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Days Past: A capital school for the new (old) capital

Prescott Free Academy, with Washington School at rear, Prescott, Arizona, C.1903. Call number BU-S-5025P.

Courtesy Sharlot Hall Museum

Prescott Free Academy, with Washington School at rear, Prescott, Arizona, C.1903. Call number BU-S-5025P.

photo

Courtesy Sharlot Hall Museum

Moses Hazeltine Sherman, first principal of Prescott Free Academy, C. 1900. Call number PO-1141P.

Moving the Territorial capital back to Prescott in 1877 increased exposure for the Prescott Free Academy. That school had been built a year earlier to replace the town’s one room schoolhouse. A good-sized two story multi-room brick building with a bell tower, it was the most impressive building in town. As a result, offices for the Governor, Territorial Secretary and Chief Justice were created on the Academy’s second floor.

These senior officials regularly observed the school, interacted with the teachers, and participated in end of term examinations of student learning. This exposure could have been embarrassing, but the newspaper suggested “the Prescott public school is an institution to be proud of, and is most appreciated by those who visit it oftenest and understand it best.”

Governor Safford, who had created the Territorial School System, retired just before the capital was moved. As a result, the Territorial Secretary, John Philo Hoyt, was promoted to Governor and had responsibility for establishing the capital in Prescott. John Gosper, the Secretary of State in Nebraska, was selected as the new Territorial Secretary. Governor Hoyt was automatically the Territorial Commissioner of Schools and Gosper was automatically part of the three-person territorial school board.

Both had visited schools elsewhere and invited other legislators and special guests to join them in visiting the Prescott school. After such a group observed end of term examinations, the newspaper noted “all who attended are unanimous in their expression of commendation in the manner in which the children acquitted themselves, particularly in mathematics, geography, and history, and many were the encomiums passed upon the teachers by experts at the business of teaching.”

By June 1878, President Hayes decided that Governor Hoyt should be replaced by John Frémont, who had a national reputation from his days as a military officer and explorer and the first anti-slavery candidate for President. Frémont’s selection was viewed as recognition of the increasing importance of Arizona, but his fame was shared by his wife, Jessie Frémont, who was the daughter of a particularly well respected senator, Thomas Hart Benton.

While Frémont daily observed the school, Mrs. Frémont became involved with the students. She taught history classes and informally told the students about her world travels. She invited students to her home and showed them items she collected on her trips. She so impressed the students that they thanked her with a gift of a silver spoon and sugar tongs set.

Governor Hoyt was selected as governor of Idaho, but when that appointment was delayed, he went into private practice as a lawyer. He had bought a home close to the school and became part of the Prescott community.

Eventually, Governor Frémont decided to increase the funds for schools by following Nevada’s plan for a lottery. In addition, he arranged an extended trip to the East Coast and Washington to promote local mines and his own financial investments. Officially, the trip was intended to negotiate a reservation for the Pima near Phoenix. To give him the opportunity for more travel, he asked the legislature to separate the role of Territorial School Superintendent from the Governor’s responsibilities. Legislation for that purpose passed in February 1879, and Frémont immediately appointed Moses Sherman, the Prescott principal, to the role of Superintendent. Frémont’s daily interaction with Sherman probably influenced that decision, but even the Tucson Citizen, the newspaper that vigorously opposed moving the capital to Prescott, praised Sherman and his selection. “Mr. Sherman’s whole soul is wrapt up in public education and we predict for him a bright future, and for the schools under his management a high condition of prosperity.” The article notes that in four and a half years, Sherman grew the school in Prescott from about 20 students to over 200 and developed a school that “would be a credit to any town or state.”

At the same time, the number of schools in nearby communities kept growing, creating a demand for qualified teachers. The County Board of Examiners intensely interviewed three senior Prescott students and declared them fit to be teachers. One was immediately hired by the Walnut Creek school district. The constant watchfulness of Territorial government officials might have been expected to expose weaknesses in the school; instead, it generated pride in Prescott’s teachers and students.

“Days Past” is a collaborative project of the Sharlot Hall Museum and the Prescott Corral of Westerners International (www.prescottcorral.org). This and other Days Past articles are also available at www.sharlot.org/library-archives/days-past. The public is encouraged to submit proposed articles to dayspastshmcourier@gmail.com. Please contact SHM Library & Archives reference desk at 928-445-3122 Ext. 14, or via email at dayspastshmcourier@gmail.com for information.