Monday, August 23, 2010

Memories of a One Room School

School has begun for almost everyone here in the Midwest.  The first 6 years of my formal education took place in a one room school almost identical to the one pictured above.  Below is a picture of the country school I attended.   It was built in the mid to late 1800's.   I'm not sure when this photo was taken.

As you see, sometimes the mode of transportation was by horseback even during my six years.   Many rode bicycles or walked if the parents couldn't bring the student by vehicle, often walking 1 or 2 miles.  

The school had 1 teacher who taught grades 1-8 in this one room.  The years I attended the school had approximately 21 students with 1 to 4 students in each class.  My class was made up of 3 students including myself.  The subjects were reading, writing, arithmetic, spelling, geography and history.   I don't remember science being taught.   We also had some art projects to do.

The first day of school always was an exciting time because I usually had new shoes, dresses, sometimes a new satchel or book bag, a new pencil box, a Big Chief tablet, and the most exciting of all...a new box of crayons!  

The teacher started the day with all the students saying the Pledge of Allegiance.  We would also say The Lord's Prayer and then recite a bible verse if we had memorized one.  Teacher always taught how important memorization was.  Music was played on the piano by the teacher and we would sing a patriotic song or hymn.  Then classes would begin.  

Below is a photo of a room very similar to the one I remember except the stove we had was in the back of the school.  The teacher's desk was in front on the raised area we called a stage and on the right side, I remember a table and chairs for the students to sit at as they were called up for class.

While each individual grade was in class up front, the rest of the students would be busy doing homework.  If someone needed to go to the bathroom or get a drink, or needed teacher's help, they would hold up the number of fingers that would tell the teacher what they needed.  For instance, one finger was for help, two would be for a drink, etc.  

We would have morning and afternoon recess and a lunch break.  Everyone always brought a lunch, nothing was refrigerated and I remember taking a sandwich, chips, something sweet and usually a banana or apple.  We would sometimes trade sandwiches.
We had electricity, of course, but no plumbing.  Water was gotten from a well outside such as pictured at the top of this post.  We had our water glasses all lined up on a shelf and a table held a container of water.   I remember when the weather was warm enough, the teacher would pump the well and we would line up to wash our hands before lunch.  The school was heated by a stove in the back of the school.

Our bathroom facilities consisted of "outhouses", one for boys and the other for the girls.  They were spaced a good distance from each other.  These were often very fragrant as you might imagine and very cold in winter!  If I remember correctly, the girl's privy was a 3-holer.  My biggest fear was of spiders and snakes, or a boy peeking in between the cracks!  Below is a photo of outhouses by a one room school that I took last year.  Ours were much further apart.

The piano sat about where the bookcase is in the photo below.  The desks looked much like these in the first years, but eventually we got new desks that had desktops that raised up and books were kept in the well below.

I remember desktops being raised and a lot of whispering and giggling going on behind them when teacher had a class in session!  The teacher rang the bell several times to signal we better quiet down.  Discipline was very much in use in those days.   A ruler was used to rap knuckles or the student was made to sit in the corner on the stage.  Occasionally, a paddling might be called for.

I always felt as if George Washington was watching me when the teacher wasn't.  That kept me behaving most of the time.  I'll never forget sitting down at the table at the front on my very first day of school.  And started whistling!  Teacher reminded me very quickly that whistling wasn't allowed and I remember looking at President Washington with that look of his as if to say "mind your teacher!" 

Recess and lunch time was the best part of school to most of us.  We got to play fun games like Anti-over, Red Rover, Tag, Hide and Seek and softball.  We ran races and jumped rope.  We had a nice swing set with several seats to swing on .  And, in winter, played Fox and Geese when we had snow and also brought our sleds for sledding .  When weather was bad, raining or too cold, we played musical chairs with the teacher playing the piano, had spelling bees, and games played on the blackboard or chalkboard.  Teacher would ring a hand held-bell to signal that it was time to get ready for class.  The final bell meant you better be in your seat! 

Each year there would be a fund raiser called a Box Supper that we all looked forward to.   The girls would bring a decorated box filled with enough for two, usually sandwiches, fruit and cookies, and placed on a table to be bid on.  The bidder would then get to share the box supper with the owner of the box.  Most of the boxes were beautifully decorated with crepe paper and had bows, ribbons or flowers.   There was always a girl with a crush on a boy who was hoping that he would get her box so she could sit and eat with him!  Of course, no one wanted to have to eat with a parent. 

Another highlight was the Christmas program.  We had a cedar tree decorated with paper chains, tinsel and lights.  The stage was outfitted with curtains to draw and to box in each side as changing rooms.  We  had skits, recited poems  and sang Christmas songs.  The pageant was last.  After the program, Santa came through the back door bearing a sack filled with treats for the kids, usually a sack of candy with an orange. 

At the end of the school year, there would be a graduation ceremony for the eighth graders who would be moving on to high school.  That was followed by a picnic with lots of good food, visiting and games.
At the end of my sixth year, reorganization was taking place and the district voted to cease operating the school and go in to the city school district.  All of the rural students would be bused to town.  Most all of the one room schools in the county were closed about that time as well as I remember.  The building was bought by my father and the land became his as well.   The building was used throughout the school years for the 4-H Club, the PTA met there, and various other meetings were held there.  About 9-10 years after my father bought the building, someone set fire to it and it burned down.  Sadly, that has been the fate of many of these country school houses.

The schoolhouse is gone but so many wonderful memories of those days remain.  I wish everyone could have attended a one room school just once.   I can't find the words to express what a unique experience it really was.

The transition from the country school to a "town" school was fairly smooth.  Academically we were able to keep up with the town students, but fitting in socially was a bit of an adjustment.  Especially for those of us who were shy.  It was certainly an adjustment going from 3 students in your class to 60.  I think it is interesting that the 3 of us in my class that went to the same country school and high school ended up going to the same college.

Even well-known people have attended a one room schoolhouse.  Tomorrow, I'll show a photo of another country school that I took last year and tell you who went there.

Until next time...


  1. I spent my first five school years in a one-room school. Here's a link to the entry I did about it.

    Your description is exactly like my remembrances of Skinner School.

  2. Very interesting. My neighbor and dear friend took me for a drive and showed me her old one room school house. Can't remember if it was near Enon or Olean. I know we started out winding around Russellville where she used to teach. Looking forward to your next blog post!

  3. Great post! Thank you for sharing your memories of a one room school. I look forward to your next post! Have a good day. A

  4. It amazes me to think of all that your teacher had to know...all the lessons to prepare...just a world of issues to deal with. A one-room schoolhouse teacher would need the help of George! Thank you for sharing your memories...a very pleasant read.

  5. I loved reading the story and wish I could have been in a school like that. Sounds like a very wonderful experience! Can't wait to read your next post.

  6. Incredible memory! I enjoyed reading your eintire post; looking forward to more!

  7. Loved the pictures they brought some great memories. I haven't thought about desks like that in years. I didn't go to a one room school house; but I did sit in those desks.
    Life seemed so simple in those days. At least life was slower.
    Great pictures; thanks for sharing them.
    Blessings to you! LeAnn

  8. Donna, thanks for leaving the link. And thanks, everyone, for all the nice comments on this very long post.

    I enjoyed the trip down memory lane and it turned out longer than I wanted, but I didn't want to leave anything out. So thanks for struggling through to the end!!


  9. Oh what a neat post, Cheryl. I didn't go to a one-room school (was lucky enough to have an elementary school in my town in VA). But I relate to SO much of what you said... I remember 'cloak rooms' for our coats.. The PADDLE was in there --and paddlings took place in there... Yipes!!!! I remember those desks... Remember the ink wells in those desks??????

    See that glass cabinet holding the books??? I have that exact bookcase (or one just like it) in my home now. It belonged to my great aunt. It's a treasure to me.

    We played Red Rover and Tag at 'recess' also... I walked to school since it was in our town. Back then, times were SAFE --and kids could walk anywhere and everywhere and stay safe and unafraid.

    We had a 'cedar' Christmas tree in my home every Christmas... They were sticky --but they smelled so good!!!!!

    Well--I could do on and on. I loved your post... Thanks!!!


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  11. Wow this so interesting - you need to re-post this - I was memorized. Wow I didn't know that about you. WOW!

  12. This was just as interesting the second time around! All classrooms should have a portrait of George.

  13. What a delightful post. I agree with Chatty, this deserves a re-post.
    I went to a four room school house for 8 grades. Two grades per room and I still think it was my best school experience.