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Education in Kansas

Sod school house

As settlers built towns and cities across Kansas, communities were quick to establish public schools. Providing an education for their children was a priority. Soon colleges and universities also were begun although, during the 19th century, most Kansans did not attend school past the eighth grade. Schooling consisted primarily of the "three R's" ("readin', 'ritin' and 'rithmetic").

Elementary and High Schools

In western Kansas, many early schools were built of sod.  In rural communities, the schoolhouse was used for many activities including dances, church services, public meetings, voting, lectures, debates, spelling bees, and arithmetic contests.

Mandatory school attendance was important in the Americanization of immigrants. Public schools required that all students learn English. Instruction was also given in "U.S. history, government, and culture." School-age children, in turn, shared their education at home with younger brothers and sisters and their parents. In this way, the entire family was exposed to the language and customs of their new country. Parochial schools, established by immigrants, often gave instruction in that group's native language. Teachers, however, still taught and stressed the importance of learning English.

In the late 1800s, school districts began to be consolidated. Consolidation improved the quality of services at rural schools by merging several districts. Busses were often provided for taking the children to and from school.

In 1866 Leavenworth established the first public high school in the state. Classes for all grades (1-12) were held in one school building until 1875 when a separate high school was constructed.

Davis Hall, Friends University

Higher Education

The first colleges in Kansas were established three years before statehood. The many private and state facilities founded during the 19th and early 20th century illustrates the strong commitment among Kansans to higher education.

Religious organizations established the first colleges in Kansas. Baker University, a Methodist school, opened in 1858. Founded by Presbyterians in 1858 was Highland University, today Highland Community Junior College is the oldest two-year college in Kansas.

Towns competed to be chosen as the site of a state institution. Lawrence won the state university in 1863, after losing its state capital bid. The first building on campus was called North College.

Many commercial schools or business colleges were established in towns throughout Kansas during the late 19th century. The institutes prepared young men and women in such fields as merchandising, banking, and accounting.

Not all colleges that received a charter were successful. More than 140 prospective colleges and universities never were developed past the initial stage. Many other colleges failed to survive because of inadequate funding, low student enrollment, competition from other schools, and periods of economic depression.

Entry: Education in Kansas

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: December 1969

Date Modified: February 2013

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.