Friday, July 31, 2009

One-Room Schoolhouses in Nebraska

Everyone get out your slate board and your reader, it’s time to start class!

by Elissa Schotte
Southeast Community College

Many of you have heard the old stories about the strict teachers in little one-room schoolhouses and the 10 mile walks up hill both ways in the snow. Well, I have researched some of those old schoolhouses, including some in my own community. I also spoke to a few people who attended and taught at those old country schools.

Today I will inform you about one-roomed schoolhouses and how different they are from today. I will share when some schools started, what went on inside those schoolhouses, who attended those schools, and a little about the schoolhouses around my community.

Over one hundred years ago country schools were being started, all with similar things going on inside. Many of your relatives probably attended a one-room schoolhouse. According to Evelyn Toynton in Growing up in America, 1830-1860 written in 1995, “the first free schools for children in American were established in Philadelphia as early as 1787 (p. 59).

According to The Hanover Centennial written in 1969 by Emil Mueller, James Hynek, and Mike Breen, “In 1869, the first school building was built at the north edge of the original town of Hanover, a one-story stone building…the school population soon outgrew the little stone schoolhouse, and, in 1879, another school building was constructed and occupied the following year.”

The school was a matter of pride for my little town. G.H. Hollenberg, founder of Hanover, was quoted saying, “Our educational advantages are almost as good as can be found anywhere in the state. A fine stone schoolhouse graces one of the beautiful eminences of the town, situated on one of the more prominent natural rises which characterize the town” (Mueller, Hynek, Breen, 1969).

There were many schools that surrounded Hanover and now I’ll move on to who attended those schools. Children ages 5 to 16 or older attended the little one-room schoolhouses that dotted the countryside. You and I also attended school at this age, but in a much different way. I spoke with a couple women who attended and taught some of those schools. In an interview with Gert Holle on May 5th, 2009, I found out Gert taught at a one-room school named Bismark from 1942-1949. She taught reading, writing, arithmetic, social studies, and geography.

In a second interview with Esther Rippe on May 5th, 2009, she informed me that she started her schooling in 1926. Her and her siblings walked the four miles to school. She remembers leaving at 7:15 to get to school by 9:00. A child-like smile came to her face as she described games played at school such as “pumpkin pullaway” [sic] and “stealing sticks.”

Articles written by people who attended schools like Gert’s and Esther’s shared similar accounts. Maynard Good Stoddard in her article titled Reading, ‘riting, ‘rithmetic, and remembrance found in The Saturday Evening Post in 2001, describes just one of the fun aspects of a one-room school house, “Not only did our school have but one room, our baseball team possessed but one ball. It was therefore not unusual, after a hitter had dispatched its cover, to see an outfielder follow the flight of the fly ball by the string as it unwound.”

Rudolph Chelminski in The Last Schoolhouse found in the Smithsonian in 2000, describes a teacher, “Miss Post was expected not only to instruct her charges in the three R’s but to lead them into the ways of thrift and frugality.

Now that we’ve discussed some people who attended one-room schools and what went on inside, let’s move on to some information I found about my local schoolhouses. After a little digging into the history of the schools around my area. I was able to find a few interesting pieces of information. Many of you could probably go find some similar artifacts near your hometown.

At one of the sites where a one-room schoolhouse once stood, I found three daily rosters. They were the attendance sheets that the teacher used to keep track of who was in class. The daily roster from 1895 included each student’s name, age, and her or his daily attendance. The other two rosters were from 1929 and from 1936. I could see the fluctuation in number of students that attended. This was probably due to larger schools opening and modern transportation.

After finding out some of the locals that attended school, I decided to venture out and find where some of these schoolhouses had been. As I drove the country roads around my little town, I encountered several sites where schoolhouses had once been and even a few that were still standing. You might be surprised at what you find, if you go out and look.

Prairie Hill School was open from 1889-1946. The Sunnyside School was open from 1875-1959 and now only this rock is left. Finally, this school, which is one of the few still around, has sadly been damaged by fire recently. Only its skeleton remains.

Today I have informed you about one-room schoolhouses and shown you how different they were from schools today. I discussed when the first schoolhouses came about, some people who attended and what went on inside those schools, and what’s left of those schools today.

Now get your slate boards back out! We’re having a quiz over what you learned today!


Chelminski, R. (2000). The last schoolhouse. Smithsonian, 31, 5, 22-6. Retrieved April 1, 2009 from WilsonWeb database.

Mueller, E., Hynek, J. & Breen, M. (1969). Hanover Centennial.

Stoddard, M. G. (2001). Reading, ‘riting, ‘rithmetic, and remembrance. The Saturday Evening Post, 273, 1, 50-1, 84, 94. Retrieved April 1, 2009 from WilsonWeb database.

Toynton, E. (1995). Growing up in America, 1830-1860. Brookfield, Conn. Millbrook Press. Retrieved April 1, 2009 from NetLibrary database.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Our National Park Sites: Places that Inspire Us

Have you ever considered what our National Parks have to offer? What do they signify and preserve for us as citizens of the United States? Of course, one might think of the biological diversity of Everglades or the historic significance of the Statue of Liberty or the majestic wonder of Yosemite Valley. These places, set aside for future generations, give the citizens of the United States a chance to explore our heritage, wilderness, and the places that make our country great.

You could say that our national parks give people a chance to learn about nature, but they can also inspire us to be creative and artistic. Who doesn’t take a camera with them to places like Mesa Verde, Acadia, and Mount Rushmore? Each of us can explore our artistic side by writing a contemplative poem after a visit to a national park or monument. Have you ever been inspired by our national park sites?

As Homestead National Monument of America has its first Artist in Residence Program this year I found it interesting to find parks that have established programs and the creativity these artists bring to the national parks.

Rocky Mountain National Park will host six artists this summer. Sharon Bass and Nick Holmes are two of them. Bass paints her own fabrics, stamping, and reassembling commercial fabrics to reflect the natural world. She hopes to translate the photographs she takes into a print, collage or a fiber-based quilt. Bass is currently the exhibit curator for the Kansas State Quilters. Holmes is continuing his study of Isabella Bird, a sickly woman from Scotland that traveled to the Rocky Mountains in 1873 covering 800 miles and wrote her most famous book, A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains. She traveled to America because she heard the air was excellent for the infirmed.

Holmes and Bird grew up in adjacent villages in Scotland. He is planning to photograph many of the same images as Bird. These will be used for educational and archival purposes at the park. Another artist which participated in the program is Chella Gonsalves, a painter currently living in California. She was an Artist in Residence in 2002 at Yosemite National Park and recently won a cash award with her painting Cascading at the Yosemite Renaissance XXIII.

Currently there is an Artist in Residence program at twenty nine national parks. Homestead National Monument of America recently announced the first year of their Artist-in-Residence Program. Homestead welcomes artists to share their inspiration and talent with visitors, to live and work at the monument, and to interpret the park's natural and cultural resources through their unique creative vision. For more information on how to apply for the Artist-in-Residence program at Homestead see below.

It will be exciting to see the creativity the artists bring to Homestead National Monument of America and how this translates into work of art. To view a listing of all national park sites with Artist-in-Residence programs, visit

Residencies open to: Two-dimensional visual artists, photographers, sculptors, performers, writers, video/filmmakers, composers.

Number & length of residencies: Depending on type and number of applicants, residences can range in length from 2 weeks to three months.

Contact: Call Artist-in-Residence Coordinator, 402-223-3514 or email Allison La Duke at or write: Artist-in-Residence Program, Homestead National Monument of America, 8523 West State Hwy 4, Beatrice, NE 68310 for information on next year's artist in residence opportunity.

Friday, July 17, 2009

How much is that doggy on the homestead?

Sixty-three percent of U.S. households own at least one dog according to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association (APPMA) 2009-2010 National Pet Owners Survey. Daniel Freeman, one of the first homesteaders, was also one of the first homesteaders to own a dog. He had a dog for the same reasons people have dogs today, for protection and for company.

Freeman’s great granddaughter, Beverly S. Kaplan, in her book, Daniel and Agnes Freeman, Homesteaders (1971) talks about the first dog Daniel brought home to Agnes.

When Dan walked in, there was a merry twinkle in his eyes. He carried a sad-faced hound under his arm and handed it to Agnes. She set it on the floor promptly. It was neither proper nor sanitary to hold a dog.

file photo

I got that dog for your protection, Aggie. A man has no damn business living on the prairie without a dog.

At first Agnes was reluctant to keep the young pup but Daniel insisted

She’s just a pup yet,” Dan said in way of defending the long eared hound’s behavior. He loved dogs of any kind, any number or nature.

As time went on Agnes came to appreciate the sad-faced hound named Tanny.

Once the clearing was plowed, Agnes was less apprehensive about her surroundings. She could look out across twenty or thirty acres of open ground and see what might be coming, and she grew more dependent upon Tanny’s alert bay as the dog grew older, so she fell to her work more peacefully.

The Freemans kept dogs on their homestead throughout their lives.

The Daniel Freeman family exhibit at Homestead National Monument

Friday, July 10, 2009

What is President Abraham Lincoln’s Greatest Legacy?

The year 2009 marks the bicentennial of the birth of Abraham Lincoln, considered by most historians to be one of America’s greatest presidents. Lincoln was born in Kentucky on February 12, 1809 and guided the nation through the trauma of the Civil War. As President, he issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which in principle attacked slavery and guaranteed the abhorrent institution’s end—contingent, of course, upon the North’s victory over the Confederacy. He also signed into law some of the most visionary and important pieces of legislation in American history, including several bills that charted the course of settlement and development of the American West.

Among these was the Homestead Act of 1862, commemorated and interpreted by the National Park Service at Homestead National Monument of America, located near Beatrice, Nebraska. Over the course of 123 years, the government distributed more than 270 million acres of land to homesteaders. Thirty of the 50 states had homesteads in them at one time or another, including such geographically diverse areas as Florida, Iowa, the Dakotas, New Mexico, Washington, California, and Alaska.

Approximately 1.6 million homesteaders (about 40 percent) “proved up” on their lands by fulfilling all requirements and taking title from the government. Millions of people of different ethnic origins, ages, and backgrounds took advantage of homesteading, hoping to use the Act to help them fulfill their own personal visions of the American Dream of land and home ownership. An estimated 93 million homesteader descendants inhabit the modern world.

The 1860 Republican Party platform on which Lincoln was elected to the presidency specifically called for the passage of a homestead bill. Visitors to the Monument will see, in an exhibit entitled “Legislating Westward Expansion,” a copy of that platform, as well as a copy of a letter written to President-elect Lincoln in January 1861 by a Canadian hopeful for passage of the Homestead Act once Lincoln took office.

The Act proposed to make up to 160 acres of public land available to any qualified applicant. There was no charge for the land (besides administrative costs totaling $18.00); rather, the homesteader agreed to live on it for five years, cultivate and improve it, and build a dwelling upon it. If the applicant had done so to the government’s satisfaction within those five years, the U.S. government transferred permanent title to the land to the homesteader, who at that point took possession of it as private property. Men and women, black and white, young and old, married and single—nearly anyone qualified to homestead. The law became effective, interestingly enough, on January 1, 1863—the same day as the Emancipation Proclamation—and remained active until 1986.

Homesteaders exponentially increased America’s agricultural output and helped build the nation into an agriculture empire, and the exhibits at Homestead National Monument of America show the visitor how farming technology evolved from hand tools to mechanization. The equipment needs of homesteaders helped continue the Industrial Revolution and led to many new mechanical inventions, demonstrated in the Monument’s “Unleashing an Agricultural Revolution” exhibit. Immigration to the United States increased after the Civil War, and many of those coming here sought the “free land” about which they had heard so much in their home countries. At the Monument, artifacts such as immigrant trunks, wooden shoes, and household items show how immigrants made their journeys to America, what they brought with them, and how they lived once they arrived.

The law also impacted American Indians, and the Monument’s award-winning interpretive film, Land of Dreams: Homesteading America, captures the essence of the both the American Indian and homesteader perspectives on the Homestead Act. In addition, millions of acres of scientifically unique and valuable prairie ecosystems were destroyed. Over 100 acres of Homestead National Monument of America has been restored to tallgrass prairie, and visitors are encouraged to walk the more than two miles of trails to experience this diverse ecosystem for themselves.

Finally, the Act led to increased land speculation, mortgaging of farms, and many attempts to farm lands not suitable for agriculture. The impacts of the Homestead Act—both positive and negative—are still felt across modern America, and many consider the Act to be one of President Lincoln’s most important legacies.

Other laws President Lincoln signed worked hand-in-hand with the Homestead Act to forever change the landscape of the West. On May 15, 1862, just five days before approving the Homestead Act, he signed a bill creating the United States Department of Agriculture, calling it “the people’s department, in which they feel more directly concerned than any other.”

On June 19, 1862, he signed a bill outlawing slavery in U.S. territories, ending the specter of the spread of slavery into areas likely to be settled by Northern-sympathizing homesteaders. He approved the creation of a transcontinental railroad by signing the Pacific Railway Act on July 1, 1862, and did likewise for a national land-grant college system with his approval of the Morrill Act the very next day.

The visions for the American West of congressional leaders, farmers, immigrants, industrialists, abolitionists, and others were made possible by the presidency of Abraham Lincoln. Exhibits, artifacts, films, park ranger programs, and special events at Homestead National Monument of America interpret this aspect of Lincoln’s role in the creation of the modern West.

“The whole concept of the Homestead Act was certainly unique to the United States,” said Mark Engler, Superintendent of Homestead National Monument of America. “At a time when people in many parts of the world were barred from owning land unless they were royalty or first-born sons, the U.S. government offered millions of acres to just about anyone who wanted it. What greater gift could a nation offer its own people and those from all over the world? The Act was very successful in many ways and less successful in others, but it certainly is among the most important laws President Lincoln signed during his time in office.”

What do YOU think was Lincoln’s most visionary, important act? What is his greatest legacy? How would America—and the world—look today had he done something differently? What do you think those 93 million descendants and the thousands of living homesteaders would say?

The Monument’s website has an entire section dedicated to Lincoln that includes photos, program announcements, and excerpts of his writings and speeches. Photographs are also available from the Monument upon request.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The First German Catholic Homesteader

Homesteading in Gage County, Nebraska

The Midwest was purchased from France in the Louisiana Purchase. Nebraska began to accept settlement west of the Missouri River in the late 1850’s. One of those settlers, Joseph Graf. Born April 15, 1831, in Mullenbach, Germany, Joseph first came to Rock County, Wisconsin.

In the fall of 1859, after hearing that the state of Nebraska was opening up for settlement, he moved his young family to Nebraska City. That winter he traveled west to locate unoccupied farm ground that he could secure. He located a small hamlet, Beatrice, located on the Blue River.

On April 15, 1860, Theresa, his wife, noted in their small bible that they had arrived. This family, the first German homesteaders' and the first Catholics' in Gage County, with three children, first located in a dugout on the bank of the creek until a small log cabin could be built near the trail about four miles outside of Beatrice.

One could register for a Homestead in Brownville, Nebraska after January 1, 1863. Joseph Graf, in the dead of winter, on January 20th, was the 19th to register at Brownville. His farm is still owned by the Graff family and farmed by the fifth generation Graff's.