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Keywords

Rural Education, One-Room Schoolhouse, Educational History, Women's History, Schoolmother, Wabaunsee, Pottawatomie

Abstract

Immortalized in pioneer tales and rural history as an icon of early Kansas, the female one-room schoolteacher represents more than an instructor of readin', 'riting, and 'rithmetic. Sometimes called a "school mother," historians often note that she also served as nurse, janitor, fire builder, ash carrier, snow shoveler, program director, and coat buttoner. Popular media and museum exhibits tend either to reference the longstanding cliché of the strict, prudish, old "schoolmarm" or paint a rosy portrait of a plucky yet feminine youth. Upon careful consideration of the evidence, a more nuanced profile emerges of a young, single woman, who labored in both geographical and psychological isolation, cut off from friends and family, burdened with sole responsibility for the physical and mental well-being of a classroom of up to thirty students—some of whom were scarcely younger than she, and certainly larger—and miles away from the nearest superior authority figure. "Every evening when it was time to go home," one teacher wrote, "I was sure that there was no way I could come back the next day."

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

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