1. The state of Wisconsin was a leader in the public education movement in the Midwest. When Wisconsin entered the Union in 1848, provisions for local tax supported schools were part of the state constitution.
2. The Little White Schoolhouse began to operate in October 1853. It was the first school in the town of Ripon.
3. In Wisconsin, as in other Midwestern states, the local public schoolhouse was viewed as a community center – the logical place for meetings related to important community matters as well as for social events and entertainments.
4. In March of 1854, reformist town leaders who were angry with the thought that Congress was extending slavery to territories to the west, (Kansas-Nebraska Act) met in the schoolhouse to create a new national political party that would be dedicated to the principles of the “Republic,” the same principles that the schoolhouse itself & the public school movement was created to preserve.
5. Ripon’s Little White Schoolhouse is of simple, and functional design. Greek Revival in form it is a reflection of America’s interest in two earlier experiments with republican government – ancient Greece and Rome. Many schools of the same era in Wisconsin display similar architectural elements.
6. The 1850’s was one of the most turbulent periods in American history. Americans were very concerned with the issues of women’s rights, temperance, immigration, and slavery.
7. Many of Ripon’s first settlers had come from New York. They were a group of men deeply interested in social causes, and political issues. Another group of idealists had settled in the area in 1844, calling it “Ceresco.” They were part of a utopian society that was farm based, and quite entrepreneurial.
8. Alvan Bovay, the organizer of the Ripon group moved to Ripon in 1850 from upstate New York. He had been a college professor and a lawyer, and was heavily involved in politics and social justice as related to the working class. He was also a good friend of Horace Greeley, the editor of the New York Herald Tribune.
9. The introduction of the “Kansas-Nebraska Bill” at the beginning of 1854 was the spark that Bovay was waiting for to create his new political party.
10. The heart of the Kansas-Nebraska bill was a provision to leave the decision of whether slavery would be permitted in the new territories to the residents of those territories. In the upper Midwest this proposal was seen as opening the territories to slavery. The introduction of this bill created a violent reaction, spurring over 300 protest meetings in the North. One of these meeting was held in Ripon.
11. When the Ripon meeting in February was ending, Bovay and a a few close allies guided the meeting toward endorsement of resolutions which also called for the formation of a new “Northern Party.”
12. When the Kansas-Nebraska bill passed the Senate on March 3, 1854, Bovay and friends began to collect as many citizens as possible to come to a meeting at which they intended to form the first local organization of this new northern party.
13. That meeting was held at 6:30 p.m. on March 20, 1854 at Ripon’s new schoolhouse, a site chosen deliberately by Bovay.
2016 • The Little White Schoolhouse is a 501(c)3