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News / Life / Clark County Life

Clark County history: Charles Shumway

By Martin Middlewood, Columbian freelance contributor
Published: December 30, 2023, 6:05am

Vancouver’s new school superintendent, Charles Shumway, and his wife traveled from Milo, Iowa, to Vancouver in 1895. Passing through towns named Hope and Paradise, Mrs. Shumway commented they’d indeed left both behind, saddened to leave the town where her husband spent a decade as an elementary school principal.

They arrived in Vancouver to find the city still suffering, two years after the 1893 Panic. Considered one of the most severe financial crises to hit the nation, the value of gold dropped by half, and caused runs on banks. On seeing its effects in Vancouver, Shumway commented, “The town was so dead that nobody had the life to bury it.”

In 1895, Vancouver schools had 757 pupils with about 70 percent daily attendance. Shumway noted the town had 15 teachers taking care of students and 32 saloons taking care of soldiers’ pay. The Shumways moved into an unfurnished rental house for $13 a month. His starting salary isn’t known, but by 1923, he earned $300 a month. That year elementary teachers made $50 a month; high school teachers $70.

The press called him Professor Shumway, and he held the city’s school superintendent position for 35 years, missing only one week of work in 1927 due to illness. He was athletic, and the Vancouver Independent reported his bicycling long distances, once from Vancouver to Gladstone, Ore., to attend the 1900 Chautauqua. The Columbian reported on his tennis competitions during the early 20th century and of his umpiring ball games. In 1907, he called a game where the Washington School for the Deaf defeated Ridgefield.

School districts consolidated during his tenure. Before his 1930 retirement, five new schools were constructed, including Arnada, Roosevelt, Vancouver High School, Lincoln Elementary and Shumway Junior High (now home to Vancouver School of Arts and Academics). When told the junior high would be named for him in 1929, Shumway wiped tears away and said, “You should not have done it. You really should not.” In the fall of 1930, just after his retirement, the Vancouver School District had 4,000 students.

Shumway was involved in local organizations, including the Rotary Club and the Prunarians, which was a prominent local booster group in the early part of the century. He was also long-time board member for the Washington Exchange Bank, started in 1912 by Lloyd Dubois. He started the first night school in the city, offering French lessons and citizenship classes. At every opportunity, from Grange meetings to the PTA, he spoke on education, explaining bond measures, the educational value of films or the need for books. He often sought jobs for students who needed money and lodging for those who needed a place to stay.

The professor treated his teachers and students fairly. He preferred counseling them in person to improve rather than chastising them in a staff meeting. When a girl was rude to a teacher, he spoke with her and determined that her state of mind caused her outburst. When a high school teacher was accused of a grave offense, Shumway said he’d stand behind him if he was innocent. But if he was guilty, he should depart on the morning train. The man left town the next day.

After losing his 1930 race for county school superintendent, Shumway remained active in Rotary and acted as probate executor for friends and colleagues until his 1944 death.

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Columbian freelance contributor