History of One Room School Houses

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RSIP History of One Room School Houses

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History of One-Room School Houses



Highland School was not the only such school of its kind. One-room school houses dotted the landscape from one end of the country to the other. America was growing during the 1800s and most people lived on farms or in small towns. Schools were small and were usually built close to where the children lived.


Most vernacular style schools were small and plain. Blackboards hung on the walls. At the entrance of the building was a cloakroom area for coats, lunch pails, and water bucket with a single dipper to drink from. The room could contain a wood or coal stove to provide heat for cold days. Simple wooden and wrought-iron desks and benches were situated in rows facing the teacher’s desk at the front. Smaller size desks were situated at the front for the younger children. Children were usually separated in the school room according to gender. The boys sat on one side of the room and the girls sat on the other.


Once children reached the school in the morning they performed duties to help their teacher. Duties could include cutting wood for the wood stove, hauling water from a nearby stream or well, sweeping the floor or helping the younger students with lessons.


Students of all ages attended these small schools. Often entire families were taught by the same teacher, even if they were all in different grade levels. Most pupils only finished an 8th grade education in a one-room school house. Very few students reached the 12th grade level of education and even fewer attended college.


Students sat through lessons in reading, writing, spelling, penmanship, elocution, arithmetic, history, geography, music and art. Children often recited their lessons aloud. They were expected to sit still and obey the rules. Children who did not follow the teacher’s rules were punished at school, and quite possibly again later at home by their parents. Teacher’s punishment could include spanking, having students write a sentence over and over again, slapping the wrist or knuckles with a ruler, or sitting on the other side if the room with someone of the opposite gender.


Student looked forward to recess with great excitement. After spending a morning or afternoon in the classroom, students were ready to run around and play in the school yard. Students often played with marbles, balls, sticks, or ropes. Jump rope was a popular game. While one or two jumped in the middle, rhymes were sung to the rhythm of the swinging rope.


Children would bring their lunches in pails or clothe bags. They brought items that did not need to be refrigerated or re-heated. Items might include bread, biscuits, fruit or vegetables that were in season, cooked or dried meat, boiled eggs, a cookie or piece of pie. There would be water to drink. 


Teachers were held to high standards in their communities. Their personal behavior was monitored and they were expected to follow strict rules and guidelines. They were limited as to where they were allowed to travel and who they associated with. Their salary was limited also. The average male teacher made around $40.00 a month while a female instructor was paid approximately $33.00 per month.


In addition to being used for educational purposes, school houses were often used as community gathering sites. Schools were also used as meeting places for government meetings, polling places for elections, community entertainment, church services, dances or socials.


One-room schools were a part of history for nearly 150 years. But as the number of school aged students increased, the need for larger, more centralized schools became apparent. Most of the one-room schools gradually disappeared from the landscape but not for the pages of history. One of these schools can still be found at the Henry County Museum’s Homestead area. As you visit Highland School look back through the mist of time and imagine that you can hear the voices from the past. With your help, we are truly bringing history to life.



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