Wednesday, February 5, 2014

One-Room Nation, Part 1

Prairie School No. 1, Sheldon, IA.

All in One Room

Imagine that you’ve been transported in time to the early 1900s. You attend a school where everyone studies and works together. You’re all in one room, and you’ve only got one teacher. The students are all ages, all sizes—from kindergartners to eighth graders. But there aren’t very many of you, probably not more than thirty. Maybe only a handful.

The walls of your school might be made of brick, logs, sawn lumber, sod, or adobe, but there are only four of them, with a roof on top, some windows, and a door or two.

The outhouse at Honey Creek School,
Monroe County, IN
A few things that you are used to finding at school are missing. This one-room building has no indoor plumbing. The bathroom is a strange, smelly boxlike building over a hole near the schoolyard. (Bring your own toilet paper or learn to use leaves, old magazine pages, and corncobs.) The sink and drinking fountain are a pump nearby.

Inside your school, there’s no electricity. That’s right—no lights or fans or computers. And no furnace. Just stove in the middle of the room, with a pile of dried corncobs for starting a fire, and wood or coal to keep it going. Maybe your job is to bring in wood for that woodpile, because everybody in this school, right down to the smallest kindergartner, has a job to do.

Herbert Blessing attended a one-room school in York Township, PA, from 1929 to 1938, walking about a mile each way. Like the other students, he had a regular schoolhouse chore: 

“I was the fireman. We had a pot-bellied stove for heat. I went about an hour and a half early each day to get the school warm.”

Was he chilly for that first hour and a half? You bet. But everyone else arriving in the morning found a toasty schoolhouse—a lovely thought for a cold winter’s day.

NOTES: The quotation from Herbert Blessing is from “Mark’s School—Herbert Blessing,” York Daily Record, York, PA, May 18, 2007.

Could you survive in a one-room schoolhouse eighty or one hundred years ago? One-Room Nation, an on-going segment of the Story-Slinger blog, will try to answer that question in a few dozen posts. Unless otherwise noted, the text and photos in One-Room Nation are the property of the blogger, so please contact the Story-Slinger if you wish to use them.


  1. Great post, GS. I sent it to my mother, who went to a one-room schoolhouse in Hartington, Nebraska. She said you captured the way it was.

  2. Thanks, Jill! Let her know I'll be posting more on country schools like the one she went to.

  3. I attended a one room school for two years in rural Minnesota. My brother and I took the short cut through a corn field which became deeply muddy in the spring. On very cold winter days we pulled our desks around the wood burning stove for warmth. Every Friday our teacher read a chapter from the Laura Wilder series. I have very fond memories of my time there.
    Patti K.

  4. Patti--Thanks for sharing your memories! I love the idea of pulling desks and chairs around the stove to keep warm. Especially today, when it's so cold out! BRRRR