21 April 2012

Lottie's Memoirs: School Experiences

... This is part seven in a series. Please see the initial post for explanation.

The Lee Family at Silver Creek, Nebraska

Lottie Mae Lee Houston
Mrs. Andrew Houston

School Experiences

My first school attendance was in a kindergarten in a private home, started by a lady named Mrs. Frank Osborne, who came out from New York State. She had had training in one of the best normal schools in N.Y., and was very interested in the kindergarten movement which had been introduced from Germany. I remember har as a wonderful person and the kindergarten as a delightful experience. The room had many pictures which would appeal to children, and we ahd stories, songs, games and many activities. We had blocks, not large ones, but alphabet blocks. There were dolls, mostly rag dolls. She taught us to make sewing cards, to sew little blocks of cloth with simple stitches, to crochet chains with heavy cord, to knit on a spool. At one time I made a lamp mat from this knitted cord, of which I was very proud. I learned the names of different samples of cloth – calico, muslin, velvet, cashmere, worsted, gingham, etc.

By the time I was ready for first grade, Silver Creek had a schoolhouse, built much as all the early Nebraska schools, a long building with windows on both sides and an entry in the front to keep out the worse of the storms. The school grounds were large and were enclosed in a high board fence, fairly tight, with an entrance over a stair-step stile, going up and down, so that animals could not get in. There were no herd laws, and cows ran loose in the town.

The school cloakroom was the entry where there were hooks for wraps, and where we left our dinner pails. These were tall thin pails with rims into which tight covers fitted. Sometimes several children of one family brought lunch together in one pail.
The school room had desks and seats, both of which folded with hinges. They were built as double desks, with an ink well in the middle front, and everyone had a seat partner. The ink well presented a great temptation to the boys to dip the ends of the girls’

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hair in ink, or to mark up their own faces.

Dorchester, Nebraska school class.
The teacher is Bessie Brown,  Lottie's maternal cousin.
Ca. 1900

Out in the schoolyard was the well, with a pump. The water pail for drinking water stood in the back of the room, on a bench, and when we wanted a drink we asked permission. Winter nights were so cold that the water would freeze solid in the pail if the teacher forgot to leave it empty. The teachers were entirely responsible for the janitor work, at this time.

There were wooden blackboards, not slate, at the front of the room. We each had small slates and slate pencils at our desks. Paper was expensive and we had to furnish our own. We also furnished our own books, and as I was growing up we had the McGuffey readers. At first, all eighth grade were in one room and we heard everyone recite. Later there were two rooms with four grades in each. The school was not closely graded, however, and students were assigned work according to their ability. Some of the older children who could not yet read well would be in the First Reader, while some who were the same age but more advanced would be studying algebra if there was a teacher capable of teaching it.

We studied at our desks, then were called to the front of the room to a recitation bench, to recite our lessons. We read aloud from our books, taking turns, standing to read with the book held in the left hand, turning pages with the right. For arithmetic we often put our problems on the blackboard and had them corrected by the teacher. Some teachers could not go beyond fractions, so we sometimes went over the same ground in arithmetic for several years.

We had outside toilets, one for boys and one for girls. There was a wash basin in the back of the school room with soap on a saucer, so that it was possible to wash one’s hands if it became necessary, but we did not wash before we ate our lunches, only if we got especially dirty, or fell down, or some such thing.

All the grades had recess at the same time, and there was no playground supervision. Some years we would have such good times, but sometimes there would be big rough boys in school who made life miserable for the little ones. One boy I especially remember who used to lie in wait with snowballs and really hurt the little girls. The only recourse was to “tattle” to the teacher!

We played Hide and Go Seek, Drop the Handkerchief, Tag, Pump-pump-pul away, catch, baseball, “Anty-over”, hop scotch, etc.

The town school had a full nine month term, but the country schools, even much later than the 70’s, often had only a three month winter term. It depended upon the available money in the district, number of children and attitude of the school board.

We studied hard, but had relaxation, too. On Friday afternoons we always had a little program after recess, and closed school a few minutes early. These programs consisted of recitations

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by the children, dialogues, songs, etc. Many of the teachers had had elocution lessons and were interested in training the children to speak in public. Sometimes the teacher herself gave an “oration” which she had memorized. The public was invited to come on Friday afternoons if they wished, so sometimes we had an audience, sometimes not.

We always had a big Christmas program, holding it in the evening, in the early years. Later the school and church programs sometimes merged. There would be a big Christmas tree, decorations made by the pupils, candles in small metal holders on the limbs of the tree, strings of popcorn and tinsel. The tree usually came from the Platte River. Even in those days, Santa Claus would arrive with sleigh bells and there would be a treat for each child, popcorn balls sometimes an orange.

By the time I was ready for secondary school we had a two year high school, taught by a man whom we called “Professor Conner”. He was young, capable, and had a quick temper, I remember. He and his wife had come from the east.

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