A Day In The Life: 19th-Century Students

The school day would typically start around 8 a.m. Before school started, students would need to finish their chores on the farm, and then walk up to 3 miles to school. Teachers would also commonly assigned morning duties (to be finished before 8 a.m.) to older, stronger students. This included gathering firewood in the winter and collecting water for drinking and washing.

Before academics could begin, schools had a ritualized practice to go through. The students would line up outside in two lines (boys and girls) from youngest to oldest. Then, the girls would enter the school, curtseying/bowing to the teacher as they walked by. The girls would stand at attention and wait for the boys to follow their lead. After all the students entered the school, children would recite the Pledge of Allegiance. This would be followed by either the Lord’s Prayer or a moral lesson typically involving the Bible. Finally, children would be seated, take roll call, and begin the academic portion of the day.

Reading was the first lesson taught. The teacher would assign work for each level, and once students were working, one level would be called to the front to “toe the line”. This meant that they would be required to recite a passage from memory or read aloud from a textbook. When it came time for arithmetic class, the teacher would have the younger children solve problems on the blackboard. After this was finished, the older students would come to the front and practice solving math problems orally. Penmanship came next. Students would write their names, dates, and a moral saying. Penmanship class was accompanied by an oral explanation of the written morals.

Lunch was next. After students ate, they would gather more firewood and water if necessary. Then they could use the remaining time to play.

The first lesson in the afternoon would be grammar and spelling. This would be followed by a history lesson. The last class of the day was geography.

After the teacher assigned chores for the next day, most students would gather their things and head home. The teacher could give after school punishments to students who misbehaved. This commonly involved some sort of cleaning. Thus, you have a day in the life of a 19th-century student.



The Late Nineteenth Century One Room School, by Oak Hill School Teacher’s Resource and Curriculum Guide