While schools outside of Eudora were one-room schoolhouses in rural school districts supported by the community, Hesper Academy had the distinction of being the only private school and, more importantly, the only school offering higher education. The Quaker community in Hesper began discussions about starting a high school or academy around 1878, because the nearest high school was in Lawrence. A committee formed a joint stock company and sold shares for $50. They bought a track of land ¼ miles west of Hesper Friends Church from Penelope Gardner in 1884 for the school site.
Haskell Wood, Lawrence, designed the two-story structure in the shape of a cross with a walnut staircase. The first floor had a large study room with built-in bookcases, a recitation room with desks, a small anteroom, and a hallway. The second floor had a classroom, assistant teacher’s room, and “Academy Hall” that sat 250 people. The belfry had a bronze bell cast by the Clinton H. McNeely Bell Company of Troy, New York .
Irvin Stanley, and his wife, Ruth, were the first teachers at Hesper Academy, which opened November 24, 1884, on a four-acre campus complete with basketball and tennis courts, baseball diamond, horse stables, and two outhouses. Its school year was divided into three terms of twelve weeks each. Students paid $45 a year to take courses in the school’s commercial, academic, grammar, and music departments. Courses varied each year with a strong emphasis on English, history, algebra, geometry, Latin, German, physiography, botany, astronomy, bookkeeping, and commercial law. A lecture course, literary society, choral groups, and religious organizations provided extra-curricular activities. Students who came from a distance could board in homes near the Academy for about $3 a week depending on work assistance and other factors. The 1893 Columbian History of Education in Kansas published by Hamilton Printing Company in Topeka included the chapter “In the History and Growth of Schools, by Counties, Douglas County” by J. E. Peairs, county superintendent. About Hesper Academy, he wrote:
“Hesper Academy — During the spring and summer of 1884, the subject of establishing an institution for higher education was frequently and earnestly discussed by the citizens of Hesper and vicinity. The object for which it was established, as set forth in the chapter, is "to advance the cause of education, morals, and religion." The incorporators, who constituted the first board of trustees, were: Winslow Davis, George F. Rogers, Samuel Stanley, Barclay Thomas, and M. Chalkley Hill. The charter issued by the Secretary of State is dated June 10, 1884. The school was opened the following autumn, with Irvin Stanley as principal, and his wife as assistant. Hesper Academy is controlled by a joint-stock company, with capital stock of $5,000, being composed of 100 shares of $50 each.
“Since the opening of the school, the following persons have acted as principals, in the order named: Wilson Cox, Charles H. Edwards, Emma R. Clark, and Theodore Reynolds; likewise Lizzie Jessup, Alden Cox, John Hadley, Mattie Clark, Aurilena Ellis, and Mary E. Lewis have acted in the capacity of assistants. The school building is a two-story frame, erected at a cost of $3,500. The average enrollment is 60. A large percent of the graduates attend higher institutions of learning; a still larger number become teachers. Hesper Academy does preparatory work for any college or university in the West. The institution is dependent wholly upon tuition fees for its support. Average annual net receipts, $900.
“Hesper Academy is under the control of the Friends' church, only members of that denomination being eligible to the office of trustee. The first class graduated in 1887. The graduates now (1892) number 35. A good supply of apparatus, maps, charts, etc., are at the command of the teachers. The library consists of a large number of reference books, together with books for general reading, and a quite a number of public documents, in all a little over 800 volumes.”
The emergence of rural high schools drew many students from the academy. Because of the availability of public education (especially the 1903 Eudora High School ), few were willing to pay the Hesper Academy tuition. In 1911, the school lowered tuition to no avail. The Academy closed in 1912 or possibly 1914, because W. Chalkey Hilll wrote: “. . .when due to the formation of Rural High School Districts through the country, the attendance deceased to such an extent that it was not possible to operate the school longer” in a speech published in the Douglas County Republican June 22, 1939 that also had a listing of 125 Hesper graduates living in southern California. The community continued to use the building until it was sold for $300 in 1939. Dr. Sam Robinson, Kansas City, tore down the building and used the lumber to build a house three miles east of Hesper.
In 1971, after lengthy discussion and fundraising, the bell was made into a monument by Leon Gordon and placed in front of Hesper Friends Church .
Hesper graduates included: Mattie Pitts Meall, F. G. Nichols, O.V. Allen, Cora Bailey Walker, J. H. Nowlin (1887); A. H. Couch, C. M. Pitts (1888); Lorena Ellis McShane, Jennie Walker Woodard, Anna Dunn Bronaugh, L. J. Thomas, C.W. Pearson, O.H. Allen, E.H. Crumrine (1889); Julia Largent Wilbur, Charles Tuttle, Clara Woodard Pearson, Joseph Newby, H.F. Allen (1890); Cora Walker Hice, Leslie Lyons, Lola Mathews Duncan, Harry Starr, Myrtle Ellis Cheney (1891); Arthur Hoyt, Ella Woodard Cosand, Addison White, John Largent, Frank Redding, Olive Couch Gilbert, Cora Ellis, Gertrude Armstrong Penner, A.J. Bales, William Newby, James Penner (1892); Roger Bishoff, Mary Davis, Luther Harris, Cora Elliot Cox, William Cosand (1893); Edmund Cosand, Mary Pearson Henry, Maurice Starr, Melvina Dicken Linden, Eval Elliot Trueblood, Clay Harris, A.J. Redding, Eva Walker, Louella Couch Cosand, Mabel Thomas (1894); Lena Davis, Verlan Couch, Clarence Coggshall (1895); Mary Pearson Henry (1896); Lee Redding (1898); Henry Cox, Anna Davis Thomas (1899); Ada Lill, Herbert Davis, Adelbert Andrew (1900), Nora Allen Garner, Nathan Davis, Homer Davis, Irving Pellet; I. Ernest Andrew, Samuel Davidson, Minnie Floyd Cosand, William Holden, Harry Whaley, J. Parker Cosand, Virgil Davis, Ashley Garratt, Roger Stanley (1902); Emma Allen, John Hill, Leaffie Smith Pearson (1903); Lena Brecheisen Finley, Della David Votaw, Fred Whaley, Millie Davidson Jackson, Katherine Garratt Cox, Raymond Stanley (1904); Nellie Davis, Gurney Hill, Gertrude Woodard Trueblood, Harvey Reed (1905); Benezet Watson (1906); Corabell McBride Williamson, Ellen Melville, George Votaw, Mildred Davis Watson, Ardella Votaw Mills, Elmer Westerhouse (1907); Erma Cloud, Mary Henley Lightbody, Stanley Watson, Frances Davis, Charles Hill (1908); Stella Brazil, Anna Brecheisen, Carl Gerstenberger, Laura Stanley Klopfenstein, Charles Brazil (1909); James Davis, Abner Henley, Inez Westerhouse Griffin, Ruth David Rynearson, Edward Mellville (1911); Lucy Marley, Zella Page, Maurice Pearson, Edith Pearson, Blanche Marley Pearson, and Viola Votaw Gerstenberger Reetz (1912).
Hesper reunion in 1905.
Further information about this school can be found in Hesper Academy, 1884-1914 by Dorothy Akin, a publication of the Eudora Area Historical Society.
Copyright 2010. Cindy Higgins. Where the Wakarusa Meets the Kaw: A History of Eudora, Kansas. Eudora, KS: Author.