Here is the second story that my aunt transcribed from my grandmother’s writings - this one about her experience in the classic one-room schoolhouse. I loved to learn that she skipped a grade and was not fond of physiology, just as I skipped a grade and hated all the memorization of my 7th grade biology class.
My Year in a One-Room School
by Mary Afflerbach
When I was ten year old, my older brother contracted tuberculosis and leaving his job in New York City he came home to try and regain his health. Thereupon, my parents moved back to the rural upstate Pennsylvania community where they had grown up, in the hope that the mountain air would prove therapeutic for my brother. There were no miracle drugs at that time and the only treatment for tuberculosis was fresh air, good nourishing food and rest.
As the disease was known to be highly infectious, I was packed off to live with Aunt Mary and Uncle Will, who lived on a farm a short distance up the road, and thus, I entered the sixth grade at the country school about a half-mile away.
The schoolhouse to which I went was a small, white-painted frame building with a short bell-tower. The bell was rung to summon us inside for the start of the day’s work and at the end of lunchtime and recess. Inside the building there was a row and a half of double desks, starting at the front with the smallest and increasing in size as they went toward the back. As you were promoted from one grade to the next, you moved back a row to a larger desk. Everyone had a seatmate. I didn’t like the girl I sat with very much.
Behind the short row of seats was a Franklin stove which provided heat for the building in winter. In front of the teacher’s desk was a bench to which each grade in turn was called to recite. On the wall above the blackboard were large framed pictures of Washington and Lincoln, and on the side wall a classic schoolhouse clock on which the hands moved ever so slowly toward 4 o’clock, the end of the school day.
There was no electricity or indoor plumbing; the toilets were in a double outhouse, one side for the boys, the other for the girls. Every morning one of the older boys was dispatched to a nearby farmhouse to bring a fresh bucket of water for drinking. We each had our own collapsible metal cup which we filled from a dipper that hung by the water bucket.
The schoolhouse sat on a plot of about a quarter-acre and this was our playground. In fine weather we played our version of baseball or tag or various circle games during lunch time and recess. In winter we all gathered around the stove and had informal classes there.
Our teacher was Mrs. Fitch, a petite young woman who had grown up, and still lived on a nearby farm and consequently was well-acquainted with all her pupils. She was something of an exception, the school board not looking with favor on married woman teachers, but since she was still childless and possibly because her family had some clout in the community, she was allowed to continue to teach. She was a graduate of “Normal School,” which was the forerunner of the State Teachers Colleges, which eventually became the regional State Colleges and Universities of today. she was friendly and kind, and taught with a quiet dignity and firmness, and I remember no time when her discipline was challenged, even by the 15 year old boys who ere repeating the 8th grade because the law said they had to got to school until they were 16.
As an example of her dedication, I remember a morning after a big snow storm when I trudged through knee-deep snow to attend school, to find no one there except the teacher. As we had no telephone, she had no way to let me know that school was cancelled, and believing that I might come to school despite the snow, she made her way to the school and kindled a fire so that I might get warm before starting back home.
The year I attended Sugar Point School there were about 15 pupils, ranging in age from 6 to 15, divided among 8 grades, although I am not sure that every grade was represented. One boy and I comprised the 6th grade. The school day began with the teacher reading from the Bible, followed by our recitation of the Lord’s Prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance. Then starting with the first grade, each class was called to the front to recite. The first grade learned the sounds of the letters and to read by phonics. They also learned numbers, writing and spelling. Each day I had arithmetic, reading spelling, grammar, geography and history. Since I was a quick study, I listened in on the higher grades and by the time the term ended, I was doing 7th grade work and was promoted to the 8th grade.
Once a week we had physiology and Palmer method writing. Physiology was my least favorite subject because there were so many things to memorize, such as the names of all the bones in the body. I never got very good at making those perfect loops and circles by arm movement, either. Every Friday we had a spelling bee. Everyone participated, the younger pupils being given easier words. We stood half on either side of the room until we were “spelled down” by missing a word. I don’t remember if I was the last one standing, but I don’t think I was ever the first to go down.
I enjoyed the intimacy of the school and I am sure I learned some basics there. There was a lot of rote learning, but it was probably good memory training. Of course the year was overshadowed by my brother’s illness and my separation from my family, although I did see them frequently. Shortly after the school year ended, my brother died and we moved back to the city. The next year I went to a conventionally graded school, but I always appreciated having the unique experience of my year in a one-room country school.