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150 Years Ago Wyoming’s First Public School Was A Tent

Henry Guttmann, Getty Images
Henry Guttmann, Getty Images

Future Wyoming’s first civilian school was founded in Cheyenne’s first year – 1867. The building was actually a tent, dismantled and re-erected on 19th Street, where a lot was acquired for a 24 x 40 foot frame. A boom town would quickly make that an “overcrowded classroom.”

Like most structures then, the building went up quick, costing $2,235. It was not officially dedicated until the next year in 1868. As the first school in Wyoming open to all children tuition-free, it was the closest thing to a public school.

The first actual record of a classroom was at Fort Laramie, for children of officers and traders, in 1852. That was almost ten years before this was Dakota Territory. As a military outpost, school happened in a building later made into the laundry.

Judge W.A. Carter established Wyoming’s second school at Fort Bridger in 1860. The schoolhouse still exists and is part of the Fort Bridger National Historic District. Carter had opened the facility for his own children but allowed other children to attend class.

CarterSchoolHouse, Photo State Historic Preservation Office
CarterSchoolHouse, Photo State Historic Preservation Office

Courtesy of wyoshpo.state.wy.us/Schools/History
In 1850, the area that would become Wyoming featured an aggregate population of some 400 “pioneers.” The overwhelming majority were adult males. At the time these were principally in three areas —around Ft. Laramie, Ft. Bridger and in a scattering of homesteads along the North Platte River in present-day Platte and Goshen Counties. During the decade, two of these three settlements would establish schools, both at military forts.

Courtesy of wyoshpo.state.wy.us/Schools/History/Timeline

1852  First recorded school in Wyo established for the children of officers and traders at Fort Laramie.

1868  Wyoming Territory was created on July 25, 1868 by the Organic Act, which stipulated that sections 16 and 36 in each township be reserved for public schools.

1869  Subscription public schools opened in Laramie and Rawlins. Assembly passed school code creating an in depth system for public schools.

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