa. By the time immigrants began to flow into Minnesota territory nearly all trace of French occupation had disappeared.

  2. When settlement of the Northwest was resumed in the early nineteenth century, missionaries to the Indians and clerics of pioneer white communities often combined the offices of educator and evangelist. Among the Indians, education was a prerequisite of Christianization, since the difficulty of language had first to be overcome and primitive religious concepts replaced by a smattering of the white man's culture. Most zealous of the early missionaries in the teaching of agricultural and domestic arts were the Pond brothers, Samuel and Gideon.

  3. Among the first settlers, the lack of public schools was an incentive for priest or pastor, the natural leader in the community--and often the only person with time for civic pursuits--to fill an educational role. As a result, most of the early schools in Minnesota were church-sponsored. This early alliance between church and school became a prime factor in developing the system of Catholic parochial schools and colleges, and the numerous colleges directed or supported by non-Catholic denominations. Ten percent of the total Minnesota school population attends these private and parochial schools.


  4. The first school in Minnesota was the post school at Fort Snelling, described by Mrs. Ellet on her visit there in 1820. Wives of the commandant and his officers taught the fort children their three R's and polite manners, and an ex-officer of Napoleon's army taught them French. The first school outside the fort was that of the Pond brothers, who, together with the Reverend Jedediah D. Stevens, opened their log school on the west bank of Lake Harriet in 1835. These lay missionaries tutored the Dakota (Sioux) Indians in farming and domestic arts as well as Christianity. Within a year they had devised the "Pond alphabet" of the Sioux language; in 1836 they published a spelling book. A 3,000-word dictionary, translations of Scripture, and a Grammar and Dictionary of the Dakota Mission, printed in 1852 by the Smithsonian Institution, were other fruits of their long labors with the Dakotas. The Ponds are said to have spoken the Sioux language better than any other white men.

  5. Four years after the Ponds had begun to educate the Sioux, the first Catholic school was established among the Chippewa at Grand Portage. Not until 1847 did organized education of Minnesota's white children begin. Dr. Thomas S. Williamson, aided by the National Education Society, brought Harriet Bishop from the East that year to teach the 36 St. Paul children who were of school age. The schoolhouse was a log hovel some 10 by 12 feet, covered with bark and chinked with mud, and previously used as a blacksmith shop. Other schools soon followed--the first parochial school for white children, founded in St. Paul in 1851, and numerous missionary and denominational institutions. Poorly financed and prematurely organized, except for those under Catholic control, most of them expired during the panic of 1857.

  6. Among these early ventures were the Baldwin School and the College of St. Paul, founded, respectively, in 1853 and 1854 by the Rev. E. D Neill, a noted educator, historian, public official, and Presbyterian clergy man. Out of these academies grew Macalester College in St. Paul, a Presbyterian institution.

  7. The oldest college in Minnesota, Hamline University, was founded at Red Wing in 1854 by Methodist sponsors. One of the few schools to survive the 1857 panic, Hamline continued at Red Wing until 1869 when it suspended for lack of finances; eleven years later the institution was relocated at its present site in St. Paul.

  8. Gustavus Adolphus College, founded at Red Wing in 1862 by Erik Norelius, had for its aim "the higher Christian Education for Swedish-American Lutheran youth." In 1876 the college was moved to St. Peter, its present location.

  9. The public school system owes its foundation to the Federal land ordinance of 1785 setting aside one section of each township for the support of the common schools; but when Minnesota became a Territory in 1849 a generous Congress granted two sections in each township for school aid. How valuable these lands were to become Congress could hardly guess, nor did it suspect that the grants in the northern part of the State were to be worth millions in timber and iron.

  10. In 1849, only three centers, Stillwater, St. Paul, and St. Anthony, were sufficiently developed to demand schools; but two years later the second session of the Territorial Legislature took steps toward establishing a State university. In November of the same year the white two-story frame building near Richard Chute Square in St. Anthony was opened to 40 pupils by principal Elijah W. Merrill, a Methodist minister. In 1858 the university moved to its present site on the east bank of the Mississippi River. From 1860 to 1867 no attempt was made to operate the school, and it was not until after 1868, when preparatory classes were resumed and a new charter was granted by the legislature, that the university began to play a vital role in state affairs. This was the last year that preparatory instruction was offered; in 1869 the university became a full-fledged institution of collegiate rank. The reorganization called for establishment of five or more colleges or departments, election of a new board of regents, and combination of the Congressional grants for an agricultural college and the State university.

  11. Today the University of Minnesota, with more than 14,000 students ranks high in attendance among the Nation's colleges and is noted for its educational research in several fields. That its board of regents honors academic freedom is attested by the reinstatement (1938) of Dr. William A. Schaper, who suffered dismissal in 1917 after unproved allegations of "pro-Germanism."

  12. The first legislative session of the new State of Minnesota in 1858 provided for a uniform system of public schools to be supported by the sale of school lands, and for three State normal schools--just 20 years after Massachusetts had founded the first normal school in the United States. These schools for teachers were opened at Winona in 1860 (the same year that saw the opening of Minnesota's first high school), Mankato in 1868, St. Cloud in 1869. As the population increased and spread to the north and west, three more normal schools were added--at Moorhead in 1888, Duluth in 1902, and Bemidji in 1919. In 1921 the titles of these schools were changed to State teachers' colleges.

  13. The first report of the superintendent of public schools, for the year 1851, showed only four schools and 250 students. But with the end of the Civil War schools began to open in increasing numbers. The legislatures have consistently passed measures to insure school income from land, timber, and ore royalties, and without prejudice it may be said that State administrators have handled Minnesota's school funds conscientiously and wisely. At the beginning of the fiscal year 1935 these amounted to $64,550,076.31. It is estimated that iron ore now under lease will add at least $25,000,000, while lands yet to be sold will yield further revenue.

  14. In Minnesota today there are 7,689 school districts. These show the widest variation in their financial resources. Some have sufficient wealth to maintain excellent schools upon a modest tax fee; others can provide only a minimum program; still others cannot maintain even a minimum program without excessive taxation. These inequalities are an outgrowth of the outmoded district school system originally set up by a Territorial act. By this provision districts were organized with no relation either to population or to taxable wealth. In its attempts to aid schools, the legislature has established four funds; an endowment fund, a current school fund, an income tax school fund, and a special State-aid fund. Despite this assistance, only one-fifth of the aid now given is based on need. The present system fails to provide equal opportunities or to equalize the burden of tax support.

  15. It is notable that Minnesota students stay in school for a period longer than the average throughout the United States. More than one-half of the pupils in the Nation fail to complete the eighth grade; only 16 percent drop out of elementary classes in Minnesota. Including the university, teachers' and private schools, and colleges, one person in about every four residing in the State attended school in 1930--a school attendance ratio that places Minnesota fourteenth among the States.

  16. Minnesota was the originator of the program for emergency student aid to assist students in attending college. When the Federal Government inaugurated a similar plan for both university and high school pupils, Minnesota was unique among the States in adopting a program that supplemented Federal assistance by giving additional aid to needy children under the age of sixteen.

  17. The junior college movement has progressed slowly in Minnesota, probably because the State does not subsidize these schools. With nine junior colleges, and an additional two which are church schools, Minnesota ranks sixteenth among the States in the number of such institutions. Those maintained by the public are supported through appropriations from local school funds and by tuition fees, the maximum fee being $100 per year.

  18. In its program for handicapped children, Minnesota has made unusual advances. As early as 1863 the State school for the deaf, dumb, and blind was opened. Today nearly 2 percent of the common-school population is enrolled in special classes for the defective in speech, the mentally subnormal, the blind, the deaf, and the crippled. With the entire administration of the program under State aid and supervision, 8,677 were enrolled in special classes during the school year 1935-36. However, since each of the laws concerning aid for the handicapped, mentally and physically, was separately written, the various types of handicapped children are not equally well cared for. Rural schools do not have enough students to justify classes with special teachers and equipment.

  19. Crippled children are comparatively well cared for, the State providing transportation for each child or living expenses near schools to the extent of seventy cents per day.

  20. The State schools for the blind, the deaf, and the feeble-minded are situated in Faribault and are governed by the State board of control. Schools for crippled children, such as Michael Dowling in Minneapolis, and Lindsay in St. Paul, while not under State direction, are subsidized by the State department of education.

  21. The department of education administers the Federal program of vocational rehabilitation. Thus the schoolboy or girl who is physically handicapped can be prepared specifically for the 2-year Federal training period restricted to those over sixteen. The rehabilitation division of the State department of education aims also to place all physically handicapped persons in remunerative positions.

  22. Music and art are taught in most schools in the State. In high schools, four courses in music and one in art are commonly offered. In the larger high schools, universities, and colleges, facilities for advanced study are available to talented students. According to a recent survey, however, the offering of music in Minnesota schools is smaller than in many other States. The larger schools, paradoxically, tend to have less musical activity than the smaller, perhaps because of heavier extra-curricular programs.

  23. The development of opportunity for education has not been an orderly process in Minnesota. The early 1900's found a complete and unified system of schools in the thickly populated sections, but too often merely a one-room log school in the sparsely settled northern portion.

  24. In 1937 there were 23 school districts in Lake of the Woods County (the most northerly part of the United States); only 16 of these qualified for State aid. In the same year the school at Penasse was held in a 14- by 16-foot log building, whose plastered interior alone made it distinguishable from the St. Paul smithy where Miss Bishop taught in 1847.

  25. At present one Indian boarding school for institutional cases, with an enrollment of 300, is maintained at Pipestone by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. All other Indian pupils attend the public and reservation schools; funds for their education, which in 1936-37 amounted to $82,900, are derived from tribal funds and State equalization funds.

  26. The State has two folk schools, both Danish, one at Askov and the other at Tyler.


  27. The efforts of early missionaries to proselyte Minnesota Indians were largely unproductive. They were hampered by the difficulty of language, the Indians' primitive religious concepts, the uninspiring example of white traders, and a general mismanagement of Indian affairs by the Government.

  28. The Protestant missionary felt obliged to give the Indian a book religion; consequently he had to begin by studying their speech and creating a written language, or, more rarely, by acquainting his prospective converts with English. Boutwell and Ayer, the first Protestant missionaries to the Chippewa, collaborated on a Chippewa grammar and on translations of the Bible, but Ayer's mission, like many others that followed, was soon abandoned. Another Presbyterian, Dr. Thomas S. Williamson, established a Sioux mission at Lac qui Parle in 1835, the same year that a Catholic mission was opened among the Chippewa of the Lake Superior region. Mission societies began to send their emissaries to Minnesota in 1836. Grand Portage acquired a Catholic mission and Fort Snelling an Episcopal chaplain in 1838. In 1841 Father Galtier built the first permanent Catholic church in the territory, the Chapel of St. Paul, from which the city takes its name. Father Augustine Ravoux, who succeeded Galtier late in 1841, built churches in Mendota and St. Anthony. Between 1845 and 1848 Episcopal missions were established in St. Paul, Stillwater, and Red Wing, and, about 1850, Episcopal activities were extended to the Chippewa.

  29. A slave, James Thompson, purchased and freed by the Rev. Alfred Brunson, a Methodist minister, helped erect the first Methodist Church in St. Paul, which was also the first Protestant church in the State. The ex-slave became one of the church's first members.

  30. The first immigrants in the great influx of the fifties were largely Irish and German Catholics, and by 1851 the Catholic population had so increased that St. Paul was made the seat of a bishopric. The Right Reverend Joseph Cretin was appointed first bishop of Minnesota and a rapid expansion of Catholic activities followed. Schools were opened in St. Paul and St. Anthony in 1851 by the Sisters of St. Joseph. The first hospital in the State, St. Joseph's, was opened in St. Paul in 1854; the foundation for St. John's University, near St. Cloud, was laid by the Benedictine order in 1857.

  31. When the Upper Sioux were removed to their reservations on the Minnesota River after 1851, all their mission stations--Red Wing, Kaposia Oak Grove, and Prairieville--were abandoned, and with the exception of Dr. Williamson, who was transferred to a new station among the Wahpeton near the Yellow Medicine Agency, the clerical missionaries remained as pastors of local white congregations.

  32. Organized evangelism by the Methodist Episcopal Church and by Swedish Lutherans began in the early 1850'S. The story of their early religious activities is one of haphazard meeting places and lay preachers, of persistent but usually unsuccessful attempts to obtain ordained ministers, and of intense competition among the various sects--often within a single church. This competitive spirit, at first a stimulus to the pastors, resulted ultimately in the over-building of church structures and the division of members into small congregations.

  33. First on the scene, the Methodists made a determined but only partially successful attempt to enroll the Scandinavians, who began to settle in Minnesota in the early 1850'S. The circuit riders and their camp meetings and revivals offered welcome interludes in pioneer life. Perhaps the most famous of these riders was John Dyer, who was appointed to the Caledonia Circuit Mission in 1857 and later was transferred to the Austin Circuit. "Brother" Dyer, according to an early account, "had hard going in a godless, drunken region," though for the most part people were not then surfeited with sermons.

  34. Among the oldest Swedish settlements in Minnesota is Vasa, still a Swedish stronghold. Erik Norelius organized Lutheran congregations at Vasa and at nearby Red Wing in 1855. Followed by a few constituents from Indiana, he took personal charge of them in 1856, supplanting the lay leader, Col. Hans Mattson. Norelius became both a religious and a political power. Among other accomplishments, he started the Minnesota Posten the State's first Swedish paper, founded an orphanage, started a private school which was the nucleus of Gustavus Adolphus College, and rose to leadership in the Minnesota Conference and the Augustana Synod.

  35. Originally directed from Illinois, Swedish Lutherans gained a measure of independence by the formation of the Minnesota Conference in 1858 at Chisago City. In 1860 the Swedish Lutherans of Minnesota and other States established their own church authority, the Scandinavian Evangelical Lutheran Augustana Synod of North America. Between 1854 and 1884 there was little co-operation among them, and their churches multiplied alarmingly in poverty-stricken frontier settlements.

  36. The Swedish settlers began to establish parochial schools in the 1860's, but it fell to the Methodists to found Minnesota's first college, Hamline, which opened its doors at Red Wing in 1854. The Protestants' effort to establish a permanent parochial school system, however, was relatively unsuccessful.

  37. The Protestant Episcopal Church was headed by Henry Benjamin Whipple, who became the first Minnesota bishop in 1859. Whipple lived at Faribault, where Episcopal schools were established during the next decade. After the Sioux uprising in 1862, Whipple was said to be the only man in public life who dared oppose wholesale executions of the Sioux captives. His representations to Abraham Lincoln, in which he laid much of the responsibility for the outbreak on mistaken Government policy, are said to have influenced the President to investigate and finally commute the sentences of all but 39.

  38. The Rev. Lars J. Hauge, a Baptist, led a group of Danes to Freeborn County in 1862. Hauge, a dairying enthusiast, had a hand in the organization of the first permanent co-operative creamery in Minnesota, started at Clark's Grove in 1890.

  39. Both Swedes and Norwegians, accustomed to a state church, were slow and haphazard in organizing church bodies in the New World. Later, especially among the Norwegians, many synods were formed, and not until 1917 did Minnesota Norsemen merge three synods to form the Norwegian-Lutheran Church of America, now second to the Roman Catholic in church membership in Minnesota.

  40. Religious instruction was a characteristic activity among pioneer Norwegian congregations. At first the weekday and vacation schools were conducted in various private homes. Weekday schools were held during the winter when no public schools existed; summer vacation schools generally extended over a two-month period. Sunday schools in nearly all congregations, and parochial schools in several, were a later addition.

  41. In the early Norwegian communities, life revolved about the church and the pastor. His word was law in spiritual matters and hardly less authoritative in civil affairs. An early reminiscence states, "We were Lutherans, so there were no parties. Going to church was our only amusement."

  42. At the time Minnesota Territory was established in 1849, English and French were the common languages, and both religious services and civil business were carried on in those tongues. The new immigrants, however, included Irish, Germans, Bohemians, Poles, Italians, Hungarians, Belgians, Rumanians, Scandinavians, Czechoslovakians, Icelanders, Greeks, Russians, and lastly Finns and Mexicans; and soon after their arrival churches were organized to conduct services in their respective languages. But with Americanization of these groups and the cessation of immigration the practice of holding services in a foreign language has steadily declined.

  43. At the beginning of 1850 there were few churches in Minnesota. In 1870 there were 877 organized churches and 582 church edifices. By 1900 the number of churches had increased to 4,000, but, owing to improved transportation facilities, economic factors, and the shifting of residential districts in the cities, some consolidation of parishes has occurred. The result has been, that with a noticeable increase in population since 1900, the number of churches remains about the same.

  44. An amendment to the State constitution in 1877, prohibiting religious instruction in the public schools, served to increase the number of parish schools in the State and caused many a taxpayer to groan under the double burden. Faribault Catholics exploded an educational bombshell by announcing, just before the beginning of the school year 1891, that the Faribault parochial school would not reopen. Lacking facilities for the 150 parochial pupils, public school officials, much as the Catholics had expected, accepted the suggestion that the parochial school be rented to the school board for one dollar per year. Three nuns remained as teachers, but the city superintendent had full jurisdiction and no religious instruction was allowed during regular school hours. Modeled after experiments in other cities, notably Poughkeepsie, the plan had the support of the highest Catholic authorities. Wide publicity given the experiment stimulated a similar effort at Stillwater, where the opening of the school year had been delayed by an epidemic, but after concerted opposition by Protestant ministers, particularly in Minneapolis, the plan was discontinued by common consent. The Faribault alliance was disapproved by the annual Faribault school meeting in 1892, and the system was abandoned in 1893 when Catholics objected to the replacement of two nuns by public school teachers.

  45. In 1923 an amendment to the compulsory education law permitted children to be excused from public schools for not more than 3 hours a week to attend church-maintained religious schools.

  46. Since 1925 Minnesota has been a center of the Liturgical Movement in the Catholic Church, owing to the efforts of the Benedictines of St. John's Abbey at Collegeville and of priests at St. Thomas College and St. Paul Seminary. The movement aims to revive the communal spirit of the early Roman Church, substituting for a formalized choir a communal rendition of hymns and responses. It has been extensively publicized and promoted by periodicals, books, and pamphlets published by priests and laymen in these localities.

  47. The anti-evolution controversy of the 1920's, which attained its height in Tennessee's Scopes case, also had its legislative counterpart in Minnesota. W. B. Riley, a Baptist pastor who had engaged in a long controversy with university officials and had denounced evolutionary teachings, particularly at the university and at Carleton College, headed a group of Fundamentalists who sponsored an anti-evolution measure in the legislature in February 1927. The introduction of the bill was the signal for concerted agitation, pro and con, by ministers, educators, students, and laymen. University students, whose casual reaction to a series of lectures by the Rev. W. B. Riley had been that the speaker was "a very nice looking man," turned out five thousand strong at a mass meeting and affixed five thousand names to a protest petition. After a preliminary hearing, the Minnesota Senate laid the "Monkey Bill" effectively to rest by a vote of 55 to 7.