This past week we had a one room school house summer camp. During this time Mary Lou Eisenhagen, a Goodland native, came as a guest speaker to share her experiences of attending a one room school house and teaching in one.
She started off by telling us that each day was started with the pledge of allegiance, a prayer and a simple song relating to our county, like America the Beautiful that everyone could sing. Grades first through eighth were taught in the same building from September to April. The one room school house located next to the museum displays several different ways of seating. One would be long tables with benches, and the other were desks, similar to the kind we use today but instead of chair there was bench. Ms. Eisenhagen told us that when she attended and taught in a one room school house she had the desks but the tables and benches were common in school houses. She explained that the desks were long enough to have two people at them and do their studies.
Early on there were no cars to take students to the school, so most walked, including Ms. Eisenhagen when she was little. Students and teachers would walk, ride horses to school, and sometimes depending on weather and road condition, their parents would bring them in the covered wagon. Later when Ms. Eisenhagen taught school, if her car could not reach the school house school was cancelled. She was driving during the war (WWII) and gas was expensive, so she would often drive to families house and stay the week while walking to school to help save gas. Teachers were in charge of getting water every day, starting the fire, and cleaning the school house at the end of the day. Ms. Eisenhagen told us the stove would usually be in the middle of the room with the desks around it so the whole room would get warm. She also confided that she was not a good fire starter and that sometimes the room did not get very warm. Sometimes there would be a coal bin outside behind the school house that either the teacher would bring in coal or eighth grade boys would. Due to the fact that there were no bathrooms indoors, outhouses were used, which the students in the camp were very happy they themselves did not have to use.
The subjects taught were reading, writing, ‘rithmetic, and geography. They would sing songs and instead of physical education they would play games outside. Sometimes the school had playground equipment that the kids could play on. If there was no playground
equipment the students would play ball and tag. She told us that the teacher is the one who decided who moved on to the next grade. If the teacher felt that student was ready they were passed, and sometimes a student could complete more than one grade in a year if the teacher thought the student was able. At the end of the eighth grade year students would graduate from the one room school house. If the student wanted to go on to high school they must pass a test at the end of their eighth grade year that Ms. Eisenhagen said was rather difficult.
Some of the kids in the camp had questions of their own to ask Ms. Eisenhagen and one was about discipline. Ms. Eisenhagen said that discipline usually was sitting in the corner or getting your fingers hit with the ruler. She did tell us though that she did not have discipline problems and thinks this is because children were taught to not talk back and respect their elders. Another question asked was what would have happened during a snow storm. She told us that if it was bad enough they would stay at the school and do spelling bees and math relays, and parents would come in the covered wagon to get their children when the weather was not so bad. She also talked about teaching during the dust bowl. She said that a bank of dust would just hit the school house and that even if all the windows and doors were shut dust would still get in. No one would leave during these times, because like blizzards it was impossible to know where you were going or where you were.
Ms. Eisenhagen’s stories about one room school houses were very interesting. Everyone there learned a lot and it was fascinating to hear from someone with firsthand knowledge. We learned what it was like to attend school in a one room school house and how different it is from today. We would like to thank Ms. Eisenhagen for sharing her stories with us!