One Room Schoolhouse

Grandma Ruth in the 1940's

Grandma Ruth in the 1940's

I was looking through a folder with some old papers in it tonight, and I came across a 6 page handwritten letter from my father’s mother. I immediately recognized the slightly crooked, yet pretty penmanship as belonging to Grandma Roby, and I was delighted to discover that it was a letter she had written to me about how she used to teach in a one room schoolhouse in rural western New York . She was 22 years old when she got her first school.  In the letter there is even a little sketch in one corner of the yellowing paper of the layout of the little school room. Its nice to recognize the history of one’s own traits. Friends who know me are familiar with the joy I get out of having a reason to sketch out a diagram…especially floorplans!   Without further ado, here is the letter as she wrote it with a fountain pen, on a yellow legal pad, now even more yellow with age. The blue ink fades and grows bold again with dips of her pen into a pot of ink. I can imagine Grandpa’s blue blue eyes twinkling at her as she wrote it to me.

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Wednesday evening 4-4-84

Dear Heidi,

Grandpa and I were pleased when you  Mother called last night. Its such a joy to hear how everyone is. The report about your report cards sounded pretty nice- We’re proud of you both. she asked me to write about the school where I taught. I shall start away back at the time that I applied for my first school. I went at night down a muddy dirt road. Didn’t take the car for fear of getting stuck. You see, dear, it was the second week of May in 1929.

Each little community had its school house- One room only, usually.

“School Meeting” was the first Tuesday in May. So, the first Thursday in May , I walked down a muddy country road to the home of a Mr. Fred Hodge. He was the trustee and, as such, was the only one to see about getting

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the position of teacher filled. The year was 1929, the year of the “Great Depression” I was fortunate to get the job- it paid the fabulous amount of $39.50 a week. (A real bonanza at that time.)

The next day, your Uncle Frank Mandeville took me to see my new place of business.  The building was white, with windows (6) on one side only.  The overall measurement was approximately 35’x35′. The equipment was: one dictionary, on a tiny table- one pointer, one brass hand bell, and a round oak wood stove + a desk- the toilets were the Kaustine types; one on each side of the entry. May I draw a tiny diagram?  The fifth of September I began my duties- There were seven


-page 3-

pupils. Marian and Junior Youngers, William, Barney and Carl Pfaff, Freida Kernan and Carmen Sciandra.

I assigned them to seats, and made it clear that “I was in charge!” This was the beginning of a year long association. I found that I was not only teacher, but nurse, janitor, arbitrator, and phys-ed person + maintenance. It got very cold out on French Road, Bennington #10 School House. I decided that I would fix a hot lunch (usually soup) on cold days.

The Pfaff boys came to school, right from their trap lines. Often the odor of skunk was decidedly noticeable. Then, when thatdidn’t get them a “day off”, they ate leeks. Such a smelly classrooom.

I had pupils from age 4 to age 15. I taught 5 grades. Marian and William made me very proud; when they passed their first Regents. All the others (grades 3-4-5)

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also passed their grades. My second Country school was on route 20A in Sheldon. I had a total of 28 pupils here. Of that number 19 were taller than I. I had pupils in all grades and one (a 15 year old) mentally retarded boy. the equipment was very much like the other building, except that the recent building had a huge wood shed.  The wood for the entire winter stored. 

I think the one thing that my pupils liked the best was my policy of NO HOMEWORK. I was a jealous instructor. I wanted to supervise all the work done by them.

The lovely thing about the “One room-8 grade schools” was the older ones helped the little ones and those who learned more easily could work with classmates who had problems- It was a fine place to learn to care for others- a rare quality in today’s Central Class Centers.

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We had little trips. Went to East Aurora Bank. Another day, we visited a large grocery store-the sweetest trip we ever took; was to a Sugar Bush. Mr. Victor showed us how sap was gathered and boiled- each one of us received a small bottle of syrup.

Then I organized a sort of  P.T.A. Each month (the third Thursday) I fixed a simple lunch, and the parents came, and we had sort of a working -social time.

There were some anxious moments one morning, when the older boys brought a Billy Goat to school. I was terrified, but we had been taught to “show no fear” so I simply bolted the door and hoped Billy’s head wouldn’t break it down. I was overjoyed when Mr. Calmas came and took his goat home.

To sum it up: I wouldn’t have missed my experience but, I’d not want to try it

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again. I always get a thrill when I meet some of my former pupils- Many cherished memories-

There are many lovely things that Central School pupils miss, that are really part of our heritage. For instance: The sound of a locomotive whistle in the night, the huge engines, belching steam – cow bells, when each farmer knew each cow wore which bell. Skimming over the snow in a horse drawn cutter, the days when children were in the position of  parental authority and respect.

I’m so happy that I lived in the day when I could be the entire staff of the “school system”  of the neighborhood. Really, my only claim to fame. It wasn’t easy, but oh so very worthwhile.



I love how nostalgic and carried away she gets at the end.

Just like me.

Grandma Ruth, Me and Grandpa

Grandma Ruth, Me and Grandpa

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