Cass School students in Omaha plant trees as part of an Arbor Day program in 1901. NSHS RG2991-11-2
Arbor Day originated in Nebraska in 1872 through the efforts of J. Sterling Morton and the State Board of Agriculture. The day became a legal holiday in the state in 1885 when the Legislature set aside April 22, Morton’s birthday, as Arbor Day. It has since been widely observed in schools with public programs and the planting of trees.
In 1901 the students at Omaha’s Cass School (above) participated in the planting of trees in schoolyards around the city. The Omaha Illustrated Bee said on April 23 that although classes were not dismissed:
the work was so arranged that considerable time was devoted to the celebration of the day. The celebrations were of particular significance at the new schools which have few trees in their yards. The Board of Education purchased trees for all the schools which made requisitions. Sixty-five Carolina poplars were furnished to principals in various parts of the city. Cass School planted fourteen trees. Mason planted fifteen and Pacific school ten. . . . Many of the schools which had no room for additional trees planted shrubs and vines.
Iowa in 1901 combined its observance of Arbor Day with that of Bird Day, first celebrated in 1894 in Pennsylvania. The two holidays helped instill conservation training and awareness in the public, especially in school children. Although Bird Day was never recognized as an official state holiday in Nebraska, its observance was supported by Morton and others. In Nebraska the day is a legal holiday, celebrated the last Friday in April. – Patricia C. Gaster, Assistant Editor / Publications