20 May 2009

Literature & Education: One-Room Schoolhouses

By Jacquie Rogers

One-room schoolhouses were the norm in 19th Century America, especially in the rural areas. In the West, they lingered on for many decades more, into the mid-20th Century. A one-room school in the area where I grew up closed in the late 1950s, and I remember that even years later, many residents mourned its closing.

Why were one-room schoolhouses so successful?

In a word: efficiency. All the children attended one school, so the townspeople could put their expendable resources into a single source of education. The building was generally used for other purposes as well, such as town council meetings, court room proceedings, and sometimes church services. This concentration of resources enabled a small town to offer much more in the way of civic services than would otherwise be possible.

How did these schools operate?

In some districts, a trustee was appointed. His job was to hire the schoolteacher, acquire supplies, keep the building in good repair, and oversee any contentious situations. Other district elected a school board to do these jobs.

Students numbered from five to 50. One schoolteacher could handle many children because older children mentored the younger children. While the schoolteacher was working with one grade, the other students were studying, usually together. And of course the older students learned well since they also taught the lessons.

Children also did chores--cleaning the blackboard, sweeping, hauling in wood, and all the general duties required to keep a building in operation. Many times, a chore was an award for a job well done.

Most schoolteachers were female, young, single, and well-spoken, which meant they attracted young men. The trustee never knew if one of the young farmers would steal their schoolmarm out from under their noses. It happened. A lot. A this is probably why rules for schoolteachers came about.

Not all schools used these rules, but I did find them associated with schools on the East and West Coasts, and all the way through the Midwest. From New Hampshire Historical Society:

Rules for Teachers

--You will not marry during the term of your contract.
--You are not to keep company with men.
--You must be home between the hours of 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. unless attending a school function.
--You may not loiter downtown in ice cream stores.
--You may not travel beyond city limits unless you have the permission of the chairman of the board.
--You may not ride in a carriage or automobile with any man unless he is your father or brother.
--You may not smoke cigarettes.
--You may not dress in bright colors.
--You may under no circumstances dye your hair.
--You must wear at least two petticoats.
--Your dresses must not be any shorter than two inches above the ankle.
--To keep the school room neat and clean, you must:
sweep the floor at least once daily; scrub the floor at least once a week with hot, soapy water; clean the blackboards at least once a day; start the fire at 7 a.m. so the room will be warm by 8 a.m
I wonder who was in charge if checking her petticoats.

Have a great day!

Jacquie

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