Education in the Mid-1800's

by Sarah and Emma; Period 4

African American Education

Education for African Americans was rare. In the South, educating African Americans was illegal, though some people tried to teach African Americans to read and write in hopes that they would be able to read the bible. Children also listened at the doors of school buildings. Things weren't much better in the North. Although education wasn't illegal for blacks, schools were segregated, and the schools for black children were smaller and poorer.

School Buildings

Most schools were small one-room schoolhouses. They were built by farmers on abandoned fields and attended by most poor white children. These buildings stood empty for most of the year while children were needed at home. These schools were very cold in the winter as they had very little insulation, if any at all, and the floor was either wooden planks or dirt. Schools had pot-belied stoves, which roasted the children closest to it, while the children farthest away were freezing. These schools were usually painted white, not red, because white paint was cheaper for the farmers who built the schools.

School Life

All of the children were taught together, regardless of age. Some children were only three or four, and some were older than the teacher. They were grouped according to what book they studied from. Most schools used the McGuffey readers, which had a selection of different passages. Schools also had recitations, where they had to recite important dates in history and other things they had memorized in front of the class.

Teaching in the 1800's

Teachers weren't paid very much in the 1800's. They were only paid about $4-10 per month. They didn't own houses either, and had to live in different students' homes during the year. Females earned less than men, with females in 1877 to 1878 earning about $25.99 a month and male teachers earning about $31.52 a month. Teachers had to arrive at school early in order to light the pot belly stove, prepare a hot meal for her students, clean her classroom, and prepare for the day's lesson.

Semester Lengths

Schools were only open during the summer and the winter. They started in November because children were needed to help during the harvest. They were also closed in the winter because children were needed to help plant the year's crops. Some boys didn't even come during the summer because they were needed to help on the family farm. In 1852, Massachusetts enacted the "Compulsory Attendance Act of 1852" which required all children ages 8-14 to attend school for at least three months of the year.


Most schools had very little equipment in the 1800's. The desks had either on or two seats, and were bolted to the floor. These desks ranged in sizes, with smaller desks towards the front for the smallest children, and larger desks in the back for the older children. Towards the front of the room was a recitation bench, used in recitations, and a chalkboard. Most schools also had and American flag and a clock as well. Students commonly wrote on slates and then showed it to the teacher to correct mistakes. Paper was very expensive, and was not commonly used until the 1930's, when paper and pencil replaced slates.
One-Room Schoolhouses in America

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