From the Sibley County Historical Society Newsletter, June 2007
MEMORIES OF A ONE ROOM COUNTRY SCHOOL
By Gloria (Huffman) Sinell
The one room rural schoolhouses that once dotted the landscape of Sibley County have pretty much disappeared. The ones that still exist are used for township meetings and polling places and some are used by 4-H Clubs for their meetings and activities. District 59 where I received my first two years of education is now a residence. The owner has built additions on to it and so it can no longer be recognized as the rural school building it once was.
I was five years old in 1927 when I started school at the little white country school that was about 1 1/2 miles South of our farm in Sibley Township in Sibley County, MN. My teacher was my Aunt Margaret Huffman. She was a member of my extended family who all lived together in our old pink farmhouse. The family consisted of my parents, my paternal grandmother, two aunts and eventually five siblings, at various times. In those depression years other relatives came to stay with us when they were down on their luck and out of jobs.
Auntie “Margie” and I walked to school together when the weather permitted. In the winter my Dad took us to school either in his Model T Ford or in a sled hitched to a team of horses when the snow was too deep for the car to get through the drifts. Aunt “Margie” did not like to waste time just walking along, so on the way to school she would drill me on arithmetic problems and my spelling words. She also taught me poetry. One poem that I can remember is “Little Orphan Annie” by James Whitcomb Riley. I had to learn this one because I was chosen to recite it at the Sibley County Spelling Contest that was held annually at the Sibley County Courthouse. I can remember the stage fright washing over me as I stood up to recite. I somehow managed to remember all the lines and do the motions that “Margie” insisted that I use as part of the performance. What a relief when that day was over!
When we arrived at school on cold mornings Margaret would feed the fire in the old coal stove and hope that she had “banked” it right and that it hadn’t gone out overnight. Water had to be carried in from a well in the schoolyard. While she was tending to these chores I was kept busy dusting desks and erasing the blackboards that I was able to reach.
Our beginning readers were The Sunbonnet Babies. After we had read out loud from our readers we practiced writing our spelling words and numbers and got to color – Happy Day!.
The students ranged in age from children my age (five years) to seventh and eighth graders. Some of the older boys towered over their teacher, but I don’t remember many discipline problems. If students misbehaved parents would be called, so they were usually pretty respectful. I was expected to be a model of deportment so that I wouldn’t be called “Teacher’s Pet”.
School lunches were brought from home and were usually sandwiches made with sausage or sorghum on homemade bread. Sometimes they were made with peanut butter and that was considered a real treat. If there happened to be homemade soup on hand my mother would put some in a Thermos for our lunch and there would probably be a cookie or a doughnut for our desert.
At Christmas Time rural school teachers were expected to plan and produce a program for the parents and their families. Every student would have a “piece” to recite and carols would be learned and sung. The room and a tree were decorated with decorations made by the children. Usually some student’s uncle or older brother volunteered to be Santa Claus. He doled out bags filled with Christmas candy, nuts and maybe an orange or an apple and a small gift from the teacher.
It was amazing what these rural “school marms” accomplished for a puny salary. They were closely monitored by a County Superintendent of Schools and not always appreciated by the parents. For the most part, though, I think they derived satisfaction from teaching and mentoring these young people and they in turn liked and admired their teacher. I’m sure they have fond memories of learning the “3 R’s” in those little one room rural schoolhouses of long ago.