AH, FOR THE GOOD OLD DAYS....
Lewiston's Stephenson School, 1590 West center, 1888
It's morning somewhere around the turn of the century and you're a first-year school teacher in a one-room schoolhouse, something like the schoolhouse in the photo above of Stephenson School in Lewiston. First you break a path through the snow for the students, then you rake the ashes off the coals and build up the fire before you start putting out materials for the day's class work. You've already scraped and swept the floor the night before and perhaps mopped it, too, and of course, washed the blackboard. If you're lucky, an early student will go out to the well for you and draw a bucket of water for drinking–there's a dipper hanging by a string nailed to the wall. Try not to mind that the bucket during the day will accumulate a lot of floating spitballs. And try to ignore the implications of a common drinking cup in influenza weather.
At nine o'clock you go to the door and ring the hand bell–it's time for school to begin. Forty-two students trail into the schoolhouse, shedding mud and snow. They place their coats on the hooks, their lunch pails on the shelf above, and jostle each other as they find their seats–the older and bigger ones in the back, the younger and smaller ones in the front. Aged six to sixteen, your students range from grade one to grade eight and from enthusiastic to apathetic. You've learned to love almost all of them.
Now you stand at the head of the class and look them over and wonder how the day will progress, how you far you'll get through your eight lesson plans, each with seven subjects, minimum. You sigh as you glance toward the rear seats. The oldest boy is still there–a year younger than you are, a foot taller, an inveterate trouble-maker. He's the one that keeps climbing onto the roof to throw a wet piece of sacking over the chimney, turning the classroom into a smoke house.
Welcome to the teaching world of the Pioneer West.
An early schoolhouse in Cove, Utah, 1899
These pioneering teachers were most often young women, but also young men, all of them fresh out of high school, working on their normal school certificates during the summer, or through extension classes, or by working on correspondence courses during the school year. Periodic district or county meetings that were geared toward assisting teachers in city schools with one grade to a classroom were of little use to these young teachers working under completely different circumstances. Yet they persevered, and their students learned. And, in time, things got better.
It was better, for instance, in 1912 for Florence Allen's teacher.
Florence, a resident of Cove, Utah, attended a one-room school in Mountain
Home, Utah, from kindergarten to second grade. By third grade, Florence
was attending the four-room red brick school in Cove that not only had
four teachers, but had a drinking fountain in its big central hall. "Oh,
we thought it was just wonderful," says Florence, laughing, "to have that
Further south in the larger community of Richmond was a stone schoolhouse, at about 30 South 100 West, which was erected in the early 1870s, pictured at the right. The building was replaced by a larger red brick school in the 1890s. A smaller school, originally in Greenville, now Hyde Park, south of Smithfield, is pictured below. It was moved to the property of Reynodl and Elaine Watkins, 1200 East and 1900 North, and restored.
It was better, too, in 1916, when Sadie Sorenson first started school in Cornish. For one thing, the small Cornish schoolhouse had two rooms, and two teachers, one for each room. Most importantly, it produced three of the most well-beloved and respected teachers and librarians in Cache Valley, Utah–Sadie herself, her classmate and dear friend, Mae Hanson, and Mae's older sister, Virginia Hanson, teacher and early librarian for the whole of Cache County.
Sadie and the two Hanson girls started teaching after finishing high school at North Cache, but it wasn't easy in the early 1900s to even reach high school from Cornish. The students there had to furnish their own transportation or board with someone at Richmond. At length, they did get some help from the district. "It was a truck," reports Sadie, "with an open bed. It would take us over to Bill Hall's store and we would go down and wait for the Quinney branch (the railroad line) that came from Amalga, and then we would get on that and go on to North Cache." This itinerary was followed by the girls for two years, in all kinds of weather.
Greenville School, now at 1200 East 1900 North, Hyde Park
Equally chancey was their route back and forth on weekends after five days of education classes at the former Agricultural College in Logan, resulting quite often in five-mile walks to their Cornish homes from the streetcar line in Lewiston. Nevertheless, they–and many others in the same situation–persevered, simply because it was the thing to do.
In a recent Herald Journal article, Utah's school children of today were reported as struggling with reading and English skills, judging them in light of the standards set in 1990 by the State Board of Education. "No program is going to solve this problem," declared Ralph Reynolds, Professor of Educational Psychology at the University of Utah, adding, "What you need are well-trained teachers who understand the reading process and can deal with individual students."
After a month of researching rural education both across the country and in Utah, reading hand-written journal entries of adults educated in one-room schoolhouses, copying out lists of the books read by these pioneer students, the dramatic speeches and poetry memorized, the plays and sketches produced, one can only marvel at the impressive results achieved by the often quite young teachers who would certainly be considered untrained by standards of today.
Teachers then had plenty to worry them--their own limitations, their inadequate resources. And, inevitably, they failed with some of their charges. Others among these charges, however, went on to become distinguished in their careers. Even taking into consideration a century's difference in academic preparedness for two different eras, an overwhelming number of these turn-of-the-century graduates appeared to be better educated with an eighth grade diploma than do many people today after successfully finishing high school.
Lorenzo Sorenson, Sadie Sorenson's father, was born in Smithfield in 1879, and started school when he was seven years old. "At that time," writes Sadie's grand- niece in her biography of Lorenzo, "there were no free schools. A fee of $1.50 a month was charged for students and this is the way teachers were paid." When spring came, young Lorenzo had to quit school and help on the farm, and at 16 years old, his formal schooling ended with his graduation from the eighth grade.
And yet Lorenzo Sorenson turned out to be a well-read man, interested
in local, national, and world affairs, a mine of information for his grandchildren
whenever they needed some encyclopedic knowledge for papers, debates, or
talks. By the testimony of his daughter Sadie, and his grandniece's
biography, Lorenzo Sorenson remained interested and mentally alert until
he died at the age of ninety--a testimony to the efforts of education in
a most rustic and rural past.
Photo of Lewiston’s Stephenson School, 1590 West Center,
Lewiston, Utah, 1888, courtesy of USU Special Collections
Photo of an early schoolhouse in Cove, Utah., a community northeast of Lewiston, in 1899 courtesy of USU Special Collections
Photo of Richmond’s stone schoolhouse, about 30 South 100 West, Richmond, Utah, erected in the early 1870s, replaced by large red brick school in the 1890s, courtesy USU Special Collections
Photo of Greenville School, now in Hyde Park, Joan Shaw