Allamakee County Historical Society shares some of the information that will be available to view at this weekend’s Rural School Reunion in Waukon

Ludlow #7 School ...
Ludlow #7 School ...
Students dressed in costume for Corn Days ...
Students dressed in costume for Corn Days ...

Copy of the Eighth Grade Examination for Review ... Pictured above is a copy of the Eighth Grade Examination For Review from the 1920s belonging to Edmund Anderson of Waterville. The booklet contained questions that helped students prepare for the exam that would determine whether they could continue on to high school. This copy is just part of the historical memorabilia that will be available at the Allamakee County Historical Society’s second annual Rural School Reunion this weekend in Waukon.

submitted by Marcia Rush, Allamakee County Historical Society

Early Iowans believed that everyone needed some education. Children needed to, jokingly, learn the “Three R’s” - reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic. Early schools taught reading, writing and arithmetic, those basic skills, to both boys and girls.

Iowa’s first teachers were men. During the Civil War men were needed for the war and women began replacing them in the classroom.

One-room schools sprang up in rural areas all over the state. Parents wanted schoolhouses close to their homes so students could get to school and back easily. Students often walked or sometimes rode a horse. Teachers lived with a nearby farm family and sometimes moved from house to house through the year.

Early schools were simple buildings. The first schools were made of logs and later replaced with wood-framed or brick. Schools were replaced to upgrade to a better one or because of fire, and sometimes due to damage by weather. The schools, when replaced, were oftentimes moved to a new location to accommodate more children, usually not far from the first one.

Blackboards were boards painted black. They used whatever books were available; families sent whatever books they had at home. McGuffey’s Readers were the primary text used in school to teach spelling, history, poetry, religion, morals and etiquette. Many pioneers brought their McGuffey’s to Iowa in covered wagons when they came.

After the 1850s, most schools were located so that no child had to walk more than two miles to attend school. We have all heard of our parents tell us how they walked “two miles uphill, both ways, to school.” Not to take it lightly, getting to school was hard.

School usually started at 9:00 a.m., and students had to time their trip so they didn’t miss the morning bell. The bell warned the students that classes were to begin. In one of the stories that we have on the rural schools, one family never arrived at school before 10:00 a.m. Children might cross fields, prairies, woods and pastures to arrive on time.

Because of weather, walking to school might be dangerous. After heavy rains, the dirt roads were often too muddy to walk and creeks might need to be crossed. During the winter snowstorms, children had to be careful of frostbite. If the weather was too bad, the children may stay home.

Postville had the first public school in the county, in the summer 1848 in the house of Mr. and Mrs. Post. The first school house was built near Hardin in 1849 in the central part of the county. School was taught by L. W. Hershey in the winter of 1852 and 1853, in a log cabin built by Deacon Azel Pratt, for a house, in 1850.

In Lansing, the first public school was in February of 1850 or 1851. The first school in Waukon, in 1854-1855, was taught by L.O. Hatch. Before this, D.D. Doe taught in Makee Township east of Waukon.

In the early 1950s, Reuben Smith built a small school house at his place on Yellow River in Post Township. Smith employed a teacher to instruct his children, probably admitting the children of his neighbors to benefit from the school also.

The first public school in Smith’s district was taught by C.T. Granger in 1854 and 1855. Granger later became a Circuit Judge and, later, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Iowa. The Old Stone House that was also built by Smith was a polling place and up for county seat at one time.

Some of the early schools had an entry room where the water pail was located, boots and coats could be hung, and lunches were placed on a shelf. Lunch may have been in an empty tin pail with a handle that lard came in. Also, some early schools had two entrances, one door for the boys and one for the girls.

Allamakee County in 1913 was composed of 18 townships, nine of which are divided into 63 independent school districts and nine into school townships containing 60 sub-districts. Ludlow Township, in 1911, erected a modern school building in district No. 8, also known as Pleasant School. At the spring election of 1913, the same township voted to erect a similar building in district No. 7. Franklin Township in 1912 built two modern schoolhouses in district No. 4, also known as North Grove, and No. 11, also known as Maple Dale.

Village Creek School is about five miles south of Lansing. In the late 19th century, Village Creek was a booming little town. There was a flour mill and a woolen mill on the creek, using the water power. There was a large community store, blacksmith shop and numerous other businesses. Several dozen homes were built here with lots laid out for many more.

The Village Creek School was a two-story building with fifth through eighth grades upstairs and first through fourth grades downstairs. Alphild Pladsen taught here in 1932-1933. It was in the heart of the depression and families were moving about a lot. She taught a total of 62 different children that year, she thought, but never more than 38 at one time.

A number of schools installed the Smith or Waterbury-Waterman systems of heating and ventilation in 1913. Before this, the heating was from a wood or coal stove. Some schools had a basement where the stove would be located. For those that didn’t, the stove was in the middle of the room or located in the back of the school room. Coats were hung near if they were wet and wet gloves went on the top. Pupils could also warm their lunch on the stove.

Each rural school had four directors that were responsible for the upkeep of the building, hiring someone to clean before the start of school and purchasing enough wood for the heating of the building, as well as making sure the outhouse was in good working order. They also had to upright the outhouse after Halloween pranks. They also hired the teachers. They were usually men, and the president, treasurer and secretary were responsible to turn in reports to the superintendent.

Rules for Teachers in 1872
(according to historic documents)
1. Teachers will each day fill lamps, clean chimneys.
2. Each teacher will bring a bucket of water and a scuttle of coal for the day’s session.
3. Make your pens carefully. You may whittle nibs to the individual taste of the pupils.
4. Men teachers may take one evening each week for courting purposes, or two evenings a week if they go to church regularly.
5. After 10 hours in school, the teachers may spend the remaining time reading the Bible or other good books.
6. Women teachers who marry or engage in unseemly conduct will be dismissed.
7. Every teacher should lay aside from each pay a goodly sum of his earnings for his benefit during his declining years so that he will not become a burden to society.
8. Any teacher who smokes, uses liquor in any form, frequents pool or public halls, or gets shaved in a barbershop will give good reason to suspect his worth, intention, integrity and honesty.
9. The teacher who performs his labor faithfully and without fault for five years will be given an increase of twenty-five cents per week in his pay, providing the board of education approves.

Rules for teachers had been relaxed somewhat by 1915, but not a lot.

Rules for School Teachers in 1915
1. You may not marry during the term of your contract.
2. You are not to keep company with men.
3. You must be home between the hours of 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. unless attending a school function.
4. You must not loiter downtown in any of the ice cream stores.
5. You may not travel beyond the city limits unless you have permission from the chairman of the board.
6. You may not travel in any carriage or automobile with a man unless he is your father or brother.
7. You may not use cigarettes.
8. You may not dress in bright colors.
9. You may not under any circumstance dye your hair.
10.You must wear at least two petticoats.
11.Your dress must not be any shorter than two inches above the ankle.
12. To keep the schoolroom clean and neat, you must sweep the floor once daily, scrub the floor at least once a week with hot soapy water, clean the blackboards at least once a day, and start the fire at 7 a.m. so the room will be warm by 8 a.m.

All of these rules to follow for pay of $50.00 a month, and even less than that in earlier years. When the Pladsen girls would complain about their salary, their brothers would remind them that farmhands got $20.00 a month, but room and board was included. By 1915 teachers were mostly women.

If you were a school teacher and on your own and single, you could keep your job. Once married, it was assumed that your husband had a job and you were no longer allowed to teach. Some teachers kept their nuptials a secret so they could continue teaching for a while.

Until the 20th century, usually the teachers had only an eighth grade education. In 1911 a formal training went into place called ‘normal training’. Some 40 years later, you were required to have a two-year teaching certificate beyond the high school diploma. By 1960, a Bachelor of Arts degree was needed.

Most teachers were between 15 to 20 years of age, maybe 25. They were single and lived close by, sometimes boarding with the students families. Some teachers, after teaching all day long, would have to share a room with their students.

In 1913, Lansing, Waukon and Postville had fully accredited high schools, New Albin had about 11 grades and Harpers Ferry 10. The St. Patrick’s Parochial school, located at Waukon, besides doing 11th grade work, offers a normal and business course. This supplies many teachers for the rural schools. The Immaculate Conception School, under the direction of Franciscan Nuns, was located in Lansing.

An attempt has been made to grade the rural schools of the county and encourage the pupils to remain in school until they have completed the eighth grade, and then attend some high school. Pupils who pass the eighth grade examination in the rural schools were given a certificate admitting them to their nearest high school and the local district must pay their tuition for four years.

Two examinations are given each year to eighth grade pupils who care to write for a diploma. In 1907, 30 diplomas were granted; in 1908, 72; in 1909, 115; in 1910, 131; in 1911, 151; and in 1912, 108.

Just a few of the questions to review for the eighth grade exam include the following:
Why should the New England farmers give so much attention to market gardening and poultry raising? What is their greatest market?
Define latitude, longitude, island, gulf, sea.
Name a state where each of the following industries is carried on: lumbering, fishing, mining, manufacturing, agriculture.
Compare the colonies of Virginia and Massachusetts in regard to religion government, industries and geography.
Name two things that Alexander Hamilton did for Washington’s administration.

These are just a few questions from the 1922 booklet, Eighth Grade Examinations For Review. The exams were given in February and May that year. We also have booklets from 1929 and 1951.

The average compensation paid to female teachers per month in 1906-1907 was $31.01, and in 1911-1912 was $38.58. The average compensation paid males per month for the same years was $62.89 and $72.49, respectively.

Spelling contests were held in the county each year and were considered very beneficial to the pupils. A spelling bee involved having the students line up along the wall. The teacher gave a student at the head of the line a word to spell. If he or she spelled it correctly, the student remained standing. If not, the student sat down. The teacher continued giving words until only one student was still standing, and that student was the winner. The newspaper of that time period printed the names of children from each school that have earned their spot in the competition in Waukon.

School fairs were held in 1910-1912, and teachers were asked to make exhibits of work actually in the schools or the products of the local industry or of the school boys and girls in the home, on the farm or in the shop. A school field day was held in connection with the fairs. About 2,000 people attended each fair and viewed the exhibits. It brought patrons, pupils and teachers together.

We cannot forget Corn Days. It was a huge event for the rural schools as they would enter a float for competition. Costumes were hand sewn, such as one worn by Orval Tilleraas in 1933 or 1934. Orval attended the Waterloo Ridge School in rural Dorchester, skipping the second grade and going into third.

Some of the teachers designed the floats around automobile and others did smaller ones and the students walked. It took a lot of time and effort for these young teachers to make them such a success. Small monetary prizes were sometimes given to the winners and the teacher would use that prize money for workbooks or something needed for the school. The newspaper listed all the winners and, in later years, pictures too.

By 1913 individual drinking cups had been placed in over half of the schools. Before the cups were implemented, a pail with a dipper was used by all students. The water was carried from a nearby home with students sent to carry it daily.

A professional teachers’ library was started in 1907 by contributions from 141 teachers. The books were kept in the office of the county superintendent and a record of books read was kept. The school superintendent’s office was located on the third floor of the now Allamakee County Courthouse Museum in Waukon. In later years, the schools had a small library in each school. Agriculture had been introduced by teachers using some text on the subject as a supplementary reader in 1913.

The closing of one-room schools in rural Iowa started in the 1950s with legislation that stated that all public school districts in Iowa had to provide education from kindergarten to high school. The consolidation of smaller schools into one large school was challenging for the students. By Iowa law, all public rural schools were to be closed by June of 1966. But when the junior high school burned December 15, 1967 some rural schools remained opened to accommodate students.

I, for instance, was sent by bus, passing by the Howard school I had attended, to Waukon, to get on another bus to be sent to the Emmet School west of town. My brother, Greg, in the fifth grade attended the one-room school that was moved to the parking lot of the East Elementary School. Everyone was displaced until the new school could be built.

Having the children transported by bus, in itself, was an adjustment for the students. The parents in rural schools were in charge of selecting the teachers and books. Parents felt that once their children attended the town schools they wouldn’t have such control over education. They weren’t convinced that they were going to get the quality of teaching they were getting. Parents also didn’t like the idea of riding the school bus for it made for a much longer school day.