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.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I believe the "master plan" was for each township to have four schools. One on the northeast corner of sections 8, 11, 26, and 29. That way no student had to walk more than 4 miles to school. Of course, sparse settlement and other circumstances often put the "master plan" awry.