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Perry School

Term of school taught by Laura Ingalls, April 28 – June 27, 1884.

School board meeting April 11, 1884: Voted that Miss Laura Ingalls be contracted to teach school No. 3 (District 35) for the summer term, at $25 per month. – De Smet Leader, April 19, 1884


October 9, 1880, Amos Whiting designated all of Township 110 Range 56 as School District No. 37. [1] The next year, following a petition signed by Edward Brown and twenty-three others, Sections 3 and 4 were removed from the unorganized district and attached to School District No. 2 in De Smet. [2] Section 3 included the Charles Ingalls homestead. Owning property and living part of the time in town, Ingalls already paid taxes which benefited the De Smet school. By permanently attaching his homestead to a neighboring school district, Ingalls avoided having to pay tuition in order to send his daughters to the De Smet school while living on the homestead. It doesn’t seem that Laura, Carrie, or Grace ever attended any district school other than the one in De Smet, at least through the year 1885.

On September 16, 1882, a petition was filed which resulted in the removal of the north half of Section 5 from District No. 37, attaching it also to District No. 2. [3] Section 5 included the homestead of Samuel O. Masters, father of both Genevieve Masters, one of the girls who provided inspiration for Wilder’s composite character Nellie Oleson in the Little House books. [4]

Amos Whiting received a petition on March 7, 1882, signed by Russell J. Ross and five others in the northeast part of 110-56, asking for the formation and organization of a school district comprising the northeast quarter of said township (excluding Section 3 which was already a part of School District No. 2). [5] On consideration of the matter, it was ordered that the new district be formed and designated as School District No. 60. The organizational meeting was to be held at the home of Russell Ross on April 4, 1882. [86] The April 13, 1882 Lake Preston Times reported that “the NE ½ 110-56, except Section 3, is now organized as a school district with officers elected and qualified.” This school board consisted of James C. Karr (director), Iver Amundson (clerk), and Oliver D. Perry (treasurer). [7] Karr was homesteading the SE 14, Amundson had preempted the NE 1 in December 1881, Perry was homesteading the E ½ NE 15 and the W ½ NW 14 [8]. Just days after the formation of the new district, Oliver’s son Delos filed on a homestead on the NE 10; he had preempted a claim on the northwest shore of Lake Henry the previous year.

School District No. 60 was known as the Perry District.

School District No. 60 began receiving apportionments in June 1882. By July 1883, the board had erected a schoolhouse. [9] The 1883 Superintendent’s map shows the location of the schoolhouse on the southwest corner of the SE 2, Daniel F. Jones’ preemption claim, but it is not known if the schoolhouse ever stood on this site. Another map prepared in 1883 shows the location of the Perry School on the northwest corner of Section 12, Harrison Ross’s preemption claim.

Records prepared by the Board of Equalization of School Property and Funds in July 1883 noted that both property and schoolhouse in District No. 60 were valued at $159.80; it was the smallest schoolhouse in Kingsbury County at that time. The district had $31.39 in its treasury and outstanding debts of $93.20, most likely a debt on construction of the house itself. [10] If Charles Ingalls worked on the construction of this schoolhouse, it would have been during the spring or early summer of 1883, not in 1884 as Wilder remembered.

The first teacher in District No. 60 was Bertha Barrington from Iroquois; she taught a three month term from May – July 1883. The August 11, 1883 De Smet Leader reported that she was paid $45, most likely a balance due on her total salary.

As a provision of the 1883 school law, the district school numbers by which all county schools had been organized were changed so that all schoolhouses in a township were numbered from one upward. The law stated that “by such new numbers so assigned and recorded, said schools and school houses [shall] be referred to in all matters.” [11] In some townships, the schoolhouses were consecutively numbered in the order in which their districts had been formed. In Mathews Township, however, the schools were numbered according to their location, and in some cases numbering was continued from one township to the next. In De Smet School Township, district schools were renumbered as follows: [12]

     Common School No. 1 – former District No. 32
     Common School No. 2 – former District No. 2 (De Smet town school)
     Common School No. 3 – former District No. 35 (Lake Henry School)
     Common School No. 4 – former District No. 31
     Common School No. 5 – former District No. 60 (Perry School)

Numbers were to be used to officially designate schoolhouses but residents typically identified each schoolhouse by the name of the homesteader on whose land the schoolhouse stood or by the name of the person who was director of the school board prior to the change to the township system.

At a September 1883 meeting of the De Smet School Township Board, then consisting of John A. Owen (director), Visscher V. Barnes (clerk), and Thomas C. Wilkin (treasurer), it was voted that Metta Aldrich be employed to teach School No. 5 in the fall of 1883 at a salary of $25 per month. [13] Metta Aldrich was born August 27, 1856 in Ohio, the third daughter of Mary Ann and Henry Aldrich. Metta was rehired to teach the 1884 summer term in School No. 5 (there was no winter or spring term held), yet she decided not to take the position. She married Charles Drake in De Smet on June 17, 1885.

Russell J. Ross was appointed moderator of School No. 5. [14] As moderator, Ross was to see that the schoolhouse was cleaned and kept in good repair, to make sure the building was banked for the winter, that a firebreak around the schoolhouse was plowed and kept clear, and that a supply of coal was procured for the winter if a term was to be taught. Ross must have also done some repair work himself, as he was often paid small sums, such as $4.20 for “plastering and labor.” [15]

Wilder wrote that her second teaching position was in the Perry School. Originally she was not hired to teach this school, having been hired instead to teach Common School No. 3 directly east of the Perry District. [16] School No. 3 was a much larger school with a larger enrollment than the Perry School. The April 19, 1884 De Smet Leader reported that “Miss Laura Ingalls be contracted to teach School No. 3 for the summer term, at $25 per month.” It is almost certain that once the Perry School was available; however, Laura asked for it, since that schoolhouse was several miles closer to her own home. After the board contracted with Laura Ingalls to teach School No. 5, Bertha Wilcox was engaged to teach School No. 3, which she continued to do each term held through the summer of 1885. [17]

In June 1885, the school board voted to close School No. 5 for the coming year, due to repeated light enrollment. [18] When organized in 1881, District No. 60 boasted nineteen children of school age but that number had dwindled over the years.

Due to a failure of the school board to legally collect school equalization taxes in De Smet Township in 1884, there were insufficient funds during the summer with which to pay outstanding bills accrued by the board. Creditors threatened lawsuits against the township. Therefore, the board voted to use money normally designated for teacher wages to pay creditors. As a result, the length of the summer term in 1884 (only in De Smet Township) was reduced from three months to two. [19]

The contract between Laura Ingalls and the De Smet School Township Board reflects this change. [20] The contract reads:

Territory of Dakota, Teacher’s Contract. County of Kingsbury.
De Smet School Township with Laura Ingalls Teacher : That the said Laura Ingalls is to teach the common school No. 5 of said Township for the term of two months for the sum of twenty-five dollars per month commencing on the 28th day of Apr 1884 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 Ingalls the amount that may be due according to this contract, on or before the 1 day of July 1884.
Laura Ingalls Teacher
John A. Owen Director
Alfred Thomas Clerk
____________ Treasurer
Dated this 22nd day of April 1884. No. ___

In October 1883, V. V. Barnes resigned as clerk of the De Smet School Township Board and Alfred Thomas was appointed [21] to the position by Superintendent George Williams. Thomas, brother of De Smet resident Carey J. Thomas, brought his family to De Smet from Two Rivers, Wisconsin, in April 1883. [22] Alfred, a lawyer and former teacher himself, assisted in early teachers institutes in the county.

In These Happy Golden Years, Wilder devoted much less of her story to Laura’s second teaching position than her first. Ten chapters were devoted to the Brewster (Bouchie) School; only one to the Perry School. Wilder begins the Perry chapter in March, when Pa asks if they can be ready to move to the homestead soon, because a schoolhouse was to be built nearby and he had been hired to boss the job. The De Smet Leader did make note of the family’s move to the homestead in 1884, which occurred in April: “Ex-justice Ingalls has moved to his farm southeast of town.” [2523]

As the schoolhouse had been built the previous year, perhaps it was only being moved to a new location, and this was the job Charles Ingalls was hired to boss. It was not uncommon for schoolhouses to be moved from location to location within a district in order that they be located conveniently near a majority of the children. No existing Kingsbury County maps show a schoolhouse on the northeast corner of Section 10, the quarter section first filed on by Delos Perry in April 1883 with final proof in May 1888. [24] This was also not “just south” of Charles Ingalls’ south line as Wilder remembered, but south of their own neighbor to the south, William Reifkogel, a harness maker from Plainview, Minnesota. In later years, this schoolhouse burned and a new one was built to the north on the SE 3. This location is the first documented on surviving commercially published maps.

Teachers’ examinations were not in March as Wilder remembered, but were held on April 1 – 2, 1884. The De Smet Leader reported a light turnout, and indeed only six certificates were issued as a result of this examination. [25] If Laura Ingalls was present, no record indicates as such. Further, in April 1884, Laura already held a valid teaching certificate and could not be re-examined until it expired. The third grade teaching certificate she received in December 1883 was still valid for another eight months.

Wilder described her white schoolhouse in detail, from the clean smelling lumber to the boughten teacher’s desk and the three rows of new, boughten seats. [26] The schoolhouse was fairly new in that only two terms had been taught in it prior to Laura’s own. Wilder remembered three rows of four seats each. On this account she was indeed correct, as Common School No. 5 had been given “twelve new single seats” in October 1883. [27] The desks had been purchased for $71.25. [28]

In Pioneer Girl, Wilder wrote that she never had more than three scholars the whole term, and most of the time only one, “little Clyde Perry, just seven years old.” In These Happy Golden Years, Laura’s students besides Clyde were said to be “a little boy and girl who said their name was Johnson.” Clyde was the son of Delos Perry, and he celebrated his seventh birthday during the school term. The Johnson students were most likely the children of Guttorm Johnson, homesteading two miles from the schoolhouse on the SW 15. Robert was about 11 and Ana would have been about 7 at the time of the Perry School.

On December 13, 1881, the south half of 110-56 was removed from District No. 37 and formed into a new School District No. 56 in Mathews Township. [29] An organizational meeting was held at the home of Neils Kopperud on January 3, 1882. [30] Following the adoption of the township system of school organization, land was donated by Mr. Kopperud for a schoolhouse built in the western part of Section 26. In 1883, this schoolhouse was valued at $450. [31] The original schoolhouse burned in the late 1880s and a new one was built, known later as the Johnson School. Today this schoolhouse stands on a corner of the Ingalls homestead site and is used for educational purposes.



1. Record of Superintendent of Public Schools, Kingsbury County, 21.
2. Ibid., 58.
3. Ibid., 103.
4. Stella Gilbert, Nellie Owens, and Genevieve Masters provided inspiration for the fictional character Nellie Oleson.
5. Record of Superintendent of Public Schools, Kingsbury County, 70.
6. Ibid.
7. Record of District School Officers, Kingsbury County.
8. In Pioneer Girl Wilder remembered that this Mr. Perry lived just south of his son Delos. In 1884, Abbie Wheat’s tree claim lay between these two homesteads. Oliver Perry homesteaded the E ½ NW 14 and the W ½ NE 14–110-56.
9. Record of Superintendent of Public Schools, Kingsbury County, 128.
10. Ibid.
11. Public School Laws of Dakota Territory, 1883, Section 44, 21.
12. De Smet Leader, August 11, 1883.
13. Ibid., September 8, 1883.
14. Ibid., October 6, 1883.
15. Ibid., November 10, 1883.
16. Ibid., April 19, 1884.
17. Ibid., May 3, 1884; May 17, 1884; and March 14, 1885.
18. Ibid., June 30, 1885.
19. Ibid., April 7, 1884.
20. Laura’s original contract for the Perry School is on display in the Laura Ingalls Wilder / Rose Wilder Lane Museum in Mansfield, Missouri.
21. De Smet Leader, October 27, 1883.
22. Ibid., April 26, 1883.
23. De Smet Leader, April 12, 1884.
24. Final Certificate No. 2834, Delos Perry, July 29, 1887. Kingsbury County Tract Book, 112.
25. Record of Superintendent of Public Schools, Kingsbury County, 149.
26. See Laura Ingalls Wilder, These Happy Golden Years, Chapter 18, “The Perry School.” (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1945).
27. De Smet Leader, October 6, 1883.
28. Ibid., January 3, 1884.
29. Record of Superintendent of Public Schools, Kingsbury County, 60.
30. Ibid.
31. Ibid., 131.

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.


Perry School (THGY 18, 26; PG), see also Delos Perry family, Guttorm Johnson family
     Perry School (THGY 18, 26; PG)
     Perry school house / schoolhouse (THGY 28; PG)