Early Omaha: Gateway to the West

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Omaha's First School

Educational facilities in early Omaha were primitive at best. Settlers in the Omaha area faced many physical hardships. When Omaha was settled in 1854, no tax dollars were available to build schools. Pioneers depended upon each other. After a number of settlers had established homesteads in the area, they formed a group to build a school.

The school was usually located in a central place among the group building the school. Schools were traditionally a one-room log cabin with a clapboard roof and a dirt floor. Glass for windows was a luxury, often just a section of log would be removed and a piece of oiled muslin stretched across the opening. Furniture was rudimentary, split logs for seats and a board hung from pegs as a blackboard.

Teachers were not required to be college graduates. He had to be able to spell, read, write legibly and add sums. The one absolute requirement seems to be that he be of sufficient strength to maintain order among the rowdy farm boys!

The City of Omaha built the first school on the southwest corner of Jefferson Square in September 1863. It was a small, one-room wooden structure. The first two male teachers each lasted only a month. A Mrs. Cooper taught the remainder of the semester. The school building was moved to 15th & Cass in 1865 where it was used for educational purposes until 1878. It was then relocated to 22nd & Burt streets where it was used as a stable.

Text written by Lynn Sullivan, September 2003