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History: Antebellum schools in Bossier

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In his September 8, 1960 column “Looking Back” in the Bossier Banner-Progress, John A. Manry examined Bossier Parish Schools before the Civil War.

“When our parish was organized in 1843 from a part of Claiborne Parish, there were no schools in Bossier Parish.  In fact not in the entire state [were] there any public schools, until two years later, when the Legislature laid out the procedure for a parish school superintendent and school districts.”

“Claiborne Parish had two state-chartered schools, at Homer and Minden, both chartered in the ‘30s.  Some of our earliest inhabitants had been the incorporators.”

“When the 1850 Census was made there was only one school teacher, and he was listed as a tutor in the James B. Gilmer family.  He was Pat B. Cash, late of Georgia.  Those families who could afford tutors didn’t see why they should pay school taxes, so Gilmer’s name was published, with others over the state for refusal to pay.  Though Protestants, Gilmer’s younger sisters attended Sacred Heart College near Convent, La., during the early ‘40s.  Their father was George Oglethorpe Gilmer, who had his home near the present-day Plain Dealing Cemetery.”

“In Washington’s Farewell Address he stated the necessity for public education.  Shortly thereafter a requirement was made that for each state to enter the Union, the 16th section of every township would be reserved for educational purposes.  The income of this one section out of every 36 persons was to be for school purposes, and during this period before the Civil War it was about all the revenue our people in Bossier had for their schools.”

“What made it doubly bad, however, was that only the school district where this land was located could use this revenue.  This meant that sparsely settled areas of the parish received the same amount as the larger communities.  Since this revenue was needed to provide salaries for teachers, it was up to the patrons to provide the buildings and equipment.  What school buildings provided, were one-room buildings, often constructed of logs, and with split log benches for seats.  Cotton houses were sometimes used, and if more light was needed a board was knocked out of the wall.  Bossier had about 30 of these one-room school houses during this time, taught by as many teachers.”

“Our forefathers built their homes first, and soon thereafter built their churches, so they could be made into schools for three or four months out of the year.”

Next week’s column will present a report of the directors of one Bossier Parish school district in which  was noted the difficulty of employing a teacher for the school district.

To learn more about the development of schools in Bossier Parish, please read next week’s column and also visit the Bossier Parish Library Historical Center.

Ann Middleton is Director of the Bossier Parish Library Historical Center. She can be reached at (318) 746-7717 or by e-mail at amiddlet@state.lib.la.us