One-Room Schoolhouse of Long Ago

Memories of a one-room schoolhouse.

Content Tools

Schoolhouses were located near the center of the district served so that none of the children would have more than two and one-half miles or so to walk to get to school. Schoolhouses usually were located on a corner of the "school section" and all were the same general layout. The schoolhouse was a fairly large building with a cloakroom/ gear locker just inside the door. This room had hooks for hanging outer clothing, places to store overshoes, lunch pails, brooms, mops, and whatever other equipment and supplies were needed to operate the school.

In the center of the schoolroom there was a large pot-bellied stove; the teacher's desk would be at the back of the room so that all the children's activities could be monitored. The blackboard and the pull-down maps were on the back wall behind the teacher's desk. There was a large unabridged dictionary on a stand, and perhaps a bookcase with a few reference books and story books. In each of these country schools, there was always the potential of needing time and equipment for all eight of the primary grades for which these schools were responsible. Most of the time, however, not more than six of the grades would be represented, with probably two or three students in each grade.

Throughout the school year the schoolhouse became a sort of community center for any public meetings, including Christmas pageants, spelling bees, box socials, pie suppers and any other meetings. Coal oil (kerosene) lamps were provided to light the evening functions. There was a distinctive aroma in all these buildings reminiscent of chalk dust, sweeping compound, lunches of several years and pencil sharpener shavings.

In addition to the schoolhouse, the school grounds consisted of two outdoor pit toilets (one for each sex - sometimes built back to back), a well with a hand pump for drinking water, shelter for the horses ridden or driven hitched to a buggy, sometimes a coal house or woodshed, and perhaps a rudimentary baseball diamond.

Teachers were important members of the community. This highly respected post was frequently filled by young ladies just out of high school. The responsibilities of the job must have seemed overwhelming:

Education of fifteen to twenty students, some of whom could be within four or five years of the age of the teacher, and considerably stronger physically;

Satisfying the parents with the quality of education;

Maintenance of the facility, including pumping water, keeping the fire in the stove in the winter time, doing the janitorial work, and managing the fuel and school supply storage; Doing the required first aid for the ill and injured; Mediating the arguments.

During the twenties, the teacher usually boarded with one of the families in the district unless he or she was a member of a local family.

Boys wore bib overalls and ordinary shirts with heavy work shoes to school while girls wore cotton dresses, long black cotton stockings and sensible shoes. During winter weather everyone wore "long johns" underwear. The girls all seemed to have deformed lower legs because the long john legs were impossible to keep smooth inside those long black cotton stockings.

The curriculum was based upon the Three R's (reading, 'riting and 'rithmetic) in the first school years with requirements in Geography, History and Civics (Government) for the upper grades.

Amazing as it seems in 1993, the unsophisticated approach outlined above sufficed as complete education for many people in earlier generations, and provided an adequate base for higher education for many more.

Rex O. Wonnell
San Jose, California


Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then Capper’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from Capper’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.