A History of the Nome, Alaska Public Schools:1899 to 1958 From the Gold Rush To Statehood
A Thesis by John Poling
When rich deposits of alluvial gold were discovered by Jafet Lindeberg, John Brynteson, and Eric Lindblom on Anvil Creek, a tributary of the Snake River near Cape Nome, on the Seward Peninsula, September 20, 1898, prospectors from nearby mining areas soon pitched their tents on the beach at the mouth of the river and settled down to wait out the winter. But the magnitude of the strike and the ease with which the coastal gold fields could be reached from the states by sea, would, within two years, give rise to the largest city in the Territory and almost double the population of Alaska.1
Lindeberg named Anvil Creek on account of a peculiarly shaped rock formation on the top of a low mountain rising above his discovery claim and having the appearance of a huge anvil. The mountain which bears the same name is a prominent landmark overlooking the tundra and the sea. Lindeberg’s party is also credited with naming the Snake River, descriptive of its winding course.2
In accordance with the mining laws which provided that miners might organize a district, elect their own recorder, and make rules and regulations having the force of law insofar as they are reasonable and not in conflict with the federal statutes, the discoverers returned to Golofnin, a mining camp some 70 miles to the east, where they formed a party with J.W. Price, Dr. A.R. Kittleson, and Johan Tornenson. The Cape Nome Mining District was organized and Dr. Kittleson was elected recorder.3
Learning of the discovery, the Lyng brothers and Messers Inglestad and John Dexter hurried to Cape Nome to locate claims, also staking out town lots, one of the Lyngs driving the first stake. All locations were 320 by 660 feet. It was then too late in the year for mining, but claims on some 7,000 acres were filed by about 40 men. Nearly all who located for themselves also located by power of attorney for their friends. From the abusive staking of land by the discoverers and organizers of the district arose the first serious controvesy among the miners.4
Late in June, 1899, when the first ship from Puget Sound, the Garonne, reached the new camp, its passengers found a population of about 400 men from other parts of Alaska and the Klondike who had also responded to rumors of the rich discoveries and had arrived during freeze-up by overland trails, namely by way of the Tanana-Yukon river valley. During the summer the population of the camp increased to nearly 3000.5
Even the early winter arrivals in 1899 found that most of the immediate region had been staked, and ugly disputes over claims burst into a threat of violence by mid-summer. An attempt was made at a miners’ meeting in Murphy and Rickard’s Northern Saloon, July 10, to have all the claims staked up to that time invalidated to permit a general restaking of the creeks. The anger of the American miners assumed a patriotic guise, as they alleged that staking of many of the first claims, including the discovery ground, by aliens was illegal. Second Lieutenant Oliver L. Spaulding, Jr., commanding officer of the army troops detailed to the area, averted mob action by clearing the saloon and ordering that original locators would work their claims until civil authorities whom he could support should adjust the matter.6
Discovery of gold on the beach by John Hummel created a respite, although Nome was to see violence, litigation, and scandal in high places regarding ownership of mining claims within the first two years of its robust life. Meaning while, the disgruntled miners rushed to the beaches, and within the next two months 2,000 men took out more than $1,000,000 in fine gold dust from the black ruby sands.7 This was the activity viewed by General Agent of Education Sheldon Jackson on his first visit to the camp.
Dr. Jackson noted in his journal for July 26, 1899:
At 10:50 a.m. we anchored abreast of Anvil City the new village which has sprung up in connection with the Cape Nome placer mines…. Nome (Anvil City) is a conglomeration of tents, with half a dozen frame houses or shanties, and two or three iron warehouses in process of erection by the transportation and trading companies. The ocean is staked out with claims for from 10 to 20 miles. We saw men panning out gold on the beach in front of the most densely populated part of the place. Some fine teams of horses were being used in hauling.8
He reported in August, "The place was wild with the large returns being received both in the gulches and the black ruby sands on shore."9 On August 24, he noted, "Met Judge Johnson, of the United States District court of Alaska, and was present at the opening of the first court at Anvil City. Saw some citizens with regard to a block of ground for school purposes."10
That was about the extent of Jackson’s educational business in Anvil City in 1899, but the dearth of children had not yet made the matter critical. It was a man’s town.
Among the 143 businesses, professional services, and social institutions listed by The Nome News in November, 1899, twenty of them were gambling saloons, the two most prominent being The Northern, operated by Murphy and Rickard, and The Dexter, under a partnership of Charles E. Hoxie and the notorious gunman Wyatt Earp. Earp made his debut in the local papers by his arrest on a charge of drunk and disorderly. The popular Tex Rickard later became a famous prizefight promoter and built the new Madison Square Garden in NewYork, where he managed world championship matches in the Dempsey-Tunney era. Many men in all walks of life who later became prominent in national affairs, business, professions, and the arts, emerged into public notice at Nome in this early period. The saloon-gambling halls were the popular gathering spots for socializing.
When the new criminal code and tax laws went into effect, July1, 1899, Judge Charles S. Johnson, the United States district judge residing at Sitka, took his court by way of the Chilkoot Pass and the Yukon River to the new gold strike town of Anvil City. He arrived in August and held court, although his primary mission was to acquaint the mining communities with the license features of the new Act and to appoint commissioners, while the marshall would appoint deputies under the authority of the Act. Knowing that legislation was pending in Congress that would create new district courts and make the incorporation of towns possible, Judge Johnson did not attempt to stay and determine the issues of mining claims in dispute, but admitted several attorneys to the bar and began many suits.11 He advised the leading men of the town to form an interim local municipal government by popular consent for mutual protection.12
A mass meeting was held on September 13, 1899, and a committee of seven men was elected to draw up a city charter and to serve as a city council until such time as Congress should pass laws permitting incorporation. The designation of the camp as Anvil City was officially changed to Nome, and Thomas D. Cashel was elected mayor. The Nome News reported in its first issue, October 9, that 1418 votes were cast in the election.
From the start the consent government had problems compounded by limited powers and authority. The crowded sprawling settlement, largely tents and frame shacks of small dimensions, was so closely jammed together along the beach and bordering tundra that the ropes of adjacent tents were crossed. The News editor opined that the streets would have to be straightened and widened before arrival of the next year’s boats and thousands of people. Lot jumping was a big problem; men defended the sites they lived on with their lives, and there was much burglary and wood stealing. A typhoid epidemic laid low the notable pioneer missionary Dr. S. Hall Young, who spent the winter convalescing in the hospital – an institution aided by the zealous fund raising of the local ladies, among them Mrs. Wyatt Earp.13
While a furious November storm piled the town high with snow and the breakers pounded the over-populated beach, the city council fixed a tax rate. The levy was to be one and three-fourths percent on a total community property evaluation of $1,556,650.14 A month later the council declared that of $29,000 in taxes levied only $8,000 had been paid. The News warned of the weakening of the consent government if taxes were not collected. The following month, February of 1900, in order to save money, the council abolished the offices of the city attorney, Key Pittman (later Senator from Nevada), and the street commissioner.15 There was much bickering among the members over payments of warrants for salaries and for hospital services for indigent patients. The matter of appointing a public administrator for business efficiency was postponed.16*
Dissatisfaction with the consent government resulted in two branches of opposition by March. The inhabitants of the sandspit, which lies between the Snake River and the sea, held a meeting and sent a delegation to ask for separation of the sandspit population from the consent community. A petition was circulated by an anonymous group led by the Reverend Mr. Raymond Robins of the Congregational Church asking for the appointment of a "committee of safety" composed of leading business men who would manage municipal affairs in lieu of the council. Both moves failed; the latter brought the taunts of the press on Mr. Robins when his promotion of the petition was discovered. Clergymen were advised to stick to their pulpits.17 However, both the mayor and the treasurer were accused by other council members of grafting and misuse of funds in office. The treasurer resigned but Mayor Cashel, a man of sterner stuff, defended himself vigorously and stayed on, repaying a deficit in his account of something under $400.18
Halcyon days in February, following warm Chinook winds from the pacific, melted the snow. Two feet of water stood on the sea ice and streams flowed through the town. Although the weather was delightful and the balmy air saved the expense of heating fuel,19 the thaw revealed some shocking sanitation conditions. In a March 3, published report on drainage and sanitation, the mayor announced that "The alleyways between some of the prominent saloons on Front Street are almost three feet deep with a glacier of urine.." He appealed once more for the diligent prosecution of collection of delinquent taxes.20
What the consent government could not do was done by the business men of the city through the formation of a chamber of commerce. The chamber raised $5400 in cash for a drainage and sanitation system. Judge Ransom reflected that "the burden of running a mining camp of this size, when government was vested in consent, was too great a burden to be borne unless backed up by federal law. If the present government went out of power and a new one came in, the same conditions and demands for sanitation would exist."21 Late in April drainage ditches were being dug by forty men and the work was being pushed vigorously under the aegis of the chamber of commerce.22
While Nome was foundering in the stormy waters of consent government, someone thought of the children. "A public school is needed in Nome," editorialized John F.A. Strong, a future governor of the Territory, in The Nome News of February 2, 1900. "There are some twenty or more children of school age and one should be provided."
A public meeting was held by the Reverend Raymond Robins and the trustees of St. Barnard’s Congregational Church on February 26, in the church sponsored library building, for the purpose of taking steps to establish a public school. Judge Walter Church, chairman, S.A. Keller, Mayor E.S. Ingraham, D.W. McKay, secretary, and J.V. Logan were elected as a school committee. Miss Rosa E. Lamont, a young woman of the mission, well known for her activities in social and cultural circles, volunteered her services as teacher without remuneration. A room in the library building was offered by the trustees for a schoolroom. Captain Conrad Siem donated a blackboard, but other supplies, including school books and coal, were dependent on the success of the committee in raising funds by popular subscription. They also hoped to be able to pay the teacher, but the decision was made to start the school at once.23
Editor Strong optimistically reacted:
The News believes that a fund can and should be raised not only to defray the actual running expenses but to compensate the teacher as well. Government aid for the purpose of erecting a school building and maintaining a school will without doubt be forthcoming next summer, but until that time the cost and responsibility of maintaining a school rests with the citizens of Nome and we are confident that the movement will meet with hearty support.24
The school was opened on Wednesday morning, February 28, with an attendance of twelve pupils. The hours were scheduled from 9:00 a.m. to noon from Monday through Friday. A month later a supply of school books was received from Golovin where the Swedish Evangelical Mission Covenant operated a mission school.25
In mid-June Dr. Sheldon Jackson arrived on the U. S. Revenue Cutter Bear to meet with the local school committee. "On June 9," he reported, "although it snowed hard all day, Judge Church and myself tramped over all sections of the city in search of a suitable place for a future school building." A sub-committee on the location of school sites recommended three locations in different parts of the city two days later, and Dr. Jackson returned to the ship.26 By mid-summer he had selected a district commission for a government school in Nome. Appointed on June 11 were Judge Church, the Reverend D.J. Elliott, J.W. Brynteson and Dr. S J. Call; on July 10, D.W. McKay, S.A. Keller, Major E.S. Ingraham, and J.V. Logan.27 Dr. Jackson had one more school to squeeze under the ceiling of his seemingly fixed $30,000 annual budget.
On May 1 the population of Nome stood at 1850, although many who had spent the winter in the town had gone to prospect or work on their claims.28 The output of gold reported by the San Francisco mint for Alaska in 1899 was $5,602,000. Of that amount $2,400,000 came from the mines at Nome.29
In May The Nome News commented on the provisions of the Alaska Civil Code bill which was being considered in the United States Senate in February.30 The community could look forward within the next few months to a district court in Nome, and the possibility of full legal status of an incorporated city. However, almost a full year would elapse before that dream would be fulfilled. Nome had yet to share more of the old agony of Alaskan cities elsewhere.
The painful experience of disenfranchisement long had been endured by every older community in the Territory. The Civil Code of 1900 brought no less than a feeling of freeing from universal bondage:
Visiting congressmen found public opinion greatly stirred over the question of civil law, education, the Canadian boundary, and local self-government. But the worst vocal dissatisfaction of all arose over the desire for local self-government in Juneau, Skagway, and Ketchikan. These young Pan-handle towns had populations of 3,000; 3,117; and 800, respectively, but they were without any legal form of municipal government, were struggling to perfect townsite title, and had ambitions to become modern communities… However, both the faith and hope were giving out with the strain upon public patience at the time when the congressmen arrived at these places.31
Nome rocked in the flood-tide of change at the turn of the century. The city indebtedness for the winter stood at $14,000 in June, with cash assets of only $3,000. In frustration Treasurer Bean resigned. But the first steamer, the whaler Alexander, piloted by Captain Talbot, arrived on May 21, breaking the long winter isolation. The great stampede of 1900 was on. By the first of August, 162 steamships and 70 sailing vessels had arrived, debarking 18,000 of the 20,000 passengers who were landed before freeze-up.32 Excitement and hopes were high.
The ships anchored in the roadstead, a mile out from the unprotected shore, presented the spectacle of an amphibious invasion by steam and sail. They came from the west coast ports via Dutch Harbor from breakup to freeze-up, to disgorge their passengers and cargo onto lighters and launches which deposited man, beast, and cargo, wet or dry, without guarantee, onto the fabled sands at the water’s edge. The sandspit and the adjoining beaches were piled high with lumber, boxes, and baggage of all kinds. Machinery littered the shoreline which had become a tent city miles in length. Crowds of men and the few women who had braved the adventure milled around the landing areas searching for their possessions. Few of them knew where they wanted to go, but faced the present necessity of finding a place of shelter. How they did was like the miracle of the loaves and fishes. Hundreds of people were being landed every hour and there was no apparent shelter for them anywhere.33 The weak, the disgruntled, the improvident, the lazy, and the faint of heart soon left for home.34
Those who stayed viewed the prospects with varied emotions. Young Carl Lomen, 19, who would win fame as the "reindeer king of Alaska," arrived in Nome with his father, Judge J. Lomen in June, from Minnesota. As he gazed at the thousands of new white tents pitched on the littered beach and at the treeless tundra with snow covered jagged peaks in the distance, he was swept with himesickness. He recalled, "If I had known that I was to spend my life in this uncivilized territory, I am certain that I would have booked passage back to the States."35
Mrs. May Kellogg Sullivan, who made a nineteen day voyage of 3139 miles from San Francisco, through heavy ice fields in the Bering Sea, remarked that their cluttered destination looked very good, in spite of the perilous trip ashore and no comforts in the town. She described the camp: "Crowded dirty, disorderly, full of saloons and gambling houses, with a few fourth-class restaurants and one or two mediocre hotels, we found the new mining camp a typical one in every respect. Prices were sky high. One even paid for a drink of water…." Mrs. Sullivan fortunately found friends she had known in Dawson who took her in.36
Lanier McKee, a young lawyer from New York, cogitated that "had it not been for the chance discovery of gold in that remote spot, one passing along the coast would have considered it barren and forlorn, ‘a dreary waste expanding to the skies.’" From the ship it was indeed a white city, "tents, tents, tents….almost as far as the eye could see."37 But ashore, scattered about looking for an opportunity to steal, were "as tough a looking lot of rascals as one could meet." The whiteness viewed from afar disappeared as one entered the congested part of the town; it was a case of the "whited sepulcher." Loads of stuff drawn by horses and dog teams passed through the narrow, crowded ways, and miners with heavy packs on their backs were starting out for the claims on the creeks and into the unknown interior, "but the ‘bar-room’ miner was far more in evidence.38
However, McKee was impressed with the central figure, the ‘hero’ of any gold stampede. "It did not take long to learn that the real American miner, the man who undergoes hardships and endures privations such as few people can know or understand, is a fine, intelligent, and generous citizen, whom it is a pleasure to know."39 These men told him that of all the principal mining camps they had visited in recent years, Nome was the "toughest proposition" they had ever encountered.40 But, McKee concluded, "even the dirt in those miserable Nome streets contained ‘colors’, or small particles of gold; and it is an incongruous thought that, of all the cities of the world, Nome City, as it is called, most nearly approaches the apocalyptic condition of having its streets paved with gold."41
McKee observed that the matter most to be reckoned with was the lack of sanitary conditions, the total absence of any sewerage. He gave credit to General Randall, who immediately upon his arrival, took measures to improve sanitation, for the development of a remarkably healthy camp. The installation of good water conveyed from the streams beyond, later in the season, prevented a repetition of the typhoid epidemic of 1899.42
The young lawyer soon measured up the legal situation:
The place was really under martial law. The town government, useless and corrupt, was practically nil; and as it was believed that the federal judge, with his staff of assistants, would not arrive until August, it was the plain duty of the military to preserve order and, so far as possible, leave legal matters in status quo until the advent of the civil authorities as provided by the laws which had been recently enacted for Alaska.43
At the time of the negotiations for the transfer of Alaska, Americans and other aliens in Russian America numbered about 300 among an entire Russian, Creole, and native population estimated at fewer than 31,000.44 In the 1890 census, 23 years after the purchase, the population was enumerated at 32,052. Ten years later, as a result of the gold stampedes particularly, the inhabitants had increased to 63,592; 48% of this figure is listed in the census report as "white", and 52% as "colored," meaning native and other non-white races.45
Nome became the metropolis of Alaska in the first year of the new century with 12,486 inhabitants. In comparison, Skagway had a population of 3,117; Juneau, 1,864; and Sitka, 1,396. Only six other settlements exceeded 500: the largest, Wrangell, with 868; St. Michael, 857; Douglas, 825; Point Hope, 623; Kogiung, 533; and Treadwell, 522.46 Nearly three-fourths of the population were males as few of the miners brought their families to Alaska with them.47
Although Nome was only an embryonic city when the great rush of 1900 began, it possessed great warehouses and all the characteristics of an American business community by the winter of 1899. On June 22 of that year the J.B. Kimball Company, merchants and carriers, established the pioneer business house of Nome, under the management of Captain Conrad Siem. By November the town boasted more than 110 businesses and services, among them six bakeries, twenty saloons, four wholesale liquor stores, four barber shops, two printing offices, four hotels, twelve general merchandise stores, six restaurants, four bath houses, a brewery, a hospital, a bank, and a water works. There were also sixteen licensed lawyers, eleven physicians, two dentists, a mining engineer, two surveyors, and skilled operators of every type of shop useful to construction, transportation, and mining enterprises. One Protestant Church and a Roman Catholic Church held services regularly.48
Before the end of the season the following year, 127 lawyers, drawn by multitudinous gold claim disputes, had been admitted to practice;49 five newspapers were being published, and the whole economic structure of the new community had burgeoned in proportion, including a United States postoffice.
The first year of life in Nome was fairly orderly, but with the advent of thousands of fortune hunters, most of them not miners, the camp began to suffer the backlash of a primitive fight for survival among the human jetsam cast on its "golden strand." The easy access to the camp by ship and the proven munificence of the Seward Peninsula treasure trove drew not only the honest worker and his business and professional fellow men, but also the riffraff and criminal element of the country who came to prey upon them. The underworld and "fast buck" crowd were everywhere in evidence – the shyster lawyer, the gambler, the confidence man, the small crook, the thief, the thug, the drifter, the desperado, the grafter, and the prostitute.50
Under the hard weather and struggle for existence in a small compact community, the weeding out process for most of the lawless element was quick. But for two years, 1900 and 1901, the problem was continuously displayed by the newspapers, which faithfully reflected the face of the town. Said Fred A. Healy, proprietor of The Nome Daily Chronicle, in October 1900, in trenchant editorial tones, "There is more felony in Nome than in the average city of half a million inhabitants."51
Blaming much of the crime on the lack of street lighting, The Chronicle suggested the advantages of lights to the businessmen:
For a short distance along Front Street there are sidewalks and the lights from the saloons and restaurants afford all the illumination necessary, but this is only a very small portion of the town, so small, indeed as hardly to be reckoned. The rest of the camp is shrouded in darkness as black as a stygian horror.
Through the Egypt-like gloom pedestrians are compelled to pick their way, trusting to their sense of touch to keep on the single plank, which, stretching over a sea of mud, forms about the only roadway from one place to another.
This darkness, moreover, is a great help to the enterprising footpad whose labors are pursued to advantage and profit with the help these shadows afford….1hardly a morn dawns but it brings its tales of robbery the night before…52
However, a growing civic pride in the accomplishments of the lusty, contentious young settlement was not to be denied as it grew apace:
Day after day the sound of the hammer can be heard ringing out upon the damp air and every little while some new structure rises to completion and takes its place among the permanent habitations of Nome….
A year or two ago Nome was nothing. The name conveyed an idea of a dreary, barren, wind-swept cape, with a miserable Esquimo hut or two on its shores as its only signs of human habitation.
Today Nome is a city with a population of thousands and numbers among its mercantile establishments structures that can compare favorably with some of the most pretentious on the outside.
Alaska will have other, and probably larger, cities. But every sign seems to point to Nome holding her own and keeping among the permanent places of the territory.53
At the end of August, the Chronicle published information on the population trends:
Mr. Hecker, late government census enumerator says the number of people in the country last winter was 3,000, of whom 2,500 were residents of the camp proper….
Steamship agent Mr. D.J. Grauman says that the total arrivals from Outside was, in round numbers, 16,000, with 1,500 more from Dawson, making a total of 17,500; that of this number 9,000 have already left the country, and 5,000 more will go by the end of the season. According to Mr. Grauman’s estimate, therefore, between 5,000 and 6,000 people will winter here.54
Those hardy souls who did stay for the winter made up a concentrated settlement of strangers of every class and condition. As if in a gigantic experiment in human dynamics, almost immediately the sorting out began. Birds of every feather found their own kind in professions and labor, by state or country, in fraternal organizations, in business and civic interests, in churches and welfare work, in politics and government, and in the exclusive society of the elite, or the plebian hobnobbery of the saloons. Winter gave time for finding oneself in the idle pleasures of the social order.
Meanwhile the social life of the camp developed speedily. Soon the "poor man’s clubs," the saloons, with their spit-stained floors, gambling tables, and fighting cards, were supplemented by the variety theater’s shows and opera, and the dazzling social life of the favored and the rich, labeled unblushingly "Nome’s 400" by the Daily Chronicle’s able illustrator Arthur Buell. On June 23, 1900, the Nome News announced that "Robert Blei, the well-known theatrical man, has secured Brown’s Hall and the L & L Building and will open variety theatres at once."
Miss Emma Steiner appeared in the camp’s first opera, "The Little Hussar," on August 31, at the Standard Theatre. It was a sell-out, and Arthur Buell gave flattering full-page pictorial coverage of the eminent citizens and their ladies who attended the event. Among those present was the newly appointed, and recently arrived, district federal judge, Arthur H. Noyes, whose short career in Nome was fated to become a classic of judicial corruption.
Early in the summer, with the passage of the Alaska Bill which became law on June 6, 1900, a serious development took place. Every claim of any value, and many that were of none, was disputed by rival claimants to discovery. Lanier McKee commented on the new law and the new judge of the district:
By it Alaska was divided into three judicial divisions, and that which embraces northwestern Alaska and the new gold-fields was allotted to Arthur H. Noyes of Minnesota, formerly of Dakota. If ever a position demanded an honest, able, and fearless man, it was this judgeship, which should be a guaranty of good civil government, establish a court, and disentangle and dispose of, among a mixed population largely composed of unscrupulous elements, and indescribable mess of legal matters, already accumulated and ever increasing.55
Contrary to expectations, Judge Noyes immediately put the most valuable mines into the hands of a receiver, Alexander McKenzie, in what proved to be a bold conspiracy to appropriate by abuse of the legal system the riches of the Seward Peninsula. The ring involved men in the highest levels of the federal government through whose influence Judge Noyes was appointed as a willing tool. Until the breaking up of the plot, in November, through the determined opposition of Charles D. Lane, a millionaire California mining operator and builder of the Wild Goose railroad, in the Nome district, the new camp was in a turmoil of economic disruption.
Under the Alaska Law incorporation of towns was made possible. The sporting element, influenced by the popular saloon proprietors, opposed organized government with the taxation it entailed, and Judge Noyes found it to this interests to obstruct the granting of an election for incorporation. A reception was given for the judge at the Golden Gate Hotel on August 23, ostensibly a move by the responsible citizens to make him more amenable to the town’s needs for incorporation, schools, and fire protection. At the Nome Progress Club’s meeting two days later it was announced that the judge had agreed to the election for incorporation, but he would slowly select members of the election board.56
The election was held on Monday, November 6, but it was preceded by public apathy, and municipal incorporation failed at the polls.57 The Chamber of Commerce again took over the consent government. A voluntary tax of $15.00 on its members was not generally supported and minimal expenses could not be met. By the new year, 1901, the experimental administration was "busted."58
In the meantime, the school started by a citizens’ committee in the library of St. Bernard’s Congregational Church and taught by Miss Rosa E. Lamont, from February 28 to an indeterminate date that spring, was continued with two government teachers under the auspices of the United States Bureau of Education and the local board selected by Dr. Jackson in the summer of 1900. The records of Miss Lamont’s voluntary school possibly no longer exist, but a formal report by Jackson to the U. S. Commissioner of Education for the school year 1900-1901, shows that the Nome Government School had a total enrollment of 63 pupils, who had an attendance record approximating 72% for an official term of eight months, from September through April.59
General Agent Jackson Summarized the developments of that term and appended a letter from one of the teachers:
Nome – Miss Cora B. Young and Miss Florence Mauzy teachers; enrollment 63, population, white. In April 1901, Nome became an incorporated town, and from that date the school has not been under the Bureau of Education, but under a local board of education.
In regard to the school year previous to that date Miss Mauzy writes:
When we came to Nome in August, 1900, we began school in the library of the Congregational Church, which we were expected to vacate on demand at any time. We commenced with three pupils, but after days of street canvassing and calling from house to house, we built up a school of some numbers. At times, because of lack of funds for fuel, we felt that we should be compelled to suspend work; but this problem was solved for us, when in November the church needed the room we occupied and the school was closed until another building was secured.
A vigorous effort was then made to raise by subscription enough money to buy fuel, pay a janitor, and rent a building. The response in actual money was not very satisfactory, but a building was donated and coal furnished free of charge.
We have enrolled over sixty pupils and almost every State in the Union has been represented. We have had but two Eskimos and they remained in school but two days. While it has been real pioneer work we have taken great interest in building up as good a school as possible, and on the whole have found it a pleasant task.60
Incorporation was hard come by. But public interest was shocked into action by the failure of the November election to authorize legal government. The Daily Chronicle stated:
When the voters of Nome killed incorporation, they at the same time put it out of their power to select those who should govern them. They now find that by their childish proceeding at the polls they did not do away with the need of government, but simply transferred to the Chamber of Commerce their right of selecting the men who shall handle the public funds.61
The Chamber of Commerce formed a joint committee to lay down a definite course of action on the local government problem. They planned to arrange for fire and police protection and hospital facilities, and to appoint a health officer. A delegate, Dick Dawson, asked Judge Noyes, in January 1901, "If a petition for incorporation were presented to you, would you grant it?"
"As soon as this camp satisfies me that it wants incorporation, I shall be pleased to listen to a petition," the Judge replied. "But I must be better satisfied than I am today."62
That "satisfaction" came within a week. A second petition was circulated and was signed by voters from all segments of the community led by the prominent business and professional men, among them the popular saloon owners, Tex Rickard and Charles E. Hoxie, who responded to the winds of change.63 Judge Noyes approved the petition and selected an election committee which, on April 3, set the date and place of the election, April 9, 1901, at the Golden Gate Hotel. Only male citizens of the United States or one who had declared his intention to become a citizen, of the age of 21 years, and a bona fide resident of Alaska for one year, and of the proposed corporation for six months preceding the election date, were qualified to vote for members of the council and the school board. To vote for or against incorporation, the elector was required to be also the owner of property in the corporation of the value of $1,000 or more.64
Incorporation passed by a landslide vote of 695 to 188. The Chronicle editor voiced the enthusiasm of the town:
A long step was taken Tuesday, when the voters elevated Nome from its obscure position as a camp to the dignified station of an incorporated municipality. For the first time in its brief history this rapidly growing town is placed on a basis that is recognized as stable and the benefits that may be expected in the immediate future are great, and may concern every individual member of the community.65
Elected to the city council were Tex Rickard, Captain W.E. Geiger, J.B. Harris, J.F. Giese, S.H. Stevens, Jr., W.H. McPhee, and Charles E. Hoxie. Elected to the school board of directors were Miner Bruce, Colin Beaton, and Dr. J. J. Chambers. Judge J.H. Stevens swore in the new officers. Judge Noyes was due for an appearance before the United States Court of Appeals in San Francisco, to answer charges of unethical judicial procedures and contempt of the Court. His co-conspirator in seizure of the Seward Peninsula mines through court injunctions and theft by attempted appropriation of the gold, Alexander McKenzie, was sentenced to prison for one year. Noyes was censured by the Court, subsequently recalled from his appointment as a federal judge, and fined $1,000. An able, honest judge, James Wickersham, made equitable settlements of pending litigation within the following months, and confidence in the court was restored in the mining and business community.66
In the school term under the Bureau of Education there had been several difficulties. There was no school building, space in the church library was cramped and desks and blackboards were in shortage. The children were using their chair seats for writing tables.67 While the government supplied teachers, books and supplies, and fuel by guarantee, yet there was no money on hand for heating the temporary quarters loaned first by the Congregational Church and then by an interested citizen, J.S. Brown.68 The community also had the responsibility of paying the janitor. The Chamber of Commerce council refused to pay D.W. McKay, a member of the presidentially appointed school board, a bill of $200 for school repairs, on the grounds that it was a government obligation to defray the expenses of its own establishments. Dr. Hill stated that he saw no reason why the chamber should foot the government’s school bills any more than they should pay Judge Noyes’s salary.69
Following the move from the church library, in November, to Brown’s Hall on Front Street, conditions improved.
The building provided enough room for the expected winter enrollment, which reached 63, the light was good, and the ceiling was high. Children and teachers were glad to get back to school after the few days of enforced vacation necessitated by the change.70 Captain Siem was the generous donor of the coal, and to raise the required $60 per month for the janitor, the ladies interested in the school met at Mrs. Miner Bruce’s house to arrange for a benefit entertainment to take place on Lincoln’s birthday.71 Following incorporation, the newly elected school board assumed the payment of the salary of the janitor, and the citizens of the town were relieved of further donations on that account.72 The chartering of the town on April 26, 1901, marked the formal beginning of the City of Nome’s public school system under full local control.