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The first public school in Portland was opened in the fall of 1847 by Dr. Ralph Wilcox. It was conducted in a low, rudely constructed house at the foot of Taylor street. This school was conducted for about three months. In the following February, Miss Julia Carter opened a school in a log cabin at the corner of Second and Stark streets. Thirty-five pupils attended this school. In the winter of 1848-49, the only public hall in the village was a rather dilapidated and shaky structure which, at a prior time, had been used as a barrel factory. This building was known as the "cooper shop." In November, 1848, Aaron J. Hyde, a veteran of the Mexican war, opened a school in this building. The lot on which the structure stood is now on First street, between Morrison and Yamhill. This lot was purchased by one of the early settlers of Portland for the consideration of "two bull pups." This old house, used during the years 1847-48-49, as a Christian sanctuary and school, had, by 1857, degenerated into the ignoble use of Chinese wash-house. To Rev. George B. Atkinson is due the honor of having inaugurated the movement that resulted in the establishment of free schools in Portland. Through the efforts of this gentleman, and upon the recommendation of Governor Joseph Lane, the first territorial legislature of Oregon passed a school bill which became a law September 5, 1849. It was not, however, until 1851 that steps were taken by the citizens of Portland to organize a school district here. In the meantime, several private schools had been opened in Portland. These schools were opened by the following gentlemen on the dates named: Horace Lyman, December, 1849; Col. Cyrus A. Reed, April, 1850; De Los Jefferson, August 1850; Rev. N. Doane, December, 1850. In The Oregonian of December 6, 1851, a school board consisting of Anthony L. Davis, Alonzo Leland and Reuben P. Boise advertised the opening of a free school here, with John T. Outhouse as its teacher. This, the first free school of Portland, opened its doors with an attendance of about 20 pupils. When not engaged in his school work, Mr. Out house laid cross-walks and helped to unload vessels.

In November, 1852, the citizens of Portland voted $1,600 to support a free school. About that time the public school was moved to the corner of First and Taylor streets. Owing to the increasing attendance, Mr. Outhouse was supplied with an assistant teacher in the person of Miss Abigail M. Clark. The school at once assumed the distinction of a "graded school." It was "graded" because the building which it occupied was two stories in height. In order to properly accommodate the scholars who crowded the school, the stairway was utilized for seats, the children being seated or "graded" up the stairs as far as possible. The law regulations of these pioneer schools allowed pupils to deport themselves about as their inclinations dictated. In addition to being an accomplished teacher, Mr. Outhouse soon learned that the duties of his position demanded the exercise of great muscular powers. With him, it was either a question of subduing the school by brute force or of being soundly thrashed by the tender youths he was endeavoring to guide into the right channel of thought. It is reported that Mr. Outhouse managed the school successfully, and some of the later successful men of Portland enjoyed the distinction of having received their first instruction in the primitive school presided over by this gentleman.

Among the legendary lore and historical incidents connected with the early settlement of Portland, the following, bearing on the early life of Oregonís present governor will bear relating:

In July 1855, the Portland school board advertised in The Oregonian for a competent person to take charge of the public school of district No. 1. This advertisement was answered by Sylvester Pennoyer, a hesitating young man who had lately come from New York to the Puget Sound country to practice law. Becoming discouraged with a law practice that was not as profitable as the sawmill business subsequently proved to be, young Pennoyer had sold his library and was preparing to start on his return journey East to seek relief from homesickness under the parental roof, when he noticed the advertisement for a school teacher in Portland. When the young man applied for the position his modest demeanor, with his intellectual cast of countenance and his vast fund of information on "How to be a successful Populist of the future," attracted the favorable notice of the board. He was at once engaged to preside over the village school at a salary of $125 a month, and he was told to report to the county school superintendent for examination. With high hopes of meeting some luminary in standing collar, polished cuffs and shining boots, Pennoyer wound his hesitating way to the great official's quarters. What was the teacher's surprise and dismay to find the superintendent industriously cleansing his own and his family's soiled linen in a wash tub. Holding a bar of soap in one hand and a book in the other, the superintendent examined Pennoyer on the correct principles of teaching, in which the subject of washing clothes was carefully avoided. Pennoyer passed the examination successfully, but his experience with the superintendent at the wash tub destroyed the great respect, which he had formerly felt for high official position, and it is reported at the time, that Pennoyer made a firm resolve that the only man in the future who should receive gracious treatment at his hands was the plain individual in homespun clothes whose vote he was after, the president of the United States, vice-president Stevenson or secretary Gresham not excepted, and, further, that he would return thanks to God in his own way, and on the day of his own choice, free from presidential interference.

The first school building owned by the city of Portland was that occupied by the Central school, which was opened May 17, 1858. From this humble beginning has grown the present admirable public school system of Portland. The old log cabin school-house and the dingy cooper shop withstood the ravages of time for a short period only after they were utilized for educational purposes, and they were finally torn down and substantial buildings of brick and stone were erected in their place. Scattered over the city of Portland there are now 32 public schools, many of which are monuments of architectural art. From the stately High school, with its 21 commodious class rooms and large assembly hall, seating 1,200, down to the unpretentious four-room school of the outlying suburb, the schools of Portland are under the supervision of accomplished teachers, carefully selected for their proficiency in educational work. Through the conscientious efforts of these teachers and the liberal support given by the citizens of the city the public schools of Portland have attained a high standard of excellence. There were 8,478 pupils in actual attendance at the public schools in Portland in November, 1893. These pupils were taught by 220 teachers, among whom are special teachers of penmanship and drawing. The number of pupils in attendance at these schools in November of last year was as follows:

High school  

475

Harrison

812

Atkinson

633

Park

551

Couch

710

Ainsworth

55

Failing

680

Stephens

437

Willamette

29

Holladay

420

Williams Avenue

446

Fulton

47

Fulton Park

40

Central

388

North Central

404

Sunnyside

271

Brooklyn

213

Albina Central

216

Chapman

167

Multnomah

180

Woodlawn

177

Peninsula

64

St. Johns

53

Portsmouth

114

Albina Homestead

145

Clinton Kelly

158

Sellwood

169

High school (night school)

75

Albina night school

50

Midway

17

Marquam

14

Fernwood

18

Lownsdale

225

The estimated value of the school property owned by the city of Portland, with the reality and improvements segregated is as follows:

grounds building

High school  

$100,000

$148,000

Harrison

$45,000

$47,000

Failing

$30,000

$47,000

Atkinson

$50,000

$54,000

Park

$50,000

$32,000

Couch

$35,000

$47,000

Chapman

$13,000

$10,000

Watson

$3,000

$10,000

Ainsworth

$14,000

destroyed by fire

Fulton

$4,000

$1,000

Williams Avenue

$32,000

$20,000

Central Albina

$3,000

$3,000

Multnomah

$5,000

$6,000

Albina Homestead

$6,000

$6,500

Holladay

$16,000

$12,000

West Central

$20,000

$17,000

Central

$50,000

$20,000

Stephens

$25,000

$20,000

Clinton Kelly

$5,000

$16,000

Sellwood

$1,000

$5,000

Midway

$1,000

$1,000

Marquam

$1,000

$1,000

Brooklyn

$6,000

$12,000

Sunnyside

$4,800

$12,000

Peninsula

$1,000

$4,000

Woodlawn

$1,200

$3,000

In addition to the above property, which is occupied, the city owns a tract of land in Stephens' Addition valued at $25,000, and a lot and building in Tibbett's addition known as Lee chapel, worth about $1,400. the total value of all this school property, including furniture worth $50,000 is $1,157,900. The sum is made up as follows: realty, $553,400; improvements (the first cost in excess of this), $554,500. The cost of conducting the schools of Portland, for the fiscal year 1892-93, was $251,110. The estimated cost of conducting these schools for the fiscal year of 1893-4, is $335,800. The cost per pupil, in 1893, was $26.98.

In addition to the excellent public schools, Portland is the seat of many well-conducted private seats of learning. Among these are the law and medical schools of the University of Oregon, the medical department and college of pharmacy of the Willamette University, the Portland University, St. Helen's Hall, a school for girls, Bishop Scott Academy, a school for boys, two find Catholic schools, and a number of barding schools and academies. As educational factors, the six libraries of the city are closely allied to the schools. The Portland Library Association has a collection of 19,000 carefully selected books. The library occupies a massive building erected for its use, in 1893, at a cost of $100,000.

St. Helen's Hall, the popular, well-known school is located on Park Avenue and St. Clair streets. It is a boarding and day school for girls. The school was founded in 1869, by Right Rev. B. Wistar Morris, D.D. From the first the school has stood on its own merits, and it has always enjoyed a wide reputation for the thoroughness of its instruction and for its refining influence. Its curriculum is most liberal. Teachers of skill and experience fill the various departments. The musical instruction is of the highest order, and the art department also offers great advantages. Special attention is given to morals, manners, and the use of good English.

The building occupied by the school is a noble one. It is built of brick and stone. it is heated, drained and ventilated after scientific methods, and occupying an elevated site, it commands a view of unsurpassed beauty. The Misses Rodney have had the management of the school from its beginning. Applications for information regarding St. Helen's Hall may be addressed to them.

[source: Oregonian's Handbook of the Pacific Northwest (Portland, Oregon: Oregonian Publishing, 1894) pp. 140-144]