Available online at Alaskool with the permission of John M. Poling's family. For personal or educational use only. Some changes in layout have been made to accomodate online publication, but content remains as originally composed. Posted 08/22/02
OF THE NOME, ALASKA, PUBLIC SCHOOLS:
By John Marion Poling, B.A.
Presented to the Faculty of the University of Alaska in Partial Fulfillment Of the Requirements For the Degree of
MASTER OF EDUCATION
List of Tables
List of Charts
List of Illustrations
1 - The Nome Public School, circa 1910, built in 1901-19021
During the time of organization of the Tanana-Yukon Valley Historical Society, in Fairbanks in 1961, my eleven year old son, Jack, and I became charter members at the first meeting, when Mr. Irving McK. Reed talked about his life in Nome, where he arrived with his family at the age of ten, in 1900. In the fall of 1962 I went to Nome to teach in the high school, and inspired by Mr. Reed’s accounts of the local history, began to delve into the beginnings of the Nome public school system.
Short summaries of the history of the schools had been written by students Ralph Lomen in 1904; Elva Ellis in 1908; and Lucien Riegert in 1908; all having the fresh approach of youngsters writing from personal experience history they had helped to make. Dr. Sheldon Jackson’s reports as United States Agent for the Bureau of Education, gave a good brief on the short-lived government school of 1900-1901. An excellent statement of the first year of the city schools was published in 1902 by the new board of education. To Mrs. Carrie M. McLain, of Nome, we are indebted for the full general sweep of the school history, which she experienced personally as a student from 1905 to 1913, as a member of the board from 1934 to 1940, and as an interested citizen over the entire scope of her sixty-four years as a resident of the community. To Mrs. McLain, I owe the deepest gratitude for her friendship, counsel, and material assistance in the preparation of this thesis during the past five years.
Many individuals have contributed to the search for widely dispersed sources of information. Mr. And Mrs. Al Phelps and Mr. And Mrs. Albro Gregory gave me access to the local files of the Nome Nugget, a newspaper that has recorded the current flow of history from the time of the great gold rush; the obliging and courteous staff of the University of Alaska library have also been most helpful. Citizens and former students, teachers, and board members of Nome, who have aided me in many ways are:
I am grateful for the courtesies of all who contributed to this work.
The Gold Rush To Statehood
The history of education in Alaska under the Russians, and under the American administration after the annexation through transfer in 1867, emanated from both missionary and government concern which developed the framework for the establishment of a general system of public schools, loosely organized until 1917, when the Alaska Territorial Department of Education was established by an act of the legislature.
Against this background, in the early years of the great gold rush on the Seward Peninsula, the Nome Public School System had its origin, first as a volunteer missionary-community effort, then as a school supported by the United States Bureau of Education, and finally as an incorporated city school district under local City of Nome auspices.
The early years were characterized by a struggle between the city council and the board of education for control of tax monies supporting the schools, with the ultimate victory of the council and the loss of fiscal independence by the board, a pattern that has persisted to this day.
Under the Nelson Act of 1905, the city schools were for white children and children of mixed blood leading a civilized life. In 1947, a non-discrimination act passed by the territorial legislature terminated this segregation, causing a large increase in the enrollments of the Nome Public Schools, with consequential problems of an acculturational nature accompanied by multiplied costs for plant expansion and operation.
The decline of gold production before World War I and the resulting loss of white population, reduced the school enrollment to its lowest point, 66, in 1923-24, with a gradual growth up to 166 in 1940-41, a general level that remained until the first voluntary action toward integration was made in 1945-46, leading to a total enrollment of 700 by 1957-58, the last year before statehood.
The school system has not been sufficiently supported under the rule
of fiscal dependence, and the results have been disastrous in terms
of the educational product. A change is needed in the basic plan of
support. This paper suggests total fiscal support by the State Department
of Education, with the locally elected school board acting as the sole,
independent agent of the State Department in all matters of Nome Public
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