The remarkable growth and development of Dakota Territory after 1880 was extraordinary. Settlers pointed with pride to the public schools which dotted the prairie. Families contemplating a move to Dakota had one main question: What are the facilities offered in the new country for the education of our children?
Those early settlers to Dakota were industrious, thrifty, and of good morals. Among the first endeavors begun in their new home was the building of schools and churches.
After several years, one could drive across the prairie in any direction and see the typical country school house. They were nicely painted, neatly kept, and separated from one another by distances of only a few miles. Graded and high schools were maintained in the cities and towns. In 1885, only sixteen of the forty-seven states and territories had school expenditures more than Dakota Territory. That same year only six had a larger proportion of their children enrolled in the public schools.
The need for higher education was provided by Territorial institutions, private colleges, and academies. Clearly, the education and training of their children was important.
The following is a listing in order of their establishment of the earliest colleges, universities, and academies founded in what was to become South Dakota:
- Yankton College, Congregational, Yankton, Oct. 4, 1881. Yankton College became the first college, not only of SD or the two Dakotas, but also of the immense region of the Upper Missouri River Valley included in the original Dakota Territory of 186l. Joseph Ward, the first president of YC, was the author of our state motto “Under God, the People Rule” which is a part of our state seal.
- State University (USD), SD, Vermillion, Sept. 17, 1882. An academy was founded at Vermillion in 1882 which became the preparatory school of the University.
- Pierre University (originally Presbyterian University), Pierre, Sept. 17, 1883. Moved to Huron in 1898.
- Sioux Falls College, Baptist, Sioux Falls, Sept. 18, 1883.
- State College (SDSU — originally Dakota Agricultural College), SD, Brookings, Sept. 24, 1884.
- Madison Normal School, (General Beadle), SD, Madison, Sept. 1884.
- Central Dakota University, Methodist, Ordway (six miles NE of Aberdeen), 1884. A newspaper article in Feb. 1885 reported that forty-five students were enrolled.
- Augustana College, Lutheran, Canton, 1884. Augustana was founded at Jefferson Prairie, Wis. in 1860 and moved to Canton in 1884 and to Sioux Falls in 1917 where it was consolidated with the Lutheran Normal School.
- Dakota Wesleyan University (originally Dakota University), Methodist, Mitchell, Sept. 1885.
- All Saints School, Episcopal, Sioux Falls, Sept. 17, 1885.
- School of Mines (SDSM&T), SD, Rapid City, Sept. 1885.
- Spearfish Normal School (Black Hills State), SD, Spearfish, Sept. 1885.
- Groton College, Presbyterian, Groton, had 113 students in May of 1886.
- Notre Dame Academy (became N. D. Jr. College in 1922), Catholic, Mitchell, 1886.
- Presentation Academy, Catholic, Aberdeen, 1886. Bishop Marty negotiated with a group at Wheeler to build a church and school; however, Aberdeen was eventually chosen.
- South Dakota Reform School, SD, Plankinton, 1886.
- Redfield Junior College, Congregational, Redfield, Sept. 1887.
- Wessington Springs Junior College, Methodist, Wessington Springs, Sept. 1887.
- South Dakota School for Deaf, SD, Sioux Falls, 1889.
- Lutheran Normal School, Sioux Falls, 1889.
- Ward Academy, Congregational, Academy, 1893. A significant number of youth from Gregory County boarded at the academy during the year. A number of these students became certified as teachers in the common schools of Gregory County and surrounding area.
- Springfield Normal School (Southern), SD, Springfield, 1897.
- Huron College, Presbyterian University, Huron, 1898. Pierre University was moved to Huron and consolidated with Scotland Academy.
- State School for the Blind, SD, Gary, 1900.
- Northern Normal, SD, Aberdeen, 1902.
- Freeman Jr. College (was SD Mennonite College), Freeman, 1903.
- Columbus College, Catholic, Chamberlain, Oct. 25, 1905. Columbus College was moved to Sioux Falls in 1921.
- Eureka Lutheran Junior College, Eureka, 1910.
- Mary’s School for Indian Girls, Episcopal, Springfield, July 1, 1923. Started in the fall of 1879 as Hope School, a boarding school for Indian boys and girls. St. Mary’s later limited enrollment to 85 girls in grades 6 – 12.
- Mount Marty College, Catholic, Yankton, 1936. For fifteen years MMC was a junior college for women.
Since 1902 the most significant criteria used in determining the strength and quality of the academic programs at a college was the number of students who were selected as “Rhodes Scholars” to study at the University of Oxford in England. The Rhodes Scholarships are the oldest and most celebrated international fellowship awards in the world. Each year thirty-two young students from the United States are selected. Between 1904 and 1924 there were eleven students from South Dakota who received the Rhodes Scholars Scholarship. Five graduated from Yankton College, two from the University of South Dakota, one from Dakota Wesleyan University, and one from Sioux Falls College. Two graduated from out of state colleges.
Author Clarence Shoemaker, originally published in the Gregory-Times Advocate on October 9, 2019