Back in the 1870’s, children learned
and did things differently then they would today. They dressed differently,
played different games, and had different punishments, too. Children
today probably have many text books, but back then, kids only had 2 or 3
books. What they did is similar to what Laura Ingalls might have done
when she was a child. She read from a reader and memorized her times
tables. Children from the 1870’s were very different from us.
in the 1870’s, children had their schooling in one room schoolhouses.
Every morning, the children had to come in and “make their manners” to the
teacher. This meant that the boys must bow to the teacher and the girls
must curtsy to the teacher. In their classroom, they sometimes had
desks, benches, and potbelly stoves. They needed to bring readers,
primers, slates, copybooks, and workbooks. At school, they learned
spelling, reading writing, math, and more. When learning their multiplication
tables, they would sometimes use poems and rhymes to memorize them.
The children would learn by poems and rhymes to learn in other areas, too.
In order to graduate from school, they had to pass a long oral test.
One Room School in De Smet at Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum
Another school in De Smet
Punishments were also different in the 1870’s. If children were caught
fighting, they would have to stay in a closet for one hour, or sometimes
they would have to stay after school for 20 minutes. Kids could also
be punished with Dunce Caps or hickory switches. A Dunce Cap was a
cone shaped hat with the word Dunce written down the side. A hickory
switch was like a whip made of a hickory branch. The children could
be whipped with these. These physical punishment were much more common
Every day, the children had three recess breaks, one
in the morning, one at noon, and one later in the afternoon. During these
breaks, they could play, use the privies, (a privy was another name for a
toilet, or a small building without plumbing that was used as a toilet) ,
or get a dipper of water. The kids liked games such as hide and seek,
tag, and baseball. The girls often played other games like Cat’s Cradle
or jump rope. Their games are similar to our games today.
Rules were very important back then and now.
But rules were not made just for children. There were rules for adults
and teachers too. The schoolmaster had to come in each morning and
fill lamps and clean the chimney each day. Each teacher had to bring
a bucket of water and a bucket of coal for the day’s session. They
had to make pens carefully. They could cut the points of some pens
to the individual taste of students. Men teachers could take one evening
each week for courting (dating) purposes or two evenings a week if they attended
church regularly. After ten hours in school, the teachers could
spend the remaining time reading the Bible or any other good book.
Women teachers who married or engaged in improper conduct would be dismissed.
Every teacher was encouraged to save some of his or her pay to use during
their retirement years. He should use his savings during his retirement
years so he would not become a burden to society. Any teacher who
smoked, used liquor, or was caught in pool or public halls or was shaved
in a barber shop gave good reason for people to suspect his worth, intensions,
and honesty, and the teacher who did his work faithfully and without doing
a wrongful act for five years would get a raise of twenty-five cents
per week. These were the teacher’s rules.
Children also had different chores to do at home than
we do today. They did have similar chores like making the bed.
One of their chores was bringing water to the barn so the animals could
drink. Another chore was to herd the cattle to the barn because there
were hungry wolves and other wild animals out at night and they could harm
the valuable cows. The children could also help with making the food.
There were some jobs that the children could help with, like making butter.
Churning a thick cream into butter takes a while, but someone had to do
The kids of the 1870’s weren’t always working or learning
at school. They played and had some fun too. They had simple
but exciting toys. They played on stilts and played games like tag,
and Blind Man’s Bluff. There was also a game involving a hoop and
a stick. They had to keep a hoop on its side while keeping it rolling
using a stick.