Bookshelf: Do Your Homework

Bookshelf: Do Your Homework

Study these primers on your ancestors' classroom experiences.

 1. One-Room Country Schools: History and Recollections by Jerry Apps (University of Wisconsin Press). This is an intriguing and heartwarming memoir of the author’s experience attending class in a Wisconsin one-room country schoolhouse in the 1940s. A former education professor, Apps talks about not only the formal education inside the classroom, but also games, sporting activities, childhood mischief and lunchtime experiences that occurred on school grounds. His well-written and -illustrated book highlights several other rural Wisconsin schools, too, and includes an appendix of school museums in the Badger State. If you or your parents attended a one-room schoolhouse, you’ll especially enjoy this recollection and probably can relate to many of the anecdotes.

2. School Days in Van Zandt County, Texas, volume 3, compiled by Sibyl Creasey (Van Zandt County Genealogical Society). Because they’re so hard to track down, school records are an underutilized family history source. But genealogical societies could take a lesson from Van Zandt County society members, who hunted for and compiled school census records into a series of spiral-bound volumes. Since many schools took annual counts, these records can fill the gaps in between federal population schedules. School enumerations frequently list students’ names, ages, birth dates and their parents’ names. The compilers of School Days in Van Zandt County, Texas, went the extra mile with this volume spanning 1921 to 1924: They’ve included brief histories and photos of the schools, class pictures and an index. Although you may not have Van Zandt County ancestry, you’ll want to take a look at this book — then encourage your society to adopt a similar project.

3. Self-Taught: African American Education in Slavery and Freedom by Heather Andrea Williams (University of North Carolina Press). Although laws in most Southern states prohibited slaves from learning to read and write, some slaves became literate enough to read the Bible and learn about abolitionist activities. In Self-Taught, Williams examines black education from the Civil War era to the present. Though most history books discuss the roles of white missionaries and teachers in black education, the author’s research reveals it was primarily free blacks who built schools, paid teachers and sought help from white society to educate blacks. Williams draws from a vast range of sources, including Congregational and Quaker missionary archives, Freedmen’s Bureau archives, Civil War military records, and slave narratives and autobiographies. It’s an interesting look at this aspect of black history.

4. Challenge and Change in Appalachia: The Story of Hindman Settlement School by Jess Stoddart (University Press of Kentucky). Currently celebrating more than a century of education, the Hindman Settlement School in Knott County, Ky., was the first and most successful rural social settlement school in the United States. Two Bluegrass State natives, Mary Stone and Katherine Pettit, tailored the school to the community’s needs and offered high-quality elementary and secondary education to rural Appalachian children. Students learned about scientific farming, the domestic arts, nursing and health education, and marketing local crafts. The school also encouraged students to remember their cultural heritage. Since 1921, the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) has sponsored it. (Go to <> to learn more about this and other DAR-supported schools.) If the Hindman Settlement School is your ancestor’s alma mater, you’ll want to devour this book to study their unique educational experience.

5. Urban Education in the United States: A Historical Reader edited by John L. Rury (Palgrave Macmillan). Ancestors who lived in urban areas had completely different educational experiences from those who attended one-room schoolhouses in rural America. In Urban Education in the United States, you’ll find a heavy-but-enlightening read about the history of city schools and an overview of the major issues in urban education. The book discusses topics ranging from urban school systems’ origins in the late 1700s and early 1800s to school reform in the late 20th century. It also covers school politics and policies in the early 1900s, and bureaucracy and curriculum from 1870 to 1910. The author uses schools from cities such as New York, Baltimore, St. Louis, Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles and Atlanta as examples. You’ll probably want to consult this reference only if a city or time period described in it interests you.

From the August 2006 issue of Family Tree Magazine.

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