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SharePrint The One-Room School


The picturesque names of West Virginia’s one-room schools offer a county-by-county geography lesson, as evidenced by the likes of Hickory Grove, Lost Creek, Perry Ridge, Joel’s Branch, Evergreen, Horse Creek, and Punkin Center. As one teacher put it, ‘‘it seemed like every hill and holler had one.’’ That is an exaggeration, but nonetheless historian Otis K. Rice documented some 4,551 schoolhouses dotting the Mountain State during the 1930–31 school year, based on the state superintendent’s biennial reports for those years. Their number declined with the adoption of the ‘‘county unit’’ school system in 1933 and as better roads allowed for easier automobile and school bus travel.

In their heyday, one-room schools were generally located within two or three miles of their students, who usually walked to school. The buildings tended to be cheaply constructed and featured rough-cut frames, lap siding, tin roofs, south-facing windows, and a potbelly stove. Outside there was a coal house, well, and, on the perimeter of the school grounds, outdoor toilets for each sex. Hundreds of the school buildings survive today, many of them recycled as barns, churches, and even homes.

Teaching in a rural one-room school could be a formidable task, beginning with simply getting to the school. Poor roads or lack of roads often forced teachers to board with students’ families. Prior to World War II, teachers typically completed a two-year terminal degree program, receiving a Standard Normal Certificate. Many simply passed a state test after high school and began teaching while attending college during the summer. A one-room school teacher had to be the proverbial ‘‘jack-of-all-trades,’’ serving as educator, principal, janitor, nurse, and guidance counselor.

In the early days, teachers relied on the McGuffy Reader, Ray’s Arithmetic, the Elson Reader, and Mitchell’s Geography, and later used the same sort of materials used in larger schools. Writing paper was expensive, so students spent much of the day at the blackboard or used small hand-held slates at their desks. The typical school day began with everyone taking part in the Lord’s Prayer, Pledge of Allegiance, and patriotic songs. The remainder of the day the teacher moved about the classroom instructing small groups of students representing grades one through eight in the Three R’s. Older students often helped to teach the younger ones. Morning and afternoon recesses saw students playing such games as ‘‘Ante Over,’’ which involved throwing a ball over the school’s roof and back, ‘‘London Bridge,’’ ‘‘Kick the Can,’’ ‘‘Drop the Handkerchief,’’ and ‘‘Go Sheepy, Go.’’ A full hour was given over to lunch, prepared at home and often carried to school in a tin lard bucket.

Although most one-room schools closed by the mid-1950s, Auburn School in Ritchie County remained open until 1978. The era of the one-room school has been preserved in several places across the state, including the Marshall University One-Room School Museum in Huntington.

This Article was written by Paul F. Lutz

Last Revised on December 18, 2023

Related Articles


Lutz, Paul F. One Room was Enough. Goldenseal, (Fall 1996).

Cite This Article

Lutz, Paul F. "The One-Room School." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 18 December 2023. Web. 20 May 2024.


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