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Home > Close-Ups >North Dakota's One-Room "Country Schools"



North Dakota's One-Room "Country Schools"



One of the most amazing chapters of North Dakota history involves the one-room "country schools" that werescattered across the state from the late 1800s to the mid-1900s.  I'vedone a lot of research over the past few years on country schools and havebecome pretty interested in them.  Teachers (who were usually women) and students inthe one-room schools endured incredible hardships, and it's amazing to me thatchildren were able to learn anything at all, especially considering that many ofthem, newly arrived in America, spoke no English.


One-roomschoolhouses were a logical solution to the problem of a scattered populationand very poor road infrastructure.  Children today can ride a school bus 20or 30 miles to go to school.  A commute that far in 1900 might take theentire day.  Consequently, small schools called "country schools"(as opposed to "town schools") were built about every three miles orso, within a reasonable walking or horseback-riding distance from theirfarms.  Yes, those stories that your parents or grandparents told you abouthaving to walk 3 miles in the snow to go to school were really true! 


Soonafter graduating from Fessenden High School in 1915, my grandmother, Helga Reinhard, taught in a one-room country school for several years, perhaps likethe ones shown below.  She went to Minot State Normal School in 1920,graduated the next year with a teaching degree, and got a job a few months laterat the Canfield country school near Regan where she met and married mygrandfather.  I've written more about Helga and the Canfield School in News:October 18, 2001.  


I'veincluded a few things here that will give you a glimpse of what teaching in acountry school must have been like.


Thefollowing is from the South Dakota Historical society:

Instructionsto Teachers, Dakota Territory (September, 1872)


1. Teachers will fill lamps, clean chimneys and trim wicks daily.

2.  Each teacher will bring a scuttle of coal and a bucket of water for the day'suse.

3. Make your pens carefully.  You may whittle nibs for the individual tastesof the children.

4. Men teachers may take one evening each week for courting purposes or twoevenings a week if they go to church regularly.

5. After ten hours in school, the teacher should spend the remaining time readingthe Bible or other good books.

6. Women teachers who marry or engage in other unseemly conduct will be dismissed.

7.  Every teacher should lay aside from his pay a goodly sum for his declining yearsso that he will not become a burden on society.

8.  Any teacher who smokes, uses liquor in any form, frequents a pool or publichall, or gets shaved in a barber shop will give good reason for suspecting hisworth, intentions, integrity and honesty.

9.  The teacher who performs his labors faithfully and without fault for five yearswill be given an increase of 25 cents a week in his pay providing the Board ofEducation approves.



Photos of North Dakota CountrySchools

Schoolhouse_3.jpg (30997 bytes)   Horse_Sled_in_Snow.jpg (28109 bytes)   Recess.jpg (102306 bytes)

Above left:  Many of the one-room "CountrySchools" scattered throughout North Dakota were simply tar-paper shacks,like this one in Williams County.  Most early schools had no electricity,of course, and the heat was usually provided by a single pot-belliedstove.  The teachers were responsible for starting the fire in the morningand banking the coals in the afternoon before they left.  

Above center:  The winterschool bus.  The kids in each family would bundle up and ridethe sleigh to school.  Most schools had barns, sheltering the horses duringthe day.  There werenumerous small country schools scattered around the state because of the diffuse settlement and poorroads.

Above right:  Recess photos.


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Above left:  Three more pictures of NorthDakota country schools.  This is the Opperud School in Williams Country,1903-1913.  I don't think this one had Internet access.

Above center:  Asod schoolhouse.

Above right: Early Morton County school.


Tolearn more about the North Dakota's country schools, read "The Legacy ofNorth Dakota's Country Schools" by Everett Albers and Warren Henke.  You can buy itthrough www.Amazon.com.  It's really awonderful book.