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Wilkin School

Term of school taught by Laura Ingalls, April 20 – July 10, 1885.

Willis Wilkin paid $18.12 for 7.5 days labor on schoolhouse No. 6. (Wilkin School) – De Smet Leader, April 18, 1885

In These Happy Golden Years, Laura Ingalls Wilder Wilder wrote that she rode through a March snowstorm to attend teachers’ examinations in 1885. These exams were held on Tuesday April 7 and Wednesday April 8 and, although there had been snow, it had not been enough to keep the farmers from their seeding. [1] The order of the examination was as follows:

Tuesday forenoon – Arithmetic and Penmanship
Tuesday afternoon – Geography and Reading
Wednesday forenoon – Grammar and Orthography
Wednesday afternoon – History

Candidates were expected to be present at 9 a.m. each day and to attend all parts of the exam once they began. [2] They provided their own pen and ink; paper was furnished by the superintendent. During the coming year, no private examinations were to be given unless a valid reason could be offered for nonattendance at the regular semi-annual examination.

Records show that Laura Ingalls earned her second third grade certificate at this examination, not the second grade certificate she remembered. [3] The other teachers certified from De Smet Township were Bertha Wilcox, Elgetha Masters, and Ida B. Wright. [4] Although Wilder wrote that Ida Wright didn’t plan to teach school, Ida did teach one term in Manchester Township, former District No. 64 several miles west of De Smet. [5] This school was known as the Langdon School.

The text of ‘1885 certificate is given as follows, but exam grades are not included. The original, now on display in Mansfield, Missouri, has faded to the point that these numbers are no longer legible. [6]

#147. Department of Education, Dakota, Teacher’s Certificate. This is to certify that Laura Ingalls has been examined by me and found competent to give instruction in Reading, Orthography, Writing, Arithmetic, English Grammar, Geography, and having exhibited satisfactory testimonials of good moral character is authorized by this Third grade certificate to teach those branches in any common school in the county for the term of Twelve months.
Reading ___, Writing ___, Orthography ___, History ___, Arithmetic ___, Geography ___, English Grammar ___
Dated this _8th_ day of April 1885. /signed/ George A. Williams, Superintendent of Schools, Kingsbury County, Dakota

Wilder wrote that she was offered a contract to teach the Wilkin School because her classmate Florence Wilkin failed to pass the teaching exam; therefore, she could not teach in her home school. Records indicate that seven candidates failed to pass the examination; perhaps one of these was indeed Florence Wilkin. Wilder’s contract [7] for the Wilkin school reads:

Territory of Dakota, Teacher’s Contract. County of Kingsbury.
De Smet School Township with Laura E. Ingalls Teacher: That the said Laura E. Ingalls is to teach the common school No. _6_ of said Township for the term of three months for the sum of twenty-five dollars per month commencing on the 20th day of Apr 1885 and shall keep such records and make reports as required by law, and for such services properly rendered, the said School Township is to pay Laura E. Ingalls the amount that may be due according to this contract, on or before the 26 day of July 1885.
Laura Ingalls, Teacher
George H. Crater, Director
Alfred Thomas, Clerk
_____, Treasurer
Dated this 14th day of April 1885. No. ___

Only two of the three members of the school board signed Laura’s contract; this was all that were required by law to do so. [8]

When Laura Ingalls left school to teach the Wilkin School, she left school permanently, as she was to marry Almanzo Wilder in the fall. Wilder had attended classes in the newly-built graded schoolhouse for only a few short months, and she was never graduated from any school. She wrote that Mr. Owen didn’t hold graduation exercises that spring, as not everyone in the higher class would have been able to graduate. Mr. Owen intended to keep the class together and graduate them (from the equivalent of the tenth grade) the following year, but there is no record of there having been a graduating class at any level in De Smet until 1889.

October 1, 1880, Amos Whiting ordered that Sections 1–18, Township 111, Range 56 be designated as School District No. 39. The district was unorganized in February 1883 when Superintendent George Williams divided larger unorganized school districts into districts of nine sections or less. Sections 3, 10, 11, the west halves of Sections 12 and 13, and all of Sections 14 and 15 were set off to form School District No. 83. The remaining sections continued to be known as School District No. 39. [9] By December 1884, the district had been organized and designated as De Smet School Township School No. 6.

Common School No. 6 was the Wilkin School.

The schoolhouse in the Wilkin District was a new one; it wasn’t even built at the time of the teaching exams in April 1885. In March, Russell Ross had been authorized to purchase lumber for the building of a new schoolhouse in the Wilkin District. The lumber bill was $128.19. James Wells was appointed moderator to oversee construction. Willis Wilkin was one of the workers.

A plan to move the original De Smet town school to the Wilkin site hadn’t materialized. The board authorized the sale of that building as soon as a sealed bid of at least $300 was received for it. The building was finally sold to Erastus F. Barrows for that amount in September 1885.

It is interesting to note that the school which Wilder wrote the least about in These Happy Golden Years is precisely the one that most is known about. Only a few short paragraphs were published about the Wilkin School: that all Laura’s days were pleasant ones and her students were friendly and obedient. Not one of her students was mentioned by name.

This school didn’t even merit a chapter of its own, but was part of “The Cream-Colored Hat,” a chapter which included not only the story of Laura’s entire term of school but detailed descriptions of Laura’s new hat and the construction of her dresses, Pa’s surprise of a sewing machine for Ma, the Fourth of July celebration, and sister Mary’s homecoming.

However, more was included about the Wilkin School in Pioneer Girl. Wilder wrote that she boarded with her classmate Florence Wilkin [10], and Florence’s father, mother, little sister, and married brother with his wife and baby.

Florence Wilkin, born July 22, 1867, was the same age as Laura Ingalls. Florence’s sister Ethel was almost five years old at the time of the Wilkin school. Brother Willis, his wife Martha, and one year old Carl also lived in the same house. The Wilkin family remained in Kingsbury County until 1890; they moved to Oregon, where Thomas died in 1899. The rest of the family moved to California. There Ethel became a seamstress and Florence was employed as a bookkeeper. In 1885, the De Smet School taught bookkeeping for the first time as part of the curriculum. Florence married late in life and had no children.

In Pioneer Girl, Wilder remembered that her students in the Wilkin School were Jimmie, Mamie, and Danny Glover (Irish children); Mary, Tommy, and Charley Webb (Dutch children); and Georgie Dwight. The Glovers supposedly lived southeast of the school and the Webbs lived northeast of the school.

James Glover, his wife Martha, and son Andrew (born 1867) came to the United States from Ireland in the late 1860s. Children Mary, William, Martha, and Samuel were all born in the United States. The Glovers moved to Kingsbury County in early 1882, filing a homestead claim on the SE 17-111-56. [11] They had first settled in Pennsylvania, moving to St. Ansgar, Mitchell County, Iowa, in the mid-1870s. In the summer of 1885, son Andrew and daughter Mary were no longer attending school; Mary would marry Frederick N. Dow in October. The three Glover children taught by Laura Ingalls were not “Jimmie, Mamie, and Danny,” but Willie, Martha, and Sammy. William Glover was eleven in 1885; Martha [12] was fifteen; and Samuel was six years old.

Reuben Webb and his wife Vashti came to Kingsbury County in April 1882 from Monroe, Green County, Wisconsin. They had three children born in Wisconsin: Fanny (born 1871), Adelbert (born 1874), and Edith (born 1877). A surviving draft of the manuscript for These Happy Golden Years included Fanny and Delbert Webb as Laura’s students in the Wilkin School. The “Mary, Tommy, and Charley Webb” from Pioneer Girl were Fanny, Delbert, and Edith.

Reuben Webb homesteaded the NE 8-111-56, first filing on the land in April 1882. [13] Webb enlisted, served, and was wounded while in the Wisconsin Infantry Volunteers during the Civil War, serving mostly in Kentucky where his wife’s family was from. Soldiers were allowed to subtract time served in the military from the five years’ required residency on a homestead, so Webb was able to prove up on his claim in just over two years. [14]

“Little Georgie Dwight” from Pioneer Girl became Clarence Dwight in the manuscript of These Happy Golden Years, and Clarence was the name of one of Laura’s Wilkin School students, although the Dwight family didn’t live in the Wilkin District. They lived just west of Almanzo Wilder’s homestead, on the NW 21-111-56. [15] There was a big slough between the Dwight homestead and De Smet; it was probably much easier and safer for Clarence to walk northwest to the Wilkin School than to have to go around the slough and into town to school.

Clarence’s parents were Dan Dwight and the former Frances Amelia Owen, older sister of De Smet teacher, V. S. L. Owen. Another sister, Ada, was married to former De Smet teacher, Willard Seelye. Clarence Arthur Dwight was born June 13, 1875. Wilder remembered that Clarence was her youngest student at six years old. He actually had his tenth birthday near the end of the term. Closer to the age Wilder remembered was Sadie Dwight, born September 1878. Sadie may also have been a student at the Wilkin School.

The Dwight family came to Kingsbury County in April 1882, from Sumner Township, Fillmore County, Minnesota. The Dwights lived for a time in Black Hawk County, Iowa; Dan Dwight was originally from Pennsylvania. In October 1880, Dan Dwight filed on a tree claim at the land office in Mitchell, Dakota Territory, the SE 14-111-57. [16] He went home and returned in April 1881 to file on his homestead claim. He lived on his claim for the required six months, building a shanty, plowing thirty acres, and digging a well before returning to Minnesota. Dwight shipped grain and farm machinery to De Smet in January 1882, then moved his family to the homestead that April.

In Pioneer Girl, Wilder wrote of the difficulties she had with her students. The Glover and Webb children fought after school each day, so Laura solved that problem by keeping one family at school after dismissal until the other was well on their way home, alternating the detained family each afternoon. Laura said she would continue to do this until both families would agree to leave school together peaceably, and the children soon agreed to get along.

Wilder remembered that Clarence’s difficulty in school was that he simply could not learn his A-B-Cs. He tried and tried but couldn’t tell an A from a B even though he might seem to know the difference the day before. Finally Laura brought a switch to school and told Clarence if he didn’t learn his letters, she would whip him. Luckily for Laura, Clarence buckled down and made the effort, although it took him the entire three months to learn all twenty-six letters. Laura never had to use the switch.

Genevieve Masters taught two terms in the Wilkin School after the term taught by Laura Ingalls. [17] While Laura taught the Wilkin School, Gennie taught a term in Hamlin County. In September 1886, Masters left De Smet to attend college in Pierre. When she returned in 1887, she taught in southeast Kingsbury County near Spring Lake. [18]

The original Wilkin school building was used as a schoolhouse into the 1950s. It was later moved to a nearby farm and converted yo a hog house. The building was razed in the 1980s after a century of use.



1. De Smet Leader, April 9, 1885.
2. Ibid., April 4, 1885.
3. Record of Superintendent of Public Schools, Kingsbury County, 164.
4. Ibid.
5. De Smet Leader, May 2, 1885.
6. Laura Ingalls Wilder / Rose Wilder Lane Home and Museum, Mansfield, Missouri.
7. Ibid.
8. Public School Laws of Dakota Territory, 1885, Section 84, 38.
9. Record of Superintendent of Public Schools, Kingsbury County, 114-115.
10. Wilder refers to the correct family name of Wilkin as “Wilkins” throughout all her writings.
11. Homestead application No. 17619, James Glover, SE 17-111-56, Patent issued June 6, 1892. Recorded Volume 11, 295.
12. There is also speculation that memories of Martha Glover as a student were what Wilder attributed to the Bouchie School student she called Martha Peterson.
13. Homestead application No. 18916, Reuben Webb, NE 8-111-56, Patent issued February 22, 1887. Recorded Volume 4, 100.
14. Webb enrolled as a private in Company C, Third Regiment Wisconsin Infantry Volunteers on January 20, 1862 and was discharged on December 21, 1863. He reenlisted as a Veteran Volunteer and mustered out on July 18, 1865.
15. Homestead application No. 3610, Almanzo J. Wilder, NE 21-111-56, Patent issued June 17, 1887. Recorded Volume 5, 234.
16. Homestead application No. 15156, Dan Dwight, NW 21-111-56, Patent issued June 1, 1889. Recorded Volume 9, 38.
17. De Smet Leader, September 4, 1885; April 17, 1886: “Miss Genevieve Masters began another term in the Wilkin Schoolhouse.”
18. Ibid., March 4, 1887.



For more information, purchase my monograph, Laura Ingalls Wilder and Education in Kingsbury County, Dakota Territory, 1880-1885 (published in 2015), available from the Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society in De Smet, South Dakota. The above content was presented at the Dakota Conference in 1999 and privately published in 2001. Most of the above was online from 2006-2011; some corrections and changed have been made here which reflect changes made in the 2015 publication.


Wilkins [sic] School (THGY 26-28; PG), see also Thomas C. Wilkin family, James Glover family, Daniel Dwight family, Little Georgie Dwight, Reuben Webb family