Education has always been a hot topic of discussion in the United States. Nowadays, we take our educational system and access to high education for granted. Yet, at the turn of the twentieth century education was cherished and valued.
The right to a free education was not something that had always been offered in our American society. The first public school, Boston Latin School, was founded by the Puritan settlers in 1635 in Boston and an education was only offered to boys. As the American colonies were settled by different religious groups, schoolhouses began to appear throughout the colonies. Yet unlike today, an education differed from which gender you were and which class you came from. The richer your parents were the better of an education you received. You can learn more about colonial schools from this site. http://www.chesapeake.edu/Library/EDU_101/eduhist_colonial.asp
|Linn School outside of Marion, Ohio.|
Warm sunlight filled the rolling countryside the little one room schoolhouse sat upon. Children ran around, laughing and playing. Somewhere down the Columbus, Delaware, and Marion (CD&M) railroad line that passed the back of the schoolhouse, a train blew its horn. The younger children gawked at the large train coming down the track. Mrs. Webster’s quickly guided them away as the passenger train from Bucyrus rolled past the schoolhouse towards the depot in Marion. Elsa ignored all the commotion. She walked to her familiar spot along the right side of the wall of the red brick school house, sat on the ground, and peered out at the group of girls in the yard eating their lunch together. Cora laughed with her friends. It didn’t take a fool to know whom they were cackling about. Elsa hadn’t been well liked since the first day she and Nathan arrived at Linn School last year. Although her family had lived in the same county as the school, Elsa had never attended a public school before. Before the Influenza hit, Margaret had homeschooled all ten of her children. Her ma had been an excellent teacher. While Elsa excelled academically, she had harder time finding friends than Nathan ever did. Only a few months older than Sam, Sam’s friends had been quick to accept Nathan into their lot. Elsa envied her brother. The only girls Elsa’s age were Cora and Rebekah. Those two girls had made it their duty to ensure no girl ever made friends with Elsa and it had worked too. She dreaded the day Nathan graduated from school this year. Without him, there wouldn’t be anyone to eat lunch with, do homework with, or talk to. What she wouldn’t give for this to be her last year too. If all went well with her plans to marry Franklin then this would be her last year. Married girls don’t go to school. Life would be perfect. She’d have the man of her dreams, a home of her own and a business that would bring more money than her pa made now. Middle class. The sound of it both excited yet frightened her. All her life she had been poor. It would be hard to adjust to Franklin’s standards of living but if Deborah could adjust to upper class from poverty she could adjust to middle class.
- From "Elsa" by Allison Bruning.
Education was not something to take lightly during the turn of the century. The Progressive Era was a
Most children during this time continued to attend school in a one room schoolhouse, much like the school Elsa attends in the example above. At the turn of the century there were close to 200,000 one room schoolhouses in use in the United States. That number has dwindled to less than 300 still in operation. Most of the one room schoolhouses still in operation are located in rural areas. You can view some of these location here: http://oneroomschoolhousecenter.weebly.com/still-in-operation.html
The one room schoolhouse allowed a schoolmaster to teach a small group of children from 1st through 8th grades in one setting. You can learn more about the benefits of a one room schoolhouse education here: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424053111903352704576540453011452540.html
Education in the rural areas during the turn of the century generally ended at the 8th grade level because the children were needed back home to help out on the farm. That is why it is common to find our ancestors with only an 8th grade education. Some children of the rural areas were able to obtain a secondary education but only if their parents had the financial resources to do so. Children were expected to continue to help their parents on the farm while they attended school as well. That is why we have summer breaks. During the turn of the century we were mainly an agricultural society. Families needed their children home during the summer to help with the harvest.
In the cities, education faced a different kind of problem. The Victorian class system had produced a great inequality in education for children. Most children of impoverished family never received an education and found themselves working in factories. Child labor had always been an issue for the United States but it wasn't until the Industrial Revolution that it peaked. Thousands of children worked in the labor force instead of going to school. These children suffered the most as they were exposed to deadly conditions and inhuman treatment by their employers.
A college education was not available for everyone. Most children were unable to attend school past the 8th grade level yet there was the option to do so if your family could afford it. University and college level training was available to both genders but men tended to have more opportunities than women and minorities.