Remembering One-Room Schoolhouses

The old schoolhouses were unique.

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The old schoolhouses really had just one room, but sometimes one had an entryway where coats and tin drinking cups were hung and lunches were stored until mealtime. Otherwise the coats and cups were hung on nails at the back of the room with lunches placed on a bench near by.

There was a large old wood or coal heating stove in the center of the room. It was the teacher's job to do the janitor work and build and keep the fires. Some of the boys might be persuaded to carry in the wood or coal.

A blackboard was across the front of the room. There were large maps hanging, that could be pulled down like window shades, one at a time for geography lessons.

Bookcases might be on each side at the front of the room, with well-thumbed books. We never had many books so everyone read them all. There was usually a set of World Books. A large dictionary was placed on a small table for everyone's use. A pencil sharpener was probably placed on the wall by one of the windows. There were windows on each side of the room, but children were discouraged from gazing out.

A teacher's desk and chair were at the front of the room with the roll call and grade book on top; also a small school bell which the teacher used to bring the children in from play. A globe was one of the supplies for everyone to share. A dunce stool could be seen setting in the corner, too.

The seats could be either single or double, with a space for books and supplies. In the double seats, two children sat together if the space was needed. The smaller seats near the front were for the younger children and the larger ones at the back were for the older.

School began at 9 a.m. with a 15 minute recess at 10:30. Lunch was from 12 noon to 1 p.m., and another 15 minute recess at 2:30. School dismissed at 4 p.m. The recesses and lunch period allowed plenty of play time for the children. They usually all played together with the teacher participating also.

The drinking water came from a well in the yard with a pump. Each child had his own tin cup. A few really lucky children might have a folding cup.

Two outhouses sat in opposite corners of the back yard, one for the boys and one for the girls. In really olden times, there might be a shed to shelter horses that children or the teacher might ride to school.

The first eight grades were taught by only one teacher. The school board that hired the teacher and took care of any business consisted of three neighbor men. They hired the teacher, bought the wood or coal for fuel, and other items that needed tending to.

The schools were held for eight months. Some that I heard of were for only six months. I guess this was for lack of money to pay the teacher, though the pay wasn't much in those days. In 1920 or earlier, the pay was only about $20.00 per month. In 1938, the pay was about $60.00. In 1945, about $90.00 and in 1950, it was $125.00 per month.

On the last day of school, they usually had a basket dinner for parents and children at the school. Or sometimes, the teacher and pupils went on a picnic to celebrate their freedom from school.

Children in school now could not imagine the schools then, but they learned as much, if not more, then than they do now.

Della Whitesell
El Dorado Springs, Missouri

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.