The Lockport Board of Education had its beginnings at the first meeting of the "Education Society of the Town of Lockport" on Aug. 8, 1836. This initial meeting was headed by Elias Ransom Jr. Its purpose was to improve the education system of the common schools for Lockport, a town known as the "toughest town between Albany and Buffalo."
The work of this committee was rewarded 11 years later, when the Lockport School District was established by a resolution of the New York State Legislature on March 31, 1847, under the title, "An Act in Relation to the Common Schools of the Village of Lockport." The measure was presented by Benjamin Carpenter, a member of the Assembly.
The act was published in the Niagara Courier, April 7, 1847. It said, "Trustees of the districts together with five trustees-at-large were constituted a corporation to be named the 'Board of Education for the Village of Lockport.' " The act stipulated that there was to be no compensation for the members of the Board of Education and that the members also should set up a central library.
Section 3 of the act named the following to the original board: Sullivan Caverno, William G. McMaster, Joseph T. Bellah, Silas H. Marks, Issac C. Colton, John S. Wolcott, Nathan Dayton, Samuel Works, Layman A. Spalding and Hiram Gardner. The oath of office was administered by John Van Horn, a local businessman.
The first meeting of the appointed Lockport Board of Education was held in Caverno's office of on April 5, 1847.
Of course, money was needed to purchase property for the schools, hire teachers and get supplies. Therefore, at the July 12, 1847, meeting, the appointed School Board levied the first school tax in Lockport. The resolution was introduced by board member Spalding. The amount was $13,300. There was an immediate protest to this tax for school support. The protesters asked for a hearing by the Board of Education. It was refused. Speaker after speaker at a meeting held at the American Hotel on Aug. 12, 1847, denounced the Union School Act. The speakers demanded that the board be disbanded and the rising walls of the new building -- the Union School -- be demolished.
On Jan. 2, 1848, the first meeting of the Lockport Board of Education elected by the people of Lockport was held.
The Board of Education was then made up of the men named in the New York Legislative Act of March 31, 1847, and five new members.
The election resulted in seven district representatives and four trustees at large, elected by the male property owners only.
All of the appointed members were elected along with four new trustees-at-large, who were J.L. Curtinius, Levi F. Bowen, Jonathan Ingalls and Abijah H. Moss.
The work of supervising the schools had been done by Caverno, until the new board appointed the first superintendent, Myron L. Burrell, a businessman, and School Board member, in March 1850. Burrell's salary was set at $2 per day, not to exceed $50 per month.
After one month in office he resigned, and George W. Germain, another board member, was hired as superintendent at $400 a year.
However, public opinion was not in favor of the current school leadership, as was evidenced by this comment in the Niagara Falls Daily Courier Feb. 20, 1854:
"There can be but little doubt that the deplorable condition of the Public School at present is chargeable to a total and wanton abandonment of the rules, regulations and system. . . . This result is not chargeable to any one influence but it is the effect of the indifference of the public, the inefficiency of the Board of Education and the lack of firmness and industry on the part of the teachers."
This report of the public meeting sponsored by the Teachers Association concerning the education system in Lockport, resulted in the appointment of James Atwater, an academic, as school superintendent in 1854.
Research indicates some other interesting items concerning school boards and public education in Niagara County:
The first principal of the Union School in Lockport was Frederic Lord, whose salary was fixed at $1,000 for a 12-month period.
Belva McNall taught for three years at the Union School in Lockport. She earned a place in history after she married a Dr. Lockwood and became the only woman in history to run for the U.S presidency as a nominee of the Equal Rights Party.
In 1862, it was decided to employ a teacher of military tactics and "Manual Exercises of the Musket" during the Civil War.
The Union Sun, on April 29, 1914, reported: "The question of the employment of married women as teachers in the Lockport public schools caused another stir at the meeting of the Board of Education last night, when the appointment of teachers was under consideration."
On Jan. 1, 1895, the new State Compulsory Education Law became effective. This law required the Lockport School Board to hire an attendance officer. John Slocombe was appointed to the new post.
The Wilson School Board included these provisions in its teachers' contracts for the 1914 school year: "prohibiting the teachers from doing the tango and other modern dances." The clause was inserted into the new contracts because the Wilson School Board had received complaints from "the conservative women of the village, who objected to the way teachers had patronized public dances, doing the dip and other new steps." (Union-Sun, June 14, 1914) Two teachers returned their contracts unsigned.
ROBERT J. POHL is secretary of the Lockport Board of Education, on which he has served as a member for seven years. A retired school librarian from Rockland County, he moved to Lockport 12 years ago. He has a master's degree in library science. He teaches Latin at St. Peter's Lutheran School -- North Ridge in Cambria.
Local historians who wish to submit a typed article for possible publication should mail it to Anne Neville, The Buffalo News, 8890 Porter Road, Niagara Falls 14304. Please include your phone number for confirmation.