How Was School In The 1800s How Much Arithmetic Homework

School Days

Early September was the beginning of the school year at a one-room country schoolhouse. Farm children usually walked to the nearest school, sometimes a mile or more away from home. For longer distances, some students might ride a pony, keeping it in a little shed or fenced in area near the school throughout the day.

The school building was usually located by itself at the corner of two country roads or on a small piece of land at the edge of a farmer’s field. Made of wood or sometimes brick, the small structure was a rural landmark where school classes, community events, meetings and voting all took place.

Morning farm chores were done first, then the children would get ready for school. There were cows to be milked and animals to be cleaned, fed and watered. Parents and children worked together. In late fall, some of the children had already husked corn in the field before school began, leaving home before dawn.

Their teacher would walk to school from a farm where she was staying with a family or drive out from a nearby town with a horse and buggy. It was the teacher’s responsibility to prepare the classroom and get a fire going in the stove before the day began. Sometimes an older student helped.

There was no electricity, running water or telephone. Restrooms were the boys and girls outhouses at the back of the school yard. Water for drinking and washing came from an outside well and students took turns pumping to raise the water. Often there was a bucket of drinking water with a dipper inside the classroom.

Everyone studied by the natural light coming in through the windows. There may have been oil lamps along the walls, but these were lighted for night meetings.

Entire families of children, in different grade levels, could all be in the same schoolroom. Lessons for grades one through eight were taught by the same teacher each school day. The students sat in rows of wooden desks facing the teacher’s desk and blackboard. In some classrooms, there were double desks where classmates sat side by side and shared books.

The students brought their own lunches from home, usually carried in a lunch pail. They often brought sandwiches, cornbread or biscuits, apples and cookies. Sometimes, they took a small metal container of homemade soup to be warmed on the top of the schoolroom stove. The students stored their lunch pails on the floor of the cloakroom, below the wall hooks where they hung their coats and hats.

During winter, sandwiches stored next to the outside walls could freeze before lunchtime and had to be thawed on the stove. Classmates ate at their desks, then played outside for the remainder of the noon hour. If home happened to be close by, some of the children walked back and forth, to eat with their families.

    The school day began with the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag. Their teacher organized the work that students would be doing that day according to the different grade levels. Children in various classes came up to the front of the room and sat on a bench, where they recited, worked with their teacher or wrote on the blackboard.

    Students were expected to be studying, writing or reading when it wasn’t their time to work with the teacher. Often older students helped younger ones. Sometimes the entire schoolroom of children had lessons, spelling bees, singing or drawing together.

There was a morning and afternoon recess for playing outside on all but the coldest days. Lunch was eaten quickly to make the most of the noon hour-long recess. They played baseball, tag, hide and seek, crack the whip, marbles and other school yard games.

There was always homework. Students used pencils and lined paper, but they frequently did arithmetic problems with pieces of chalk on individual slates. When it as time to practice penmanship, they got out paper and glass bottles of ink, using wooden pen holders with a metal point for writing.

School subjects included spelling, arithmetic, reading, history, geography and physiology. For Thanksgiving and Christmas, there were programs to be practiced and individual parts to be memorized. On special occasions there were evening gatherings, such as an ice cream social or a musical program, to help raise money for something new in the classroom-- a bookcase, a globe, books or maps. Parents and children, as well as country neighbors, would come to these events to help support their little one-room building and enjoy time together, warmed by community spirit and the schoolroom stove.

The Pledge of Allegiance and the American Flag

   During the early 1900s, many rural children began their day at one-room country schoolhouses with the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag. The students stood by their desks, while one of the boys or girls chosen by the teacher, led their classmates in the Pledge. The schoolroom flag had 45 stars, one for each state of the United States of America at that time. The last state admitted to the Union in the 1800s had been Utah in 1896.

The 45 states were: First, the 13 colonies, Delaware (1787), Pennsylvania (1787), New Jersey (1787), Georgia (1788), Connecticut (1788), Massachusetts (1788), Maryland (1788), South Carolina (1788), New Hampshire (1788), Virginia (1788), New York (1788), North Carolina (1789), Rhode Island (1790). Vermont was admitted to the Union in 1791, followed through the years by Kentucky (1792), Tennessee (1796), Ohio (1803), Louisiana (1812), Indiana (1816), Mississippi (1817), Illinois (1818), Alabama (1819), Maine (1820), Missouri (1821), Arkansas (1836), Michigan (1837), Florida (1845), Texas (1845), Iowa (1846), Wisconsin (1848), California (1850), Minnesota (1858), Oregon (1859), Kansas (1861), West Virginia (1863), Nevada (1864), Nebraska (1867), Colorado (1876), North Dakota (1889), South Dakota (1889), Montana (1889), Washington (1889), Idaho (1890), Wyoming (1890), and Utah (1896), making 45 stars.

(Those states joining the Confederacy at the time of the Civil War again became part of the Union at its end.)

It was not until 1907 that Oklahoma became a state and one more star was added to the the flag on July 4, 1908, making 46 stars. New Mexico and Arizona were granted statehood in 1912 and two more stars were added to the flag on the Fourth of July that same year, creating 48 stars.

Forty-seven years would pass, and the children from those one-room country schools of the time would be adults, before the flag would gain an additional star. Alaska was admitted to the Union in the early part of 1959 and another star was added to the flag that same year. Hawaii was granted statehood later in 1959 and its star added to the flag on July 4, 1960, making 50 stars in the American flag, the same one which flies today.

The words of the Pledge of Allegiance, written in 1892 and used for Columbus Day observances, have also changed over the years, from their initial publication in "The Youth's Companion" magazine. At the beginning of the 1900s, classroom students had recited the words: I pledge allegiance to my Flag and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

The pledge remained unofficial until 1942 when the United States Congress included it in the U.S. Flag Code. After several additional changes to it during the 1900s, the Pledge of Allegiance currently states: I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.


Schools were not free until 1891. Up until then children had to pay to go to school.

Queen Victoria's reign brought many improvements to the education of children, especially for the poor children.

The Victorians came up with the idea that all children should go to school, and they checked to make sure the schools were up to scratch too. They were the first people to ask whether it was right to allow children to work. They introduced laws saying what you could and could not expect children to do.

Who went to school during the Victorian times?
Did rich children go to school?
Where did poor children go to school?
Why go to school?
Important Dates
When did attending school become mandatory?
What were the schools like?
What did the schools teach?
Did Victorian children use a calculator?
What was a Victorian School Day like?
Why did Victorian children write on slates?
Did Victorian children use a pen?

School logbook (Stretton Handley Primary)

In earlyVictorian England, most children never went to school at all and grew up unable to read or write. Instead they were sent out to work to earn money for their families. Only the upper and middle class children went to school.

Rich Children

Children from rich families were taught at home by a governess until they were 10 years old. Once a boy turned ten, he went away to Public schools like Eton or Harrow. There were very few schools available for girls, however, until near the end of the Victorian time.  Wealthy girls were mostly educated at home.

Poor children went to free charity schools or 'Dame' schools (so called because they were run by women) for young children. They also went to Sunday Schools which were run by churches. There they learnt bible stories and were taught to read a little.

The Victorians soon realised that it was important for people to be able to read and write and education became more important. The Church of England became active in the field and erected 'National Schools' which taught children reading, writing, arithmetic and religion.

Important Dates

In 1833, the government awarded grants of money to schools. Not everyone who ran the schools were able to read themselves so the standard of education was not very good.

In 1844, Parliament passed a law requiring children working in factories be given six-half-days schooling every week. 'Ragged Schools' were set up to provide free basic education for orphans and very poor children.

In 1870, Parliament passed the Forster's Education Act, requiring all parts of Britain to provide schools to children aged 5 to 12.  However, not all these school were free so many could not afford the 'school's pence' each week. As it was not mandatory to attend school many children still didn't go to school.  They worked and earned money for the family instead. 

It wasn't until 1880 that schooling became mandatory. All children had to attend a school until they were 10 years old. In 1889, the school leaving age was raised to twelve, and in 1891, the school's pence fee was abolished and schools became free.

There could be as many as 70 or 80 pupils in one class, especially in cities. The teachers were very strict. Children were often taught by reading and copying things down, or chanting things till they were perfect.

In many Victorian schools pupil-teachers helped with the teaching. The pupil-teachers were boys and girls of 13 and over. After five years of apprenticeship they could themselves become teachers.

Typical lessons at school included the three Rs - Reading, WRiting and Dictation, and ARithmetic.  In addition to the three Rs which were taught most of the day, once a week the children learned geography, history and singing. The girls learned how to sew.

Schools did not teach music or PE in the way that schools do now. Children sometimes did 'drill' in the classroom. Drill was a series of exercises that were done by the side of a desk.

The children sat on hard wooden benches or chairs.
Can you see the holes for the ink pots?

For maths lessons, children used frames with coloured wooden beads, much like an abacus.  Children learned how to multiply and divide using this apparatus. 

The day usually began with prayers and religious instruction. Morning lessons ran from 9a.m. to 12p.m.  Children often went home for a meal, then returned for afternoon classes from 2p.m. to 5p.m.

Paper was expensive. Children usually therefore wrote on slates with slate pencils. After a lesson was completed, and the teacher checked their work, the students cleared their slates for the next lesson. 

Older children learnt to write on paper. An 'ink monitor' distributed ink to the children, who used pens made out of thin wooden sticks with steel needles.  The pen had to be dipped every few words or it would run dry.

Other websites

School Life In The 1800s.
Web Quest

What were Dame Schools?


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