Aunt Marian’s School Days

Maple Leaf, South Dakota

This week, I’m stealing from a paper that my son had to write in 3rd grade on a relative who attended school in a one room schoolhouse. At the time, it was no easy task to find someone still living who had attended one of these schools. We ended up placing a call to my great aunt Marian (my grandmother’s older sister) who grew up in the 1920s in rural South Dakota. My son did an interview and I will be forever grateful for the stories he recorded in his paper from Auntie M.

Auntie M on left, my grandmother center, Auntie D on right 1998

My great great Aunt Marian went to school at a one room school house in Maple Leaf, South Dakota.  She started school when she was in first grade in 1927.  There was no kindergarten back then.  She lived 3 miles from the school and had to walk or ride her horse, Nellie, even in the winter when it was cold.  There was a little barn at the school for the horses to stay in while the children were in class.  The school was in the town which had a post office, railroad station, grain elevator and only a few houses.

School started at 9am and ended around 3:30 or 4pm. Aunt Marian would have to get up early and do her chores before she went to school and then she had more chores to do as soon as she got home.

Aunt Marian had to bring her own lunch which was usually a peanut butter or cheese sandwich.  She would sometimes sneak special treats like apples or oranges from her mother’s kitchen and share them at lunch with the other kids.  Her mother would try to hide the special snacks, but she could always find them.  She had one hour for lunch and the students would sit outside and eat.

The kids went to school from 1st grade to 8th grade.  Some of the boys were 16 or 17 years old before they finished school because they had to miss a lot of school days in the spring and fall to help their parents with planting and harvesting on the farms.  The teacher lived at the school and the teachers were people who were not married yet.  Aunt Marian said that she had men and women as teachers.  There was a furnace at her school and the students would help carry in wood and water for the class every day.  If a student had to go to the bathroom, they had to go to the outhouse.

Aunt Marian learned English after she started school.  Her family spoke German at home and she did not speak any English until she started school.  She also learned about writing with the push and pull method that was taught back then.  The students used a slate and chalk to write at her school.  They did not have ink in her school.  At recess the kids would play Crack the Whip and Pom Pom Pull Away for fun.  Sometimes, the country schools would send students to a bigger town so the students could compete in spelling bees, and relay races and things like that.  Aunt Marion said that she was a fast runner and got a lot of blue ribbons.

Aunt Marian said that she never wore dresses to school.  She wore boys jeans.  They had books to use at the school, but the students could not take them home.  If students were naughty in class, the teacher would slap their hands very hard with a ruler.

Aunt Marian loved her time at the one room school house.  Her family moved to a bigger city when she was 14 and she finished high school there.  Many students living in the country did not go to school past 8th grade.  They went to work on the farm, or got married soon after they were done with school.

I couldn’t find any photos of this school house, but there is a website with beautiful pictures of Maple Leaf – which is a ghost town now. You can view them here:

The book “Prairie School” by Lois Lenski, 1954 was supposedly written about the school house in Maple Leaf during the Great Blizzard of 1949.

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