School Days in Pennington County- Early 1900s
When mother called us, we made a quick dash from the warmth of the bed to the oven door, which she so kindly had put down for our little bodies. If you have never dressed before the open oven door near a wood burning stove, you don't know what family closeness is. And then it was "wash your hands and face before breakfast". That was a wonderful feeling because the reservoir on the stove always had a good supply of "just right" warm water. That started the day out really good.
Breakfast almost always was the same, except maybe in the middle of summer, but oatmeal was the No. 1 breakfast food. Anybody, or almost everybody, can make oatmeal, but when mother dished it up for us it seemed to taste extra special. Nobody talked about calories and we always used cream or milk and cream. Then our toast . . that was something! Bread was held directly over the fire by either a fork or a make-shift grate and you would get one side just right and then turn it over . . then butter it. That was toast! Cold milk and maybe a dish of dried, cooked apples would be dumped over the oatmeal or eaten separately and we were ready to meet the whole world.
The "school marm" stayed over at the neighbor's place - usually the same place every year because that was the closest place to the schoolhouse. She was teacher and janitor, the whole thing.
We had a little over 1-1/2 miles to school. That isn't so far when the weather is nice. In fact, in the spring, we could watch the little flowers open their faces, the leaves on the trees grow bit by bit each day, and see the rushing water in the ditch along the road we walked. But in the winter, we walked almost every day - all bundled. On extra cold days, dad would harness up a team of horses and we would ride in the cutter or maybe when he was ready to go and get another load of hay down the field near the school, we would ride in the hay rack. Anything was better than walking on those days!
Mother would have everything lined up ready for our day at school. She would have made a good "Factory Boss". I used to think she had a way of getting us dressed and ready to go with dad in the fastest time. Regardless where we "lost" our mittens the day before, she would always have them "extra warm" for us, popping them out of the warming oven on the stove. Our coats and caps were right where we should have put them the night before. We wore heavy wool stockings on these days and heavy sweaters too because oftentimes the schoolhouse was not that warm. The teacher sometimes didn't have good skill in building a fire and the wood in the burner at school just wouldn't "catch". It would be half a day before we felt like taking our coats and overshoes off.
We always carried our lunch in a pail. Everybody carried the same kind of a meal . . . 99% of the time they were jelly sandwiches. The only difference might be some mothers could make better jelly than others. Cookies were on the menu too. Something special would be a piece of cake and maybe even an apple on occasion. But we were all in the same boat, so what? The bigger boys always had the duty of carrying in wood and water, if the pump worked.
School lessons were many. What angels God had made into teachers! The whole school sometimes had 15 to 20 pupils (even more) and they ranged from the first through the eighth grade. Maybe the first grade had two or three, second had a couple, maybe three in the fourth grade, one or two in the fifth, a few more in sixth, and some in the eighth. The teacher would have four or five subjects to teach in each grade. When it was time for your class period in arithmetic, for instance, you came to the front of the room, and in complete isolation from the rest of the room (for they were supposed to be studying their own lessons) you and the teacher were working your lessons together. Every class had the same "privilege" . . . be it reading, writing, or arithmetic, etc.
After a day at school, it was back to the old "homestead". On cold days, and there were many, most parents were there to pick up their children. If some lived along the way, it was just a case of piling in the sled for the ride home.
On the bitterly cold days, sun dogs could be seen in the sky. The crackling snow underfoot would remind us of the longing for it to be summer again. Oh, when would it be warm again? The old thermometer on the gate post might register 15 degrees below zero at 5:00 p.m. and dad would say that that was the "highest" it had been all day.
by Eleanor Bothman
Taken from the Pennington County
Historical Biography Book 1