Thursday, September 13, 2018

The School Day Circa 1920

The last post described what the school buildings and classrooms were like circa 1920.  This post will draw on documents in the Benton County Museum's archives to describe what the school day was like and what students of that era learned.
Alpine, Oregon school bell

Many of the school days began with the ringing of a bell.  This one from the museum's collection was used at the Alpine School in the early 1920s.  George Oakes, who taught grades 6-8, would ring the bell in the morning and 15 minutes early at noon for the upper grades as they had to get the wood and do chores.  

At Corvallis's North (Franklin) School the principal struck a triangle instead of ringing a bell.  The students lined up by class and marched to their classrooms to a march played on the piano by one of the teachers. According to an account by Doris Wiese Thomas Dreger, the day with the students standing by their desks until greeted by the teacher who then ”...took out her pitch pipe, blew a note, and we began singing lustily:
                'Good morning to you, good morning to you. We're all in out places with sunshiny faces, For this is the way to start a new day, This is the day to be happy and gay.' As we grew older, this song was substituted with “America” and the flag was a great honor to be chosen to lead the salute for a week at a time.” 

Warren King's account of Sunnyside School days notes that “We did have to raise out hands (or not) as every morning we were asked if we had brushed out teeth and washed our hands and face.  On good days we would raise the flag and recite the Pledge of Allegiance outside."

Doris Dreger remembered some of the things they learned in first grade.  Her teacher “...gave me a fine start in phonics and reading.  I learned the sounds well and unhesitatingly tackled many syllable words.  We sat in little chairs in the front of the room while she drilled us on the phonics chart.

“We began cursive Palmer method of writing with ink from the start.  It featured the large muscles of the arm pushing and pulling while the little finger rested on the paper.  There was no finger movements and the pen was grasped very lightly....We learned to write the upper and lower case letters and all the figures to 100 as well as to say them aloud.  We learned to tell time.”

She also remembers that in second grade they learned to add and subtract and had weekly spelling lists of 20 words.

In third grade “...we learned our multiplication tables through the 9's.  We were drilled and drilled on these....No counting on our fingers...the emphasis was mental arithmetic and push for speed."

She also remembered that sixth grade they used “...the Perry Art miniature pictures of great artists of the past.  We kept a composition book ...and wrote briefly about the author and time of painting.”

Seventh grade was taught by Mr. L. D. Griffee, the principal, who “had a way of telling stories to make geography come alive....This is the year we took the state examination in geography.”
Other state examinations were given in the eighth grade. A copy of the 1925 test is given below.
1925 State of Oregon agricultural
questions for 8th grade diplomas

1925 State of Oregon spelling
questions for 8th grade diplomas
1925 State of Oregon history
questions for 8th grade diplomas

1925 State of Oregon math questions
for 8th grade diplomas
A student needed to a score of 90 percent or better to receive the graduation certificate. How did you do?

By Martha Fraundorf, Volunteer for Benton County Historical Society, Philomath, Oregon 

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