Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Lewiston State Normal School President George Knepper [otd 9/7]

President Knepper. J. H. Hawley photo.
Lewiston State Normal School President George E. Knepper was born September 7, 1849 in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, 40-60 miles southeast of Pittsburgh. Later the family moved to Illinois.

George did well with a “common” education, finding a job as a teacher while also doing farm work. Later, he taught part-time and served as a school administrator to help finance an A.B. degree and then a Master’s. (He would earn a Ph.D. from a Kansas university in 1904.)

Meanwhile, in Idaho, businessman James Reid coaxed a bill through the legislature to create the Lewiston State Normal School. Backers hoped to alleviate a severe teacher shortage in the state. In 1893, Reid was selected as president of the institution’s Board of Trustees. He knew Knepper through membership in the Masonic Lodge and recruited him as the school’s first President.

Then contractor problems delayed construction of a facility on the bluff overlooking Lewiston. Knepper scrambled to lease space in town, and classes began in January 1896 [blog, Jan 6]. Besides his administrative duties, Knepper taught pedagogy, math, and commercial law. The promised main building was finally dedicated during the summer.

Still, Knepper worried most about money to keep the school going. The 1897 legislative appropriation was so stingy, he removed the school’s only telephone and pared salaries and ancillary costs to the bone. The next session, two years later, added only $1,000 to the allocation. Although enrollment, and income from student fees, had increased, the school remained desperately short of funds.

Knepper turned to the local community. Lewiston responded with a needed piano and contributions to buy books for the beginnings of a library. At-cost donations of labor and materials also helped fund badly needed dormitories in 1897.

Knepper also appealed to the student body, urging and sometimes requiring their participation in programs to enhance the school’s sense of community. They responded to his enthusiasm, giving recitations, entertaining with musical shows, playing sports, and more.

Despite its financial problems, the Normal School grew rapidly. On a visit to Boise, Knepper spoke enthusiastically to the Idaho Statesman about their gains. The paper reported (September 29, 1901) that, “This year they have a new department of chemistry, with a very complete laboratory and a special equipment of the most modern and efficient make.”

Then, in 1902, James Reid – Knepper’s good friend and sponsor – died. Within a year, the Board asked (demanded, really) that Knepper resign. No one ever discovered a credible reason for his dismissal.
Lewiston Normal in 1915. Lewis-Clark State College.

Ironically, all his lobbying had finally persuaded the legislature to substantially increase the school’s funding, which he was not there to enjoy. Despite many ups and downs, the college grew, changing its name to Lewis-Clark State College in 1971.

Knepper found employment as president or dean at a succession of small colleges in the midwest until about 1911. That year, he returned to Kendrick, Idaho (18-20 miles east of Moscow), where his son Ralph ran a newspaper. After teaching in the area for several years, he moved to Boise to serve as Secretary for the Masonic Lodge of Idaho.

He passed away, aged 90, in Salmon, where he had gone to live with Ralph.
References: [Hawley]
Keith C. Petersen, Educating in the American West: One Hundred Years at Lewis-Clark State College, 1893-1993, © Lewis-Clark State College, Confluence Press, Lewiston, Idaho  (1993).

1 comment:

  1. We now have a photograph from June-July 1899, showing Normal Hill. The photograph does not show the two dormitories --- Reid Hall (men) and Morris Hall (women). The December 1900 Sanborn map (plate 1) of the city shows that dormitories in place. Both dorms were gone by 1907, when Reid Hall was sold and moved to another site in the city and converted into two large homes. Morris Hall seems to have been razed. Lewis Hall opened for women in 1907. Men would not have their own dorm until 1924, when Spalding Hall was built.