Monday, July 29, 2013

Thomas Dimsdale’s School

Health was among the many reasons that people came west to the booming gold camps. They believed that the high mountain climate could cure tuberculosis, but they did not realize that primitive living conditions and brutal winters could neutralize healthful benefits. Thomas Dimsdale was one of those pioneers afflicted with tuberculosis who came west for the mountain climate. He opened a private school in the winter of 1863-1864. Students paid two dollars a week to attend classes in this tiny cabin, which stood on Cover Street in Virginia City.

Thomas Dimsdale. Courtesy
Later, as editor of the territory’s first newspaper, the Montana Post, Dimsdale wrote an account of the vigilantes in installments for the newspaper. It became Montana’s first published book, The Vigilantes of Montana, and is still in print. Mary Ronan was a student of Dimsdale's, and she later recalled in Girl from the Gulches, “Professor Dimsdale was an Englishman, small, delicate looking, and gentle. I liked him. It seemed to me that he knew everything. In his school all was harmonious and pleasant. While his few pupils buzzed and whispered over their assignments, the professor sat at a makeshift desk writing, writing, always writing. When, during 1864, The Vigilantes of Montana was being published at the Montana Post, I thought it must have been the composition of those articles that had so engrossed him. We children took advantage of Professor Dimsdale’s preoccupation and would frequently ask to be excused. We would run down the slope into a corral at the bottom of Daylight Gulch. We would spend a few thrillful moments sliding down the straw stacks.” Dimsdale was appointed the first territorial superintendent of schools in 1866, but he died soon after from the tuberculosis that brought him west. The tiny cabin, in ruins in a Virginia City back yard, was moved out of harm’s way to Nevada City in 1976.

The Dimsdale School in its present location in Nevada City

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