The Great Depression Bites the Rural Schools

In the thirties, many one room schools were located in the rural areas. Their attendance would run as high as 35 or 40 in some districts and as low as four or five in other districts.

In the thirties, many one room schools were located in the rural areas. Their attendance would run as high as 35 or 40 in some districts and as low as four or five in other districts.

The rural schools often offered their grades out of the usual order of first to eighth grade. For example, in the 71 rural schools in Daviess County, 75 students would graduate from the eighth grade. The children who finished the grades in the spring of 1932, had their eighth grade work the previous 30-31 school year; now they were taking their seventh grade work in 1931-32. In short, one could say the eighth grade work is given to students every other year.

Previously, rural students who entered high school in the small towns were charged a tuition fee which was hard for some parents to pay. In 1931, the Gray law was passed which allowed all students who lived in Missouri to attend any high school in the state the following year and the state would pay the full tuition charge.

By 1933, many rural schools were undergoing financial hardships. Many called off Rural School Days due to the cost of the exhibits. Graduation exercises were canceled for the eighth grade students; instead, they were mailed their diplomas. Based on a 61 county survey, Charles A. Lee, State Superintendent of Schools, reported that one-fourth of the rural schools would end their school year with a deficit. His prediction came true; of these 61 counties, 950 districts ended with deficits. Due to the money deficiency and so many teachers seeking employment, he urged schools to cull and to hire only the best teachers.

Times grew worse. Teachers needed employment and did everything possible to keep jobs and to keep their schools from closing. Mr. Lee said:

"In the 61 counties reporting, 412 rural teachers are donating one month’s salary to keep the schools open this year for the full eight months, 215 teachers are donating two months salary, 53 are donating three months, six are donating four months, and one is donating more than four month’s salary."

In spite of teacher’s efforts to keep their jobs, 64 schools closed short of eight months; 39 of the schools closed one month short; 17 two months; six three months; and two were closing four months under the normal school year of eight months.

Donation of teacher’ salaries, fuel, free board for teachers, and drastic expense and salary reductions had been the means of keeping the schools open. Plans for the next year included further salary and expense reductions, increased tax levies, solicitations of private contributions, and some districts expected to hire teachers for the amount of funds available.

Lee’s concluding remarks state, "Unless something is done, our schools will be closed to thousands of children next year. Our only hope is for a larger state contribution."

Researched by Wilbur Bush