Wilkins, Mary

Even in its infancy, the citizens of the town realized the need to start a school to educate the children. Local businessmen pledged money to run the school for the first six months. On April 26, 1857, the new teacher arrived on the first steamboat of the spring season, the Omaha. Mary Wilkins, a nineteen year old from Keosauqua, Iowa became the first teacher. The salary for her first term was fifty dollars per month. She lived with a married couple she had met on the steamboat.


Mary Wilkins

When Mary arrived, she was interviewed by two of the school board members and asked questions to see if she was qualified. They approved.

Mary experienced many problems when setting up the new school. The building scheduled to be completed May 1st was not close to being finished. There were no books. Not waiting for the building to be completed or the books to arrive, Mary started school. She started with 15 students ranging in age from 6 to 19 (her age). Many of these students were the children of pioneers and had always lived in wilderness areas, so even though they were older, they had never been to school and could not read or write or do math. Miss Wilkins was in the front of the room on a raised platform and the students sat at table with benches. The small children sat in front and the larger in the rear.

Within the first six weeks the school was finished, books arrived and the number of students attending school had more than doubled.

With the completion of her first successful term, the school received public funds. This meant Mary was now to be paid by the taxpayers of the city. Some objected to paying a young single girl fifty dollars per month. The school board thought Mary was worth the salary so worked out a compromise that satisfied all sides. Mary's salary was lowered to thirty dollars per month for fifteen students. For each student more than fifteen she would receive more money. Because of the number of students, Mary wound up making more money than she had the previous term! Mary taught for two years and then married a local man named C. B. Rustin and later moved to Omaha. She lived there until her death in 1934.