Morris Industrial School for Indians

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Morris Industrial School
Opened 1900
Closed 1909 (Original campus)
Current Status Active
Location Morris, MN
Alternate Names


The Morris Industrial School for Indians was founded in 1887 by a group of nuns from the Sisters of Mercy order under the leadership of Mary Joseph Lynch. Recruiting students from the Indian reservations was difficult for Lynch until she developed connections with the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, which had a high percentage of members converted to Catholicism. The number of students, instructors, and buildings slowly increased for the first few years of the school. By 1895, the staff size was 25 (24 nuns and 1 male supervisor) and the enrollment was 103 students (the largest Indian boarding school in Minnesota). Lynch maintained traditional practices and curriculum of a largely parochial education; however, unlike some other Catholic boarding schools, she did not allow corporal punishment.

When the government took over operation of the school in 1898, the Office of Indian Affairs agreed to purchase the school, (as it intended to take over operations from the Sisters of Mercy), but paid only half the price they asked. The Commissioner Daniel M. Browning offered the job of transitional superintendent to Lynch, but withdrew it and appointed William H. Johnson. The new school opened in 1898.

Johnson continued to expand the school and introduced "progressive education" under new federal recommendations. Academic instruction at the school included education from kindergarten until the eighth grade. The school integrated music programs, increased athletics, and started a literary society. Brick buildings replaced the wood ones constructed by the Sisters. A physical plant and sewage system were constructed, and the government acquired significant farmland for agricultural education at the school. Although Turtle Mountain Chippewa remained prominent, other Ojibwe reservations supplied a majority of the students. Under pressure to maintain enrollment numbers, Johnson took extraordinary measures to keep students at the school. He extended the length of terms, refused to release students for vacation, and used school staff to forcibly bring students back who had left the institution (sometimes for other boarding schools). Complaints from tribes and other educators were regular as a result of these practices. Johnson also recruited students without verifying Native American ancestry; he accepted some whites who were trying to get a free education. Johnson was fired in 1901 and replaced by John B. Brown.

Brown had a similar progressive curriculum but did not keep as tight control. Average attendance stood at around 160 students for most of Brown's term. On April 30, 1908, Congress authorized the Indian Appropriations Act, which reduced the number of federal Indian boarding schools in favor of schools located on Native American reservations. Native Americans had repeatedly asked for this to keep their families and communities together. The Morris Industrial School for Indians was selected as one of five schools to be transferred to state governments to be used for education of whites in exchange for the state offering free education to Native Americans. The school was transferred from federal to state control on December 9, 1908 and was authorized by legislation of Congress in March the next year. The Morris Industrial School for Indians closed in June 1909.