In the school year 1917-18 there were 196,000 one-room schools operating in our country which represented 27% of all the country’s school buildings. By 1930, the number had dropped to 114,000; by 1952 there were 51,800; by 1954 the number of schools had dropped to 45,000 …and the number was sinking at a rate of 10 a day.
Town schools had more to offer students. The one-room schools were replaced by classes of equal age peers in addition to better transportation, better trained teachers, and better school facilities and materials. Cost was also a factor. School boards found it was cheaper to transport pupils than to maintain out-dated school systems.
Problems mounted. The number of incoming school students in 1955 exceeded the rate facilities built and new teachers trained. The number of students in the elementary schools at this time was approximately 1,200,000 more than the previous year. Taxpayers paid $250 for every new pupil in a public school plus extra expense for books and supplies.
In many parts of the country, instruction was on a make-do basis. Nearly 1,000,000 grade school students across the nation received one-half day instruction. Most of the others sat in crowded classrooms where 2/3 of them exceeded the recommended class size of 30 pupils.
In order to help solve this problem in the Gallatin school system, a new age limit was set for the first grade entrants by changing the age limit for admittance from January 15 to December 1. At the time, it was thought that those students who started early were retarded during the first grade and seldom “caught up” in later grades. Surveys showed students enrolled at age five instead of age six didn’t make as rapid progress.
A personal interviews revealing some experiences of those who attended one-room schools in Daviess County are as follows:
- Edgar Muller, Gallatin (interviewed on Dec. 11, 2003) — Edgar Muller attended the small country school named Haw Branch, located southwest of Gallatin on an acre of land donated by the landowner. The school was taught by a lady who rode her horse to school. The school had an iron stove and a pot was placed on it for soup made daily for the children. The school year lasted eight months. The first four grades were taught every year, while the four upper grades were rotated every year so all the fifth and sixth graders were taught together. The seventh and eight grades were taught in the same manner. During his eight years at the school, Edgar had the same teacher for four years. At the end of the eighth grade, a student had to pass a county examination test before he or she could advance to high school.
- Norma Johnson (interviewed on May 8, 2004) — Norma’s family donated an acre of ground for a school to be built. When she was in the elementary grades, there were 42 students in the eight grades taught by one teacher. She was also responsible for keeping the building clean, the school warm, etc. The children arrived by walking, riding horseback, or by horse and buggy. They left their horses tied, but brought their own feed for them. When Norma was in high school, she lived eight miles away. In order for Norma and her sister to attend, they worked for families in lieu of paying their room and board.
- Justin Holt, Gallatin (interviewed on July 9, 2004) — Justin attended Fairview School where grades 1-8 were taught by a teacher about 20 years old. Justin had to walk 2-3/4 mile to school because the school didn’t have busses and most families couldnt afford to use them if they did. Kids learned from each other; every Friday students completed in ciphering matches in spelling, math, and sometimes history. Not many of the children were lucky enough to go to high school. Those who did rode horseback or boarded in town. In 1939, there was a paneled truck available to transport the children. There were wooden benches along its sides.
- Pearl Robinson (interviewed on Sept. 1, 2003) — Pearl’s neighbor had to let her children take turns going to school. They had to ride a horse, but didn’t have enough for everyone to ride. If there was both a third grader and a fourth grader in the family, the third grader went to to school one year and the other stayed home. Then the following year, the one that stayed home the previous year went to his/her grade and the one that had gone the previous year now stayed home.
- Wilbur Bush, Gallatin (January, 2010) — Wilbur attended a small school in Leonard, Mo., for the first three years of his schooling. Grades 1-4 were taught in one room by one teacher; grades 5-8 were taught in another room by one teacher. There was a study hall and several high school rooms and the superintendent taught one or two classes. There wasn’t any kindergarten nor special classes in art or music. There wasn’t any indoor plumbing; the water supply consisted of an outside well. Water was packed to a fairly large, glass drinking fountain inside the building. The gym was located above a large store two blocks from the school. Wilbur’s first grade class had three students. The teacher rode to and from school by means of a bus. Sometimes, the bus left early and a high school student was sent into the room to supervise.
— written by Wilbur Bush, Gallatin