Saturday, July 14, 2012

Three Centuries of Red and White Quilts

Some of the historical schools that
survive today remain unrestored,
and in disrepair. The one pictured
 (in northern Price County, Wisconsin), is
 located on private land and remains
 unrestored, despite community interest
in preserving it.
      Red and white quilts were frequently sewn by groups of ladies who then sold them at auction in order to raise funds for their local, rural school or sometimes a country church. I've included a history of the one-room school houses that so many of our grandparents were once taught in the earlier part of the twentieth century. Many of these school houses were indeed painted red or built from red brick in the Midwest where I grew up as was the public school my grandmother attended during most of her childhood.
      One-room schools were commonplace throughout rural portions of various countries including the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, United Kingdom, Ireland and Spain in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In most rural (country) and small town schools, all of the students met in a single room. There, a single teacher taught academic basics to several grade levels of elementary-age boys and girls. While in many areas one-room schools are no longer used, it is not uncommon for them to remain in developing nations and rural areas, such as much of the Falklands and Shetland.
     The quality of facilities at one-room schools varied with local economic conditions, but generally, the number of children at each grade level would vary with local populations. Most buildings were of simple frame construction, some with the school bell on a cupola. In the Midwest, sod construction was also used, as well as stone in areas such as portions of the southwest where trees were scarce. In some locations, the schoolhouse was painted red, but most seem to have been white. 
      One-room school building in Jefferson, Colorado Mission Ridge School was one of the early schools in Mason County, West Virginia. It has been moved to the West Virginia State Farm Museum complex near Point Pleasant. Examination of the materials in this building indicates that boards and timbers were hand-sawed and also hand-planed. Square nails were used throughout the building. Except for the roof and a few boards in the floor, all of the material in this building is original. The blackboard really is a black board, made of wide boards painted black. It was not until much later that slate was used for chalkboards, although students often had individual slates for writing practice. 
      Teachers in one-room schools were often former students themselves. Their role is well-described by a student from Kentucky in the 1940s: "The teachers that taught in the one room, rural schools were very special people. During the winter months they would get to the school early to get a fire started in the potbelly stove, so the building would be warm for the students. On many occasions they would prepare a hot, noon meal on top of the stove, usually consisting of soup or stew of some kind. They took care of their students like a new mother hen would care for her newly hatched chicks; always looking out for their health and welfare." 
      A typical school day was 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., with morning and afternoon recesses of 15 minutes each and an hour period for lunch. "The older students were given the responsibility of bringing in water, carrying in coal or wood for the stove. The younger students would be given responsibilities according to their size and gender such as cleaning the black board (chalkboard), taking the erasers outside for dusting plus other duties that they were capable of doing."
      Transportation for children who lived too far to walk was often provided by horse-drawn kid hack or sulky, which could only travel a limited distance in a reasonable amount of time each morning and evening, or students might ride a horse, these being put out to pasture in an adjoining paddock during the day. In more recent times, students rode bicycles. 
      The school house was the center and focus for thousands of rural communities, hamlets and small towns. Often, town meetings and picnics were also held there. 
      The vast majority of one-room schools in the United States are no longer used as schools and have either been torn down or converted for other purposes. However, in some rural communities, including among the Amish, one-room or two-room schools are still used, primarily for elementary education, with students graduating to local or regional middle and high schools. 
      The final operating one-room school in the United States was located in Wainscott, New York. The Wainscott School was located in various one-room buildings until an annex was built in 2008.


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