One-room schoolhouses were heated in winter by a wood or coal stove. And the long walk to the outhouse in winter was no fun!
At the beginning of a cold winter school day, the teacher put fuel in the wood stove and started a fire to warm the building. Next, the teacher pumped water into a drinking bucket for students. At the end of the day, the teacher cleaned and swept the schoolhouse.
Merna Bailey taught in York County for several years and usually rode a horse to school, until 1937 when she bought her first car. Merna did all those school chores in addition to teaching.
In a one-room school, the students sat in rows by grade. Children in each class walked up and sat on a bench next to her. As she taught each class, all the other students (older and younger) heard all the lessons.
Children brought their lunches in gallon buckets, and played games in the schoolyard during lunch. Most children worked on the farm, but some looked for paying jobs off the farm. Alvin Apetz worked about 30 hours per week as a janitor while he attended high school. He was paid 20 cents per hour, “which was pretty good money in them days.”
Each year, children started working in the fields as soon as the weather permitted and as soon as they were strong enough.
Some kids, like Elroy Hoffman, couldn’t finish school – family illness forced him to leave and begin farming.
Herman Goertzen also left school to help on the farm. His father suffered from pneumonia, so it became his job “to keep the farm running during the winter, especially… It was my job to stay home, and it wasn’t that important to go to… school after eighth grade.”
Children who lived in town, like Louise Dougherty, had many more educational opportunities than country children. Families with higher incomes were able to pay for their children to attend college.
Written by Claudia Reinhardt and Bill Ganzel, the Ganzel Group. First written and published in 2003.