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MEMORIES IN FOCUS: Times change, but virtue survives years ago

MARION HISTORICAL MUSEUM PHOTO

Ohio natives David Harrison and Susannah Dickerson were married in Ohio during the Civil War. More than a decade later, they moved to Marion County, where some of her relatives had settled, and he became one of the county's early teachers and county superintendent of schools.

Life has changed considerably in the 144 years since Ohio native David Harrison moved to Marion County and became one of its first county superintendents of schools.

But his advice to parents about how to help their children’s education rings almost as true today as it did when he wrote it in the Dec. 6, 1878, issue of the Marion County Record.

“Every pupil of proper age and in good health should be in school as much as possible,” he wrote. “A good education is worth more to a pupil than all the wealth you can give him.

“Do not think a pupil should be sent to school before he is 6 years old. Our laws will admit him into the schoolroom at 5 years of age, but every intelligent parent and teacher knows this is too young. It is oppression upon the little pupil and an imposition upon the teacher….

“Everything should be done to assist the pupil in every way possible. In order to receive an education he should understand that he must do his own studying. If he wishes to receive nourishment from food, he must do his own eating.

“Pupils should be in the schoolroom promptly at 9 o’clock. If possible, they should never be tardy. Nothing will hardly disorganize a school much more rapidly than continual tardiness….

“Every good teacher is in the schoolroom early. By this you teach your pupils promptness. I would rather have a pupil of mine taught promptness than any other one thing. It is said that promptness is an angel virtue.

“In quite a number of the schools the textbooks are not uniform. This causes a great amount of extra labor and time. No teacher can make rapid progress unless he has a uniform series of textbooks. School boards should see to this at once. The law makes it one of their duties.

“Several teachers are holding spelling schools once or twice in a month and are having good results from them. Spelling schools are a good thing when properly conducted.

“Parents sometimes attend and become interested. I have known spelling to awaken the cause of education in a community. It would be well to let the pupils know when they are to spell and let them have an opportunity to look over the lesson. It will require considerable skills on the part of the teacher to handle a spelling school successfully.”

Harrison, born in 1835, was repeatedly held out in newspaper accounts of his life as a man of great honor, stretching back to his days as a student at tiny, now defunct Franklin College in New Athens, Ohio.

He was nearly ready to graduate when the Civil War broke out and classes were suspended. The college offered to give him his degree, even though he had not quite finished his final semester. He refused, too conscientious to accept a certificate honoring completion of a program he had not totally finished.

A bachelor’s degree not being necessary for teaching, after marrying the former Susannah Dickerson on Sept. 1, 1863, he began work as a teacher, first in Ohio and then in Iowa.

In 1875, he moved to Marion County, where some of his wife’s relatives had settled, to a farm five miles south of Marion.

The next year he began teaching at Whipple School and Caitlin Valley School, a mile north of his farm. Eventually renamed Dickinson School, it remained open as a grade school until 1960.

Just four years after starting teaching in the county, Harrison was elected county superintendent of schools, supervising teaching at what at the time were more than 60 schools — a number that eventually grew to 120 by 1900.

He lasted just two years in the position, unseated in a contentious election by a person who became another one-term superintendent, John Madden.

No hint of negativity about Harrison’s service as superintendent can be found in newspapers of the day, but Record editor E.W. Hoch, whose wife was a member of the Dickerson family, recalled the controversy in Harrison’s 1916 obituary.

Harrison didn’t win a second term, Hoch wrote, because of “unkind and unjust criticism, common in pioneer politics and none too rare now, to which his kindly nature denied him reply in kind or even defense, and his sensitive nature would not permit him to subject himself to a similar ordeal.”

After being rejected at the polls, Harrison continued farming, eventually moving to a farm half a mile south of Aulne before retiring to a house on Marion’s north hill in 1901.

Time has forgotten whatever controversy may have surrounded his service as superintendent but it has remembered his virtues.

In Harrison’s obituary, Hoch, who moved to Marion at about the same time as Harrison, noted that Harrison was “a singer and writer of some note, but his modesty doubtless robbed him of much of what the world calls success.”

Both Harrison and his wife, who died three years before him, are buried in Marion Cemetery, along with children Joseph and Alma Harrison, both of whom lived into their 50s, and Effie Harrison, who lived into her 70s.

Effie continued her father’s tradition of being associated with learning by serving for many years as librarian at a precursor of Marion City Library established by the Women’s Christian Temperance Union.

Last modified Nov. 21, 2019

 

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