By now, schools across the country are back in session. A year ago this time, I lamented here on Petticoats & Pistols how my last little chicky had entered college, and that Doug and I were empty-nesters after 31 years. Now that Amy is in her sophomore year, I’ve adjusted well to a quiet house (and yeah, I like it, as many of you said I would. In fact, I like it alot. LOL).
Still, it’s strange not to watch the weekly ads for specials on spiral notebooks, pens, pencils, erasers and backbacks. I miss that anticipation of school starting up again, visiting the uniform store (my daughters went to parochial schools and thus wore unforms), and stocking up on new underwear, socks and sturdy tennis shoes.
Historical writer that I am, and being the mother of two schoolteachers, and of a daughter employed at Creighton University, I’ve been thinking of what going back to school was like for nineteenth century students and their teachers in the West.
Up until the Civil War, teachers were usually male, but the country’s economy forced many of the men to leave teaching for higher paying jobs. Women well knew the importance of education for their children and refused to let them grow up uneducated on the expanding frontier.
Girls barely older than fifteen years gathered up their courage and answered the cry for schoolma’ams. If they didn’t already live in the region, they headed west and filled those desperate slots in schoolrooms often crude, cold or hot, and always small.
She had to convince her County Superintendent she was of good moral character, and that she would teach school in ‘a faithful and efficient manner.’ She had to be single–and if anyone knows why she couldn’t be married, I’d love to know. Fillies?? To earn a coveted teaching certificate, the women had to attain at least a 70% (considered lenient by today’s standards) on their exams in the following courses:
Theory and Art of Teaching
Anyone know what Orthography is? Physiology?
Passing these subjects would have earned them a ‘Teacher’s Second Grade Certificate.’ The certificate had nothing to do with teaching second grade. It merely meant she could teach primary grades. The certificate was good for six months.
If she earned a ‘Teacher’s First Grade Certicate’, she would have passed more difficult courses like Algebra, Geometry, Botany and Natural Philosophy. She would be teaching older children, and her certificate would be valid for one year.
A Third Grade Certificate was the lowest ranked and was good for only 3 months, about one school term. There was even a probational certificate for those teachers who came within 10% of passing her third grade certificate requirements. However, to renew it, she had to score higher or not be allowed to teach. That said, these requirements were left up to the county superintendent to enforce as he saw fit.
Teachers sometimes made as little as $4 to $11 per month, but others in Kansas and Nebraska earned as much as $25 month. Since school was only in session 3 – 4 months out of the year (children were needed to help with fall harvesting and spring chores like calving and planting) she was forced to either find another job during the off-months, or find a way to live a year on 4 months salary.
All that said, in the late 1800’s, the Midwest, namely Kansas and Nebraska, claimed some of the best literacy rates in the country.
Here’s an 1895 final exam, taken by eighth graders in Salina, Kansas, from the original document on file at the Smoky Valley Genealogical Society and Library in Salina, Kansas and reprinted by the Salina Journal.
Note that this test was five hours long. Yikes!
Grammar (Time, one hour)
1. Give nine rules for the use of Capital Letters.
2. Name the Parts of Speech and define those that have no modifications.
3. Define Verse, Stanza and Paragraph.
4. What are the Principal Parts of a verb? Give Principal Parts of do, lie, lay and run.
5. Define Case. Illustrate each Case.
6. What is Punctuation? Give rules for principal marks of Punctuation.
7-10. Write a composition of about 150 words and show therein that
you understand the practical use of the rules of grammar.
Arithmetic (Time, 1.25 hours)
1. Name and define the Fundamental Rules of Arithmetic.
2. A wagon box is 2 ft. deep, 10 feet long, and 3 ft. wide. How many bushels of wheat will it hold?
3. If a load of wheat weighs 3942 lbs. What is it worth at 50 cts. per bu, deducting 1050 lbs. for tare?
4. District No. 33 has a valuation of $35,000. What is the necessary levy to carry on a school seven months at $50 per month, and have $104 for incidentals?
5. Find cost of 6720 lbs. of coal at $6.00 per ton.
6. Find the interest of $512.60 for 8 months and 18 days at 7 percent.
7. What is the cost of 40 boards 12 inches wide and 16 ft. long at $.20 per inch?
8. Find bank discount on $300 for 90 days (no grace) at 10 percent.
9. What is the cost of a square farm at $15 per acre, the distance around which is 640 rods?
10. Write a Bank Check, a Promissory Note, and a Receipt.
U.S. History (Time, 45 minutes)
1. Give the epochs into which U.S. History is divided.
2. Give an account of the discovery of America by Columbus.
3. Relate the causes and results of the Revolutionary War.
4. Show the territorial growth of the United States.
5. Tell what you can of the history of Kansas.
6. Describe three of the most prominent battles of the Rebellion.
7. Who were the following: Morse, Whitney, Fulton, Bell, Lincoln,Penn, and Howe?
8. Name events connected with the following dates: 1607, 1620, 1800, 1849, and 1865?
Orthography (Time, one hour)
1. What is meant by the following: Alphabet, phonetic orthography,etymology, syllabication?
2. What are elementary sounds? How classified?
3. What are the following, and give examples of each: Trigraph, sub vocals, diphthong, cognate letters, linguals?
4. Give four substitutes for caret ‘u’.
5. Give two rules for spelling words with final ‘e’. Name two exceptions under each rule.
6. Give two uses of silent letters in spelling. Illustrate each.
7. Define the following prefixes and use in connection with a word: Bi, dis, mis, pre, semi, post, non, inter, mono, super.
8. Mark diacritically and divide into syllables the following, and name the sign that indicates the sound: Card, ball, mercy, sir, odd, cell, rise, blood, fare, last.
9. Use the following correctly in sentences, Cite, site, sight, fane, fain, feign, vane, vain, vein, raze, raise, rays.
10. Write 10 words frequently mispronounced and indicate pronunciation by use of diacritical marks and by syllabication.
Geography (Time, one hour)
1. What is climate? Upon what does climate depend?
2. How do you account for the extremes of climate in Kansas?
3. Of what use are rivers? Of what use is the ocean?
4. Describe the mountains of N.A.
5. Name and describe the following: Monrovia, Odessa, Denver, Manitoba, Hecla, Yukon, St. Helena, Juan Fermandez, Aspinwall and Orinoco.
6. Name and locate the principal trade centers of the U.S.
7. Name all the republics of Europe and give capital of each.
8. Why is the Atlantic Coast colder than the Pacific in the same latitude?
9. Describe the process by which the water of the ocean returns to the sources of rivers.
10. Describe the movements of the earth. Give inclination of the earth.
Were you as amazed as I was? It was very common to read of our ancestors having only an eighth grade education, but hot-diggity, with smarts like this, they probably didn’t need to go onto secondary education. At least, not like we do today.
So, do tell. Can you answer these questions? With news reports lamenting the lower than expected reading scores in some of today’s schools, do you think we should go back to nineteenth century standards of learning?
What was the hardest class you took in school? What were you a whiz at? What classes did you have back then that you wished the schools had now? Share your school experiences with us!
And don’t forget Monday, September 15th, is the last day to enter our Sizzling Summer Contest!