Hats Off To One-Room Schoolhouses

One-room schoolhouses played significant role in America.

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Recently my granddaughter invited me to visit her ultra-modern school. I could not but wonder if students today have any concept of the one-room schoolhouses that served America for more than a century and played a significant role in developing the firm foundation upon which this nation stands ¬schools that many of their ancestors attended.

The one-room school wore many hats. Its main purpose, of course, was to serve as a place to educate the children of the early settlers, but it was much more than that. The Literary Society, school and community programs, box socials, pie suppers, square dances, and last-day-of-school picnics held there made it the center of community activity.

Above the chalkboard on the front wall a large Seth Thomas clock faithfully proclaimed the time of day. On the east wall, just above the slate, a Palmer Method alphabet, approximately a foot high, challenged us daily to learn to write both capitals and lower case letters perfectly.

"Background noise" in the one-room school was a geography lesson about the giant pyramids in Egypt, the explanation of a problem in long-division, or how to diagram a simple sentence showing the subject, predicate and object. Slower learners profited from the repetition, quick learners absorbed material far beyond their years.

We learned to be participators. Spelling bees, ciphering matches, states-and-capitals contests, debates - we considered them games. Without realizing we were studying we acquired arithmetic skills, knowledge of geography and a good understanding of the fine contributions made by such men as Thomas Jefferson and John Adams.

We learned early that each individual was important to the team. On the playground, every youngster was included. School sports were not reserved for a few gifted athletes with the rest being merely spectators. Playing fair, taking turns, learning to be good losers as well as winners, all were part of our school day.

Our appetites were whetted for the fine arts. Miss Nielson had a portfolio of large sepia prints of many of the Old Masters... Rembrandt, Monet, Millet, Bonheur, Van Gogh. Each Friday afternoon we gathered around her in a circle, the smaller children sitting cross-legged on the floor, and studied the life of one of the artists and one of his paintings. For three cents, as I remember it, we could purchase a wallet-size print with a brief of the artist's life on the back. That small "art gallery" was a prized possession for years and enriches my life even today.

Miss Nielson trained us in the performing arts. Everyday classroom activity included oral reading. We learned to read clearly, accurately, and expressively. We memorized poetry. We learned to recite before our peers without stage-fright.

The one-room school also gave us social training. Hiring a sitter" was unheard of in that day. Children accompanied their parents to all events and were expected to behave. Families set standards for their children and trained them from infancy to meet those standards. The community was an extension of the family.

"You can take the girl out of the country, but you can't take the country out of the girl," goes an old saying. I believe it and thank God for it.

And one of the reasons is the one-room country school.

Sarah Mitchell Gettys
Cincinnati, Ohio

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.