Wood, brick, or cobblestone, one-room schoolhouses still dot the Finger Lakes region.
Some are simply boarded up and slowly collapsing. Every week, I used to drive past an abandoned school on Route 96, a small but handsome brick one, like the photo below, but it has fallen down and disappeared, since I was in high school.
Some have graduated to new roles, like this first photo, as cottage homes, or farm storage, like the second.
I haven’t known that many people, who attended one, but have read of countless famous folks who did, and they all have nothing but praise and appreciation for the experience.
Fayette NY. In 1900, there were sixteen schoolhouses in that town, with a total population of 2.711 residents, so some of them must’ve been almost one-student affairs.
But they’re really not completely ancient history, are they. One of my teachers, who retired three years ago, attended a school like this in Cayuga County. And there’s plenty of Amish schools all around us that are still active, for grades 1-8. One of my grandmothers, who graduated from teachers college around 1950, was still required to do a term of student teaching in a one-room school. But there are only a few hundred left in operation in this country.
I’d thought Herbert Hoover held the record, but actually Lyndon Johnson was, I think, our last “one-room schoolhouse” President.
LBJ, like nine other Presidents, did some teaching himself, before going into politics. And he achieved some important gains for education, like Head Start.
He briefly attended a one-room school at the age of four, and when he signed the “Elementary and Secondary Education Act,” in April 1965, he was sitting next to that school again.
“In this one-room schoolhouse Miss Katie Deadrich taught eight grades at one and the same time. Come over here, Miss Katie, and sit by me, will you? Let them see you. I started school when I was four years old, and they tell me, Miss Kate, that I recited my first lessons while sitting on your lap.” LBJ
But according to his biographers, apparently his conception of “domestic affairs” was a pretty broad, er…I mean, a pretty broad one, so to speak, and I think Miss Katie might have been a tad dismayed, if she’d learned just how many women LBJ invited to sit in his lap, throughout his married life.
Currier & Ives print of an 1858 painting by George Henry Durrie (from the MMA website). James Garfield, who might’ve been remembered as “The Education President,” if he hadn’t been assassinated, was our last “Born-in-a-Log-Cabin” President, also attended and taught in some one-room schools, including one in Poestenkill, NY. There’s a beautiful 1881 two-room school, in neighboring Brunswick, named in his honor.
The two-room “Garfield School” in Brunswick, NY. (Photo from Wikipedia). I haven’t been systematically photographing this old-time schools, but may do another post – – there’s some octagon ones in the area that might be of interest.
You may be surprised to learn, that I attended this school. (Well, for a day.) The Ansley School (1849 – 1953) is south of Geneva, and they bring grade-schoolers there for the one-room experience. I believe we practiced cursive writing on slates.
Winslow Homer’s “Snap The Whip” (1872) A number of older folks have told me, they remember having prints of this hung in their schools. This is the Met’s version – – the original, larger version, exhibited at the 1876 Centennial in Philadelphia, had a mountain range in the background.
Butler Institute of Art
I doubt public schools would hang these pictures anymore – – bare feet! no adult supervision! dangerous single-sex game! head coverings! unstructured play! possible bees in the wildflowers! children having fun! etc.
I love both versions. The mountains make it look more secluded, like it’s probably a small community, in a little valley.
In the other one, without the mountains hemming them in, the scene looks giddier somehow, and the open sky makes it seem like one of those kids might just escape the gravity of their little town, and get airborne, if they can just spin fast enough.
“The Country School” Winslow Homer 1871 (St. Louis Art Museum). I’ve read many times, that the teachers were often young, unmarried women. One of my grandmothers, teaching in a city school in the ’50’s, was married, but concealed the fact that she was expecting as long as possible, because they didn’t allow pregnant teachers in her school!
1820 cobblestone schoolhouse. Butler, Wayne Co., NY