Tales from the Tread: Emma Hull Peck a Routt County pioneer in education
For Steamboat Pilot & Today
March is Women’s History Month when we celebrate the many outstanding women who contributed to the history, heritage and foundations of our nation, state and Routt County.
Emma Hull Peck was a significant leader in the development of early Routt County schools, serving as a teacher and/or school superintendent between 1892 and 1926. The following first-person narrative was created from research in the Tread of Pioneers Museum archive.
I came to the Yampa Valley in October of 1883 with my husband Harry and our two children. Shortly after settling on a ranch just south of Hayden, the town built a log schoolhouse in 1885 that became our community center and the site of meetings, dances, church services, a literary society and Sunday School.
During the early years on the ranch, I had a busy life. Our family had grown from two children to four. I started a small store at the ranch, and I became the local postmistress for a short time.
I had also been teaching our young children at home. The school board at Hayden heard about my little home school and asked if I would consider teaching summer school from May to August for those children who were snow-bound in the winter and unable to get to town. I loved to teach, (I had been teaching since I was 16) and so I quickly accepted their offer. I drove the wagon from our ranch to the schoolhouse with my own children, often stopping to pick up other children on the way.
In addition to planning and teaching all subjects for grades first through eighth, teachers of early schoolhouses were in charge of all of the maintenance in the school, keeping the school warm and stocked, teaching Sunday School, opening the building for all community gatherings and more.
In the fall of 1892, we moved to Craig so that I could teach at the new school there. I was in charge of 62 children from little ones just starting to read to children ready to begin high school. After struggling to meet the needs of all these students, I convinced the school board to hire a teacher for the older children, so I could take the younger ones and organize the school into grades. The board agreed, and within three years, we had the first graded school in the county.
While I was involved in Craig, my husband Harry was elected county superintendent of schools in 1894. By the early 1890s, there were 33 operating schools, 230 miles apart, in a very large county which included both present-day Routt and Moffat counties, and no railroad at the time. When Harry finished his term in 1896, I was elected to replace him. This was not the usual position for a woman in these early days.
In my first year as superintendent, I visited all our schools on a regular basis. I drove our wagon or sleigh 1,700 miles that first year and nearly 2,000 the second year of my term. During my travels around the county, it was not unusual for me to assist with family problems, help with the birth of a baby and even close the eyes of the dead.
Schools and school districts were being added at a fast pace as our county grew. By 1896, a high school was established in Steamboat Springs. Rural families scrimped and saved to be able to board their children in town for the school year. Eventually, there were 96 school districts serving the educational needs of rural school children in Routt County that included the vast land area of both Routt and Moffat counties.
I was again elected superintendent in the fall of 1912 and was reelected to four terms. I was proud to say that by the time I retired, I could call by name nearly one-third of the county’s 2,000 school children.
The Tread of Pioneers Museum is at 800 Oak St. in downtown Steamboat Springs. For more, go to TreadOfPioneers.org.
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