Early Washington State law decreed that before a school could be recognized and supported by the state, the school needed to operate for at least one month. No one made better use of that law than newly appointed County School Superintendent Virginia Grainger.
If there is one famous teacher in the history of Northeastern Washington schools, that person is Virginia Grainger. She would go to an area that needed a school and take steps to see that school was convened there for at least the one mandatory month. She either taught the school herself or used her superintendent's authority to grant a temporary certificate to some resident teacher. Then after the month, the school was official; and the new district by that time had usually located a certified teacher.
The influence of Virginia Grainger was truly great, but it was not nearly as significant as the determination of ordinary citizens to see that their children were educated.
The following story is about this historic pioneer woman.
She was a woman scarcely five feet tall but of steely determination, Virginia Grainger launched the public school system in Okanogan County.
County school superintendent in 1890-92 and again in 1896-98, the red-haired Mrs. Grainger was fiery when aroused and intolerant of lethargy and roadblocks. She attracted enmities, but in the cause of advancing education for children scattered across a far-flung frontier emerged as the first woman to become part of a previously all-male white power structure. She changed things, nearly always for the better.
She was a pioneer housewife, having moved from Whidbey Island in 1888, into a log cabin halfway between the present towns of Okanogan and Malott. There she and her husband, James Grainger, struggled to develop a ranch, losing almost their entire herd of 300 cattle to the winter of '89-'90.
James apparently was more of a jeweler at heart than a stockman. Virginia divorced him at a time when divorces were rare. She had been a teacher since 1877 and school superintendent of Jefferson County.
In 1890 auditor C.B. Bash, who had known her in Port Townsend, talked her into accepting an appointment as Okanogan County school superintendent.
Resolute and nearly tireless, Mrs. Grainger rode horseback through a territory extending from Canada to the Wenatchee River, organizing schools and teaching a month or two at each until an instructor could be employed.
At the time she took office, five districts had been formed, Loomis (No. 1), Conconully (2), Ruby (3), Spring Coulee (4), and Chelan (5). She organized eight more, Loop Loop (No. 6), Silver (7), Methow (8), Entiat (9), Curtis, near Brewster (10), Chelan Falls (11), Pine Creek (12), Malott (13).
Required by state law to hold a 2-day teacher institute to upgrade training, Mrs. Grainger in 1890 assembled her 12 teachers at Conconully. She enlisted an attorney, W. H. Watson, to address her first institute. Watson soon ran out of things to say about education. For the rest of the day, he related anecdotes. The second day was occupied by group singing.
Because of various fracases, Mrs. Grainger refused to sign construction bonds for an overly ambitious school building at Ruby; she was defeated for re-election in 1894. Later, she served three more years and in 1902-03 was assistant county superintendent to her mother, Sarah Robinson. Sarah and her second husband, Reuben, were parents of Barton Robinson, Virginia's half-brother, who opened the Omak Hotel in 1908.
Virginia was married again to Conconully merchant Charles E. Herrmann. But she seems to have had difficulty in accepting Herrmann's relaxed attitude toward customers who should have been paying their bills. Again there was a divorce.
Years later, Virginia Herrmann was still teaching. With desks for 20 pupils at a school in Okanogan, she recruited 62 from as far away as Riverside. Lacking desks, younger children sat on stacks of books. Mrs. Herrmann used this swollen enrollment to engineer a successful bond issue for a new school. Virginia Grainger elementary school in Okanogan is named for this resourceful woman who died, at 90, in 1948.