Back to school time


Joan Baxter



Parents wishing for their children to obtain a proper education would often deed a portion of their property to the local school district for the purpose of erecting a school. The first schools in the county were one-room schools, the earliest being constructed of logs, similar to the homes of the day, but much smaller.

The rooms were small with boards attached to the exterior walls which were used for desk surfaces. The students then sat at benches as they faced the wall. The teacher would call several students into the center of the room to recite. A fireplace would have provided heat for the structure as well as some light. Candles or perhaps oil lamps would have provided additional lighting as needed.

The three “Rs” reading, “riting” and “rithmetic” were perhaps the most important subjects taught at that time. Sometimes the teachers were barely out of school themselves, but having finished their own education they were considered capable of teaching others. Often they had minimal training and limited equipment, but they taught the children to the best of their ability.

Later, the brick buildings with glass windows came into being. The restored Collins School is a wonderful example of that type of building. A furnace was available for heat. Of course it was the responsibility of the teacher (male or female) to be sure there was adequate wood for the furnace and he or she must keep the fire going all day long when necessary. In the winter months, this was a wonderful place to put wet gloves and scarves to dry a little before going back outside. A pail of water would have been brought inside as well by the teacher.

If the teacher was female she would have worn a long skirt and a petticoat or two (maybe more in the winter months) and a demure blouse.

A list of proper behavior was published with the following admonitions for female teachers.

Females were not allowed to teach if they were married. Male teachers were allowed to be married, but often the salary was not adequate to support a family.

My father attended a one-room school and being one of the youngest of his family, learned a great deal about school before he began classes with his teacher, Carrie Thatcher.

Penmanship was important to Thatcher so at the beginning of each year, she would ask the children to write their name on a piece of paper which she kept until the end of the year. The object was to see how well the student’s writing had improved over the year. My father wrote his name as badly as he could that first day. He used to chuckle when he told that he won the prize for the most improved penmanship. He learned well from his siblings. He maintained excellent penmanship all his life.

One of the advantages of having the children in the various grades recite aloud while the others were supposed to be studying was that they absorbed a great deal from the upper classes, and thus learned the multiplication tables and improved their reading skills at an earlier age.

The teacher had a large desk in the front of the room along with a blackboard and chalk for writing instructions. The outhouse was an accepted addition to the property — another responsibility for the teacher. In the earlier days paper was not as plentiful as today so the children often did their arithmetic on a slate.

The teacher would bring his/her own lunch to school as did the children and the teacher was also responsible for supervising the outdoor games which were played. Throwing a ball across the roof of the school so someone on the other side could catch it and toss it back was fun, along with marbles and mumble-peg usually played by the boys with real knives. Tug of war, tag, and other games kept the children active.

As the school population grew, so did the need for better schools. Township schools came into being with multiple rooms in each of the buildings with teachers usually responsible for only one grade. Central heating was installed and drinking fountains and restrooms were available.

Desks were usually lined in rows from the front to the back or the room. Blackboards were still useful and the walls might have been decorated with maps of the United States and perhaps other countries as well. Depending on the grade, desks were smaller for the lower ages and progressively larger in the upper grades. Each desk had a fold-down seat and an open box-like desk for each student where books and papers could be stored during the day. There was a groove on top for a pencil so it wouldn’t roll away and of course, a hole in the top of the desk for an inkwell.

After completing the requirements for eight years of education, students then attended a high school. There would be a wide variety of subjects from which to choose when selecting a course of study. English, mathematics, science, and history were mandatory, but other courses were offered such as shorthand and typing, shop, home economics and foreign languages.

In high school, gym classes were mandatory for both boys and girls. Many ladies will remember the “gym suits” which were required. Skirts of dresses were expected for the girls and shirts and trousers for the boys. No blue jeans were allowed.

Educational ideas continue to change and a good teacher is worth his/her weight in gold.

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Joan Baxter

Joan Baxter is a Greene County historian and resident.

Joan Baxter is a Greene County historian and resident.