On Friday, May 2, 2014, I visited with the fourth grade classes at Muhlenberg Elementary Center in Laureldale in the Muhlenberg School District, Berks County. The students were very attentive. Each 4th grade class were given two signed copies of Pearl of Richmond School for their classroom libraries, purchased by the school district. Since Pearl’s experiences in a one-room school was very different than schools today, hands shot up. Here are some of their questions and the answers I shared:
Where did the students go after 8th grade? The one-room schools were for students in grades 1 through 8. One teacher taught all 8th grades, by giving lessons for each grade in math, reading, spelling, grammar, and handwriting in the morning, and having whole group lessons in geography and history in the afternoons. At the end of 8th grade, the students took an examination. Those who did well could go on the nearest high school, with their rural school paying tuition to the nearest high school. Most students went to work on their family’s farm, with the household chores, or found work locally. When the students who went to high school graduated, some went to college if their families could afford it. Usually boys were sent to college, since the mind set in farming communities in the early 1900’s was that girls would marry and become homemakers.
How did kids take showers? Out houses were common on farms in the early 1900’s. Indoor plumbing was not common. Baths were taken in big metal tubs that were filled with water that was heated over the stoves. Bath night was typically Saturday night, cleaning up for church on Sunday, with family members taking turns taking baths, usually from the oldest to the youngest using the same water. The phrase “throw the baby out with the bath water” comes from these days when the bath water was thrown out after the last person, usually the youngest, bathed.
Did they have microwaves? No, no microwaves. The farmers’ food was cooked on the coal or wood stoves in the farm kitchens. Students packed their lunches in metal lunch kettles. Each student would bring a stacking metal cup from home and used that, filling it with water from the blue striped crock in the back of the school house.