An era of county school superintendents: First of three parts.

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 14, 2002

One of the now nearly forgotten elective offices of the past is that of county school superintendent.

For nearly a century, from July 1865 to January 1963 to be exact, 11 men served as the Freeborn County superintendent of schools. All but one of these men were selected as part of the election process and most of them were former educators or country school teachers.

When Freeborn County was organized in 1857, there was only one schoolhouse in operation. It was located in the new village of Shell Rock (now known as Glenville). That same year the county commissioners organized 16 school districts. During the following year 16 more districts were designated. In 1859 the county commissioners organized 13 more school districts. And as settlers came into the county, each of these districts, plus other districts created later, eventually had a schoolhouse and a teacher. By 1882, there were 74 wooden and brick schoolhouses being used to educate students in the rural areas and in the various communities.

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In 1865 the state legislature authorized the establishment of a county school superintendent post. Thus, in July, S. Batchelder was appointed to serve as Freeborn County’s first school superintendent. No further information about this man seems to be available. He served until 1869.

The county’s second superintendent, and the first to be elected to this post, was Edwin C. Stacy. He was actually a lawyer and served for just one two-year term. (His wife, Dr. Elizabeth D. Stacy, was one of the nation’s first female doctors and reportedly the first woman to practice medicine in Minnesota.)

The duties of this particular elective office were described in the 1911 History of Freeborn County book written by Franklyn Curtiss-Wedge with:

&uot;The county superintendent has general supervision of the schools in the county. It is his duty to visit these schools, advise teachers and officers as to the best methods

of instruction, the most improved plans for building, improving and ventilating schoolhouses, and ornamenting school grounds; conduct teachers’ and (school board) officers’ meetings and make reports to the state superintendent of public instruction.&uot;

An added assignment for the county’s school superintendent was to coordinate the allocation of state aid to the various districts.

Stacy was replaced by Henry Thurston in the election of 1870. Thurston was followed by Charles W. Levens in this office. No information now seems to be available as to their years of elected service. O. K. Haugen served as Freeborn County’s superintendent of schools from 1889 to 1891. He was replaced by John W. Olsen who served for 10 years. George P. Lattin served in this office from 1901 to 1909 and was followed by Harold Dahlen. And Dahlen has the distinction of serving as the Freeborn County Superintendent of Schools for the longest tenure – 26 years.

He was born on April 8, 1871, in Hadeland, Norway, and came to this area with his parents when he was two years old. Dahlen attended Freeborn County schools, the Highland Park Business College in Des Moines, Iowa, and graduated from Mankato Normal College in 1897.

After 10 years of teaching in country schools and at the school in Freeborn, he was elected to serve as the county’s school superintendent.

An indication of the county’s school system under Dahlen’s leadership was indicated in the following information from the 1911 History of Freeborn County book:

&uot;There are 133 organized districts in the county. Of these, two, Albert Lea and Alden, are city schools with first class high schools. The Albert Lea school has an agricultural and normal (teacher training) department. Three are graded schools, Glenville, Hartland and Geneva, each in charge of four teachers. Five are semi-graded, Freeborn and Emmons, each with three teachers, and Gordonsville, Hayward and District 16 Carlston Township, each with two teachers. The others are one-roomed schools. There are eleven districts joint with other counties and in five of these the buildings are out of Freeborn county. One school has an enrollment of less than ten pupils, and twenty-seven have an enrollment of from ten to twenty. The largest enrollment is fifty-three pupils, in District 20, Bancroft Township, and the smallest is eight pupils in District 68, Albert Lea Township. During the past year fourteen districts had nine months of school; fifty schools, eight months; thirty-four schools, seven months; twenty-four schools, six months; and ten schools, five months. One school is closed for want of enough pupils.&uot;.

Dahlen served as the county’s educational leader until 1934. He died in June 1950 and is buried in Albert Lea’s Lakewood Cemetery.

Next: Information about the three county school superintendents who followed Dahlen and why this particular position is no longer listed on the election ballots.