100 years later, students don’t curtsy or sweep
Students had to start school this week: boys by bowing and girls by curtsying. Well, that’s what they would’ve were they were attending the Minturn School 100 years ago.
There was only one teacher – a Miss Phifield – one room and one class. Students sat in rows according to grade, with boys on one side of the aisle and girls on the other. Six- to 16-year- olds would share the same classroom, but each grade would get its own row.But instead of facing another grueling 10 months of school, a typical western student would right now be looking forward to a break from his or her books. There were two terms a year, one running from May until September and another from November until April. Not all students would have been able to enjoy time off in October though. The school went on vacation specifically to enable the children of homesteaders to help with the harvest.Most assignments would involve writing out a piece of prose or poetry, memorizing it and then reciting it in front of the class. That way students would exercise three out of the four ‘Rs’ – reading, writing and recitation. And it was not just what students could do but how they did it that was important to the schoolteacher. Penmanship, for example, would be a more accurate description of what the ‘schoolma’am’ was trying to instill in her students, style and legibility being key to good writing.
Pupils were also expected to be able to recite, clearly and loudly, without shouting. The fourth ‘R’, arithmetic, would not necessarily understood but learnt by rote from multiplication and division tables.Some of the prose and poetry that students might memorize and recite was certainly challenging. “McGuffey’s Third Grade Reader,” a popular textbook of the time included passages from Francis Bacon, Charles Dickens, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Shakespeare.The school day wouldn’t end with lessons however. Although academic learning would end at around 4 p.m., the work would be far from over. Students would be expected to help clean the schoolroom, which could be quite a job. If students had traipsed in mud from well-worn trails, the floorboards would have to be mopped, scrubbed and swept. The furniture in the room would also have to be dusted and wiped.
In fact, if teachers today had to put up with conditions similar to those 100 years ago, they might go on strike. As well as having the janitorial duties for the schoolhouse, teachers 100 years ago may have had no permanent roof over their heads. Although bed and board often came as part of the salary, that did not mean that the teacher would have a place of their own. Townsfolk would take turns putting teachers up in a spare rooms and attics. The school pictured here closed in 1904, as Minturn’s population had outgrown it. Fifty students could not fit in the old schoolhouse so a new one was opened at 243 Boulder St., at the location of the old Town Hall. Two teachers replaced Miss Phifield: Miss Secil Taylor and Miss Annabelle Herron. A lot has happened in the last 100 years and the average day of school is unrecognizable from what it was a century ago. Vail, Colorado