Lucia Darling: Montana’s Chalkboard Champion

$RYF9QA5In October, 1863, twenty-seven-year-old Lucia Darling opened the first school in Montana on the banks of Grasshopper Creek in the frontier village of Bannack. Until a cabin could be built to serve as the schoolhouse, she used the sizable and comfortable home of her uncle, Chief Justice Sidney Edgerton, who had been appointed the governor of the territory. Makeshift desks and chairs, books, and other teaching materials were hastily acquired. Her students were the children of the three thousand or so homesteaders and gold miners who had established their claims in the wild and woolly Western town. “Bannack was tumultuous and rough,” the young school teacher wrote in her diary. “It was the headquarters of a band of highwaymen. Lawlessness and misrule seemed to be the prevailing spirit of the place.” Through her school, Lucia sought to inject some civilization into the place. Lucia was born in Tallmadge, Ohio, in 1839. Although raised on a farm, she spent her childhood in academic pursuits. When she was old enough, she became a qualified teacher and spent nine years teaching in an area of northeast Ohio. She also taught at Berea College, the first integrated college in Kentucky. She did this at a time when it was unusual for a woman to get a college education or go to work. In 1863, Lucia accompanied her uncle and his family as they relocated to the West, keeping a detailed diary of the route, the Indians they encountered, the historic landmarks they passed, the weather patterns, and the chores she completed each day along the journey. The group traveled by train from Tallmadge to Chicago, by river boat down the Missouri River to Omaha, and by covered wagon across the vast prairies of the West. After three months, the expedition finally landed in Oregon. From there Lucia made her way to Bannack, where she founded her school. After the Civil War, Lucia traveled to the Deep South where she taught for the Freedman’s Bureau, an organization founded by the US government in 1865 to provide educational opportunities for newly-freed African Americans. Lucia Darling: a true chalkboard champion.