Last month I told you about some extraordinary frontier teachers. This month I want to share some facts about the little Red Schoolhouse:
- They weren’t always red. Most early schools were made of logs. Clapboard schools were painted white or left unpainted. Some schools were painted red after the Civil War, but people objected to painting schools the same color as barns.
- A single school term of six to nine months began after the Civil War.
- Almost every president up to and including Lyndon Baines Johnson attended a one room school.
- Other notables who attended one room school include Joyce Carol Oates, Alan B. Shepard, Laura Ingalls Wilder and Henry Ford.
- High schools as we know them today didn't exist until the 1930s. States made an effort to reopen closed schools and encourage young people to attend during the Great Depression as a way of keeping teens out of the workforce so more adults could find jobs.
- Most teachers were female. They were not allowed to marry and generally boarded with a local family. Female teachers got five or six dollars a month in salary. Men earned fifteen dollars.
- In the early 1800s the youngest scholars were called A-B-C-darians or abecedarians because they were learning their A-B-Cs. These youngsters sat up front.
- A teacher’s duties included cutting wood, starting a fire in the potbelly stove and preparing a hot lunch.
- Prior to McGuffey’s Readers, first published in 1836, parents sent whatever book could be found around the house—usually the Bible. McGuffey’s opened the door for the printing of other textbooks including History of the United States. A popular geography book featured a Chinese peddler selling rats and puppies for the purpose of making pies.
- Unruly students are nothing new. Those early scholars passed notes; dipped braids into inkwells; tied bell clappers so they wouldn’t ring; stuffed chimneys with branches and tossed buckshot into the fire to create loud explosions. They also marked desks with “Images which would make heathens blush.”
- Reform was slow. At the turn of the century state educators sent out rural standardization ranking schools on desks, blackboards and outhouses.
- Speaking of outhouses, did you know that during Colonial and frontier times the crescent moon on the door was used to symbolize womanhood? (The moon or Luna was an ancient symbol for women). Outhouse for boys and men were marked with a star or sunburst. These symbols were originally used to direct non-readers. Male outhouses soon fell in disrepair and were not maintained (which explains why so few of them remain today). It soon became common practice for both men and women to use the “cleaner” crescent moon outhouses.
- In 1919 there were 190,000 one room, one teacher schoolhouses in the U.S. By 1968 that had dwindled down to 4000. Today there are only a couple hundred left. Hawaii closed its last one room schoolhouse in 2005.
More Love and Laughter from Margaret Brownley
A bestselling author of more than 40 books, Margaret is a a former Romance Writers of America Rita finalist, and wrote for a CBS daytime soap. Three of her stories are featured this Christmas season in collections, including the 12 Brides series.
Also look for the exciting conclusion to her Undercover Ladies series. CALICO SPY is available for preorder now. Margaret is currently working on a new series.