Wilder sign is indicator of another era: Breck School educated area youths starting in late 19th centuryWILDER — During the heyday of its southwest Minnesota location, the Breck School offered Greek, shorthand, mechanical engineering and even mandolin lessons for students too old for grade school and “too backward” for high school, catering especially to farmers.
WILDER — During the heyday of its southwest Minnesota location, the Breck School offered Greek, shorthand, mechanical engineering and even mandolin lessons for students too old for grade school and “too backward” for high school, catering especially to farmers.
“The object of Breck School is to solve the problem of inexpensive education under Christian influences,” the school’s 1903-1904 pamphlet stated.
Building of the Breck School began in 1885, according to A.P. Rose’s “History of Jackson County,” and the school officially opened in 1889.
In 1916, the school moved to St. Paul, and since then, it has prospered through other location changes, though it no longer touts its worth as a school for farmers. A sign commemorating the school’s former Wilder location remains today.
But back in 1903, the school’s corporate name was “The Breck Mission and Farm School,” and it prided itself on taking students without entrance examinations and allowing them to advance their educations as quickly as they could.
“(Breck) provides a place where young men and women, too old for the district and graded school, but too backward for the high school, may take up just the studies they need in classes composed of students their own age, and be allowed to advance as rapidly as they are able,” the pamphlet states. “No matter how backward a student is he will find classes to suit him; no matter how old he is he will not feel out of place.”
The 1903 pamphlet is geared toward young farmers who could not attend school as children, even setting the school year “to accommodate the farming communities.” The fall term began Sept. 29 and the winter term ended March 19, allowing students to go home and assist with planting in the spring.
Specifically, Breck recommended its usefulness in helping students prepare to take classes at the Agricultural School of the University of Minnesota.
With all the advertising, one might think the Breck was a large school, with 100 teachers and thousands of students, but in reality the school started with just 19 students on a trial basis in 1888. Though it became a boys’ school briefly following World War II, nine of Breck’s original students were women.
“Mothers with daughters to send away to school should look carefully into the claims of Breck School before sending them elsewhere,” advised the Westbrook Reporter in July 1902.
Though Wilder has soldiered on since Breck left for greener yet more urban pastures in 1916, during its time the school served as the foundation for the town. Wilder received its name in 1871, but according to Rose, “For fourteen years Wilder was nothing but a name, and retained that only by virtue of the railroad company’s time card.”
In 1885, the new school was announced as a farm college to be built by the Episcopal church, and a town was to be founded along with it.
Suddenly, Rose reported, Wilder was the place to be and businesses seemed to sprout up overnight, including a shoe shop, a feed store, a blacksmith shop and a meat market, as well as a restaurant and boarding house and a general store.
In June 1886, there were about six houses in town. By the end of that year, there were 30 buildings in Wilder, and people voted to incorporate the town March 28, 1899.
Breck’s own buildings included Whipple Hall, a dormitory hall for boys; Hunniwell Hall, a dormitory for girls; a gymnasium; a music hall; an administrative building’ and a chapel.
In 1903, the Breck School boasted 13 faculty members. They included its president and chaplain, the Rev. William Henry Pond, who taught Greek and Latin; its mandolin and guitar teacher, Maude E. Kibbey; its nurse, Mrs. V.J. Caswell; and its janitor, J.W. Buncle.
First-year preparatory classes included arithmetic, penmanship, grammar, reading, geography and spelling. Of these, reading, writing (penmanship) and arithmetic really were the only three classes offered every term. Second-year preparatory classes included U.S. history, civics, bookkeeping, analysis and physiology.
Academic classes included rhetoric, botany, English history, chemistry, algebra, literature, psychology, pedagogy and school law, plane geometry and physics.
Business classes included arithmetic, grammar, business practice, commercial law, banking, and shorthand and typewriting classes in spelling, legal and business forms and dictation.
“Any young man or woman can get as good, or better, business training at Breck School as at any of the high priced business colleges, at much less expense,” Breck boasted in its 1903 course catalog. “Our courses are thorough; our training is practical; our expenses are the lowest.”
Four of the school’s teachers taught music and Breck School students could learn to play the violin, piano, organ, mandolin, guitar or “band music.”
Though classes in English as a second language seem like a recent invention, in 1903 Breck proclaimed its ability to help “foreigners wishing to acquire a good knowledge of the English language.”
Prospective Breck students of 1903 were told to bring his or her own comforts for bed, pillows, towels, lamps, napkins and toilet soap. The school was equipped with its own steam laundry, and female students were permitted to do their own laundry on certain days of the week, but only under the direction of the school’s laundress.
Attending Breck was meant to be inexpensive. In 1903, textbooks could be rented from the school’s library for 10 to 15 cents per term, and a student could get work at Breck at the rate of 10 cents an hour. Tuition for a course, whether it was preparatory, academic, business or shorthand, cost $15, and a furnished room with meals was no more than $2.75 per week, which included steam heat and bed laundry.
Extracurricular activities were also available for the student who feared he or she would find the rural environment dull. Boys could join the baseball, tennis or football teams, and any student could join the mandolin club, whether they played the mandolin or some other stringed instrument, or the debate club.
Singing classes and music lectures were available, and were considered critical to education.
“To be able to appreciate good music, to enjoy it, and to discriminate the good from the bad, is to strengthen the moral and religious nature,” Breck declared. “For this reason the Breck School offers free elementary instruction in vocal music to all of its pupils in any course.”
As an Episcopal school, moral and religious instruction were considered critical to a students’ success.
“Breck School is situated at Wilder… the village is high and dry and perfectly free from disease. It contains none of the evil influences of a larger place. There is nothing here to take the pupil’s attention off his studies,” the 1903 pamphlet states, noting that liquor sales were not permitted within three miles of the school.
Breck students gathered in the chapel every morning for prayers, and attended Sunday church services as well as Sunday school. Pupils were not permitted to leave Wilder without the superintendent’s permissions, and female pupils couldn’t be out after dark without permission or without a female teacher.
Though Breck was successful, it endured its share of turbulence even during its time in quiet Wilder.
In March 1902, someone attempted to set fire to the boys dormitory of the school during a church service, but failed when three boys who had stayed in their rooms put the fire out.
Also in March 1902, student Oscar Halvorson shot himself with a rifle borrowed from another student after suffering from melancholia “brought on by hard study and by meditating upon subjects too deep for an immature mind,” the Westbrook Reporter wrote, adding, “This is one of the saddest affairs ever recorded on the pages of history of the county.”
In 1890, Windom attempted to convince the school to move, but failed when the village of Wilder gave it $1,000 to stay. One of the factors convincing Breck to remain in Wilder was the “liquor question.”
“Wilder has a law which prohibits the sale of liquor within three miles of the school, while at Windom there is no settled policy upon that question, which to a college is of paramount importance,” the Westbrook Reporter wrote March 13, 1890. “Then there was a moral principal involved which included the people who had bought homes at Wilder, that the trustees could not well overlook. Taken all together Windom had a big thing to overcome.”
In May 1893, the Westbrook Reporter made note of a meeting in which people decided to move the Breck School moved from Wilder to Windom.
“It is now a settled fact that the college at Wilder is to be moved, and that several other towns will be invited to make a bid for it to as well as Windom. To bring it to Windom it will be necessary to raise at least twenty thousand dollars,” the article stated.
Then, in August 1893, the Reporter said Luverne had become a contender for the new location of the Breck School. Luverne offered $23,000 and 15 acres of land for the school, but the school’s trustees wanted $30,000.
On June 1, the Westbrook Reporter published two conflicting reports; first, that the Wilder school would not be moved because “some powerful influences have been brought to bear that may prevent such a consummation” and that “moral obligations” were a factor. The second report stated a professor’s claim that the previous report was false and that Luverne would likely get the school.
Difficulties were compounded in October 1893, when the Reporter indicated actions would begin soon against the Wilder College trustees by its creditors.
In 1909, Breck ultimately left Wilder, reopening at a location near the University of Minnesota’s agricultural campus in 1916.
Currently, the school is in Golden Valley.