In the 19th century, one-room school houses were more than places to hold class. Many of them were rural social centers.
Church services, Christmas parties, hoe downs, lectures, spelling bees and community suppers were also held in the buildings.
At least in the early days, female teachers had to be unmarried. If they married, they had to quit to take care of their household. The teachers’ needs would be provided by families in the community, including a place to stay, until he or she could find their own home.
Rural schools had two terms of school during the years prior to 1900 — summer term from May until August and the winter term from November through April. Nine-month school terms were established from September to May after 1900.
Older boys would attend only during the winter term because they were needed during the growing and harvesting seasons.
The school house was not the place to be during the winter. Heat was provided by one stove. The schools were not insulated and often let in cold drafts. Students sitting far away from the stove were quite cold, while those sitting close to it were too hot.
The first “laptop” was used in those early days — a small slate board on which students wrote their lessons.
Discipline was often harsh for those children who misbehaved. Rather than the teacher using corporal punishment, discipline was often designed to humiliate the student, according to the Cornell School Teacher’s Guide.
Some of the ways students were disciplined include:
• The student would put his or her nose in a circle on the blackboard and stand there.
• He or she would sit apart from the other classmates.
• He or she would stand in a corner with one arm outstretched while holding an object.
• The student would be required to sit with the opposite sex. (Students were often segregated by gender.)
• Male students would be required to wear a girl’s bonnet.
• Both boys and girls would be required to wear a dunce cap.
• Students would be forced to stay inside during recess.
When students were whipped, a rod, ruler or hickory stick 15 to 18 inches long was used to strike the palms or buttocks.
Teachers expected students to show respect for God, their parents, teacher and friends.