A look at some additional reflections about life in one-room schoolhouses, from those who attended as students.
Mischief on the way to the outhouse
Luceille (Gleim) Werner and Mary (Gleim) Small attended a one-room school— Oxford District 103—during the 1930s and early 1940s. With the wind blowing through those noninsulated school buildings, those sitting close to the heating stove in the winter time were cozy and warm. The unfortunate students in the far corners might be shivering.
During the Depression years, nearly everyone attending the rural schools might be classified as “poor,” but we were all in the same boat so we never noticed. A great advantage was living on the farm where we had our own livestock (milk), gardens for produce, and all of mother’s canned vegetables, fruits, and even meats. Everybody worked hard and helped. It was understood if you did not work, you may not eat.
We were lucky because our grandparents gave us a pony to ride to school. What fun! Our pony, Sheesix, was special but had a bad habit. If he got loose during the day when he was tied to the fence, he would head for home. A good neighbor, Mr. Gretencord, often saw him coming down the gravel road in front of his house. He would catch him by the halter, then tie him up until we came along after school was out.
The hot lunch program during the winter included baked potatoes and maybe soup in a container placed on top of the heating stove. I recall that our mother almost always baked a delicious chocolate cake with fluffy seven-minute icing on Saturday for the special Sunday dinner. She saved at least two pieces of the cake for Luceille and me for the lunch bucket on Monday.
Everyone in school knew we would have that special treat on Monday for lunch. One Monday at noon when I opened my lunch box, what a surprise. No cake! Whatever could have happened?
I told the teacher and went home and told my mother. It seems that some little second grade boy just couldn’t resist the temptation. He had written his name on the board to leave the room for the outhouse. Spending a little extra time, he opened the lunch box, took out the piece of cake, and you know the rest of the story. Our teacher called the mothers in, resolved the issue, and it never happened again. How simple it was then to solve such issues.
There were many advantages learning in a one-room elementary school. If you were an alert student, you could listen to every class recite for the teacher in every subject area during your eight years in school. You learned to get along with your peers at recess time and learn from older students.
Luceille (Gleim) Werner ’53, M.S. ’63
Mary (Gleim) Small ’76
Physical education was inherently included
I attended a one-room schoolhouse in Mclean County, Illinois. Ballard School was named for the adjacent land owners, who provided the land. I attended fourth through eighth grades.
The building was a frame construction, with one door on the west end that served as the entrance and exit. After a short hallway, a left turn would take you to the boy’s cloak room, and a right turn to the girl’s cloak room. The north side had six tall windows, while the south side six small windows up high.
Our building was unique for a one-room school. We had indoor toilets. These were part of an addition added on in 1915. They were not “flush” toilets, but simply a stool over a pit in the ground. Also unique was the fact we had a jacketed stove, the first in the county. It sat in the corner and was about five feet round. The steel jacket prevented students from getting a burn.
In front of the building was a well where we obtained drinking water. The pump was operated by hand. Each day one of the older boys pumped a bucket and placed it in the boys’ cloak room. A ladle was provided, and we all drank from it.
I graduated from the eighth grade in 1948. There were 24 students in grades one through eight at that time. The eighth grade class consisted of four students: two boys and two girls. This was the last year the school was open. A vote to consolidate the county schools had passed. In the fall of 1948, Unit District No. Five began operation.
Attending a one-room country school presented many challenges. One was getting there. There was no transportation provided. My home was a mile-and-a-half from the school. On days when the weather was warm and dry, I would walk both to and from school.
All the roads at that time were gravel. After the spring thaw, they were soft with ruts, potholes, and mud puddles. You had to watch where you were walking, and be aware that a passing car might splash mud. During the dry periods, a passing car surrounded you with a cloud of dust if you were not alert. On the days of inclement weather, it was up to the parents to get us there, usually by car.
One incident I remember was in the winter. It had starting snowing very hard. A couple of the school board members came by and said the school should close. Since there was no way to contact the parents, they were attempting to take us home. He took my brother and me the first mile, which was a north-south road that was still passable. When we arrived at the corner, it was obvious that the east-west road was drifted shut. He let us out of the car and we walked the last half mile in a blowing snow storm. It took some time but we made it. I have often thought the lack of transportation was a replacement for gym classes!
Dale M. Sutter ’61
Grateful for each teacher’s TLC
In the fall of 1933, the teacher of the little red schoolhouse on West Linden Street in Normal did not have a first grade. She searched the neighborhood and found three students: two Sidebottom sisters who were 4 and 5 years old and me, Myra Rousey. I was 5 years old. I could already read at that time.
We walked from an unimproved farm house—no running water, central heat, electricity—on a single, sunken dirt lane south to the little red schoolhouse. My teacher was a young woman.
Eight years later, I graduated from another one-room school in Bloomington, Spaulding School, which was taught by Miss Alice Williams. She taught seven grades, with the seventh grade alternating with the eighth grade.
She did much more than teach her students. The teachers kept the buildings heated and the pathway to the road cleared as well. Miss Williams prepared hot lunches for us during cold weather, and appropriate lunches for us during milder weather as well. If our clothes got wet from snow during our walk to school, she had us undress, dressed us in clothing she kept on hand, and dried our wet clothes.
The county superintendent supervised these schools. At this time it was Hap Arends, a former athlete and coach. He was also responsible for the accountability of these schools. Every six weeks we had six-weeks examinations. We came in on Saturdays to review for these tests. The subject matter was not easy. For example, we studied algebra as our eighth-grade math course.
I cannot recall where all of the students from these schools met for graduation ceremonies, but it was a large facility since it accommodated all of the graduates in one place. I do remember that I graduated with honors. The Sidebottom sisters and I graduated from Normal Community High School 12 years after we started school at the little red schoolhouse.
Myra J. (Rousey) Linden ’49, M.S. ’55
Advanced learning accommodated
My formal education began at Hopewell Elementary School, a one-room schoolhouse located northeast of Mt. Vernon, Illinois, in Jefferson County. I mention ‘formal education’ because my mother, brother, and sister taught me to read before I entered first grade.
My memories of Hopewell are much like that of any one-room school containing eight classes, with each student row a grade all taught by one teacher. After I completed all the first grade books by December, our teacher, Virginia Jaco, had no choice but to put me in second grade. I got to move to the next row. With the school year over in May—the school year was only eight months—I was placed in the third grade.
Raymond Bruzan, M.S. ’70, remembers fondly his classmates from 1953, shown outside the school. He is fifth from the left in the front row.