The One Room Schoolhouse – at the Trailside Center
By Paul Edelman
This Thursday, July 28, at 7 p.m. at the Trailside Center, 99 & Holmes, photographer Gloria Hawkins will be presenting “The Many Lives of the One Room Schoolhouse,” an in-depth look at the history and modern usage of the one room schoolhouse. The term one room schoolhouse refers to the schools that dominated the United States and particularly the Midwest up until the early 20th century. Attributes of these schoolhouses often included only one teacher with small class sizes that consisted of children who would journey to school from their farm or ranch every day. According to Hawkins, such schools were especially prevalent in states where agricultural pursuits spread families out and cities had yet to grow to their modern heights. Hawkins said that these rural schools formed the backbone of American education for 250 years until about the early to mid-20th century. By 1950, only 1 percent of children attended these schoolhouses.
The coming of American urbanization in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, brought on by technological improvements in agriculture, mass immigration, and the demand for wage labor in cities, incentivized many to leave their farms and strike out in the big city. “With the demand for better education, the construction of new roads, better transportation, and the movement of families from farm to urban areas, small rural schools began to be consolidated,” Hawkins said of the decline of the one room schoolhouse. With urbanization came the expansion of the public school system.
These schools live on as living history museums that recall to both adults and visiting schoolchildren the drastic differences between the simplicity and communal feeling of these one room schoolhouses and the amenities of modern public and private schools. The harsh life the pioneers of the Midwest endured reflects in the schedule of the students. According to Hawkins, when help was not needed at the family farm, only then could children attend: boys would miss summer sessions as all their summer days were spent tending to their father’s crops
Hawkins, is a fine art photographer and retired educator who has traveled 43 states for 19 years collecting photos of these schoolhouses of yore. Her parents attended a one room schoolhouse, but her interest in the subject came about from a school field trip. Since then, she has dedicated herself tirelessly to aiding the preservation of the memories of this once ubiquitous educational system that dominated our country’s early history.
When asked her most amazing discovery while researching these one room schoolhouses, she stated that a fascinating find at many locations was the ‘advertising curtain.’ Hawkins said, “This large painted curtain is a type of Opera Curtain. It hung across the end of the school and could measure more than 8‘x15’ foot, according to the size of the school. A large landscape scene is painted in the center.” These served as an identifying mark and fundraising tool for each school and community, as local businesses chipped in to get their piece of the curtain’s landscape