Could You Survive a School Day in the Year 1850?

Could You Survive a School Day in the Year 1850?

What My School Day was Like in 1850

‘The crow of the rooster awakens our family. The light of this very cool day begins to reveal itself. It’s dawn on Monday, November 18, 1850. It’s time to rise, feed the farm animals, harvest some vegetables, and get ready for school.  

The morning activities are complete, so our mother hands us our lunch pails, and we begin our walk to school. My younger siblings who are in first and fourth grades join me on the walk, almost a mile each way.  As we get closer, we can hear the ringing of the school bell, indicating that school will begin in a few minutes. 

We arrive at the one-room schoolhouse and enter.  My younger brother has to sit on the opposite side of the schoolhouse, as boys and girls are separated during the school day. We are arranged by grade, with the younger grades sitting in the front rows, closer to the teacher and the 30-star flag.  Our school has about 16 kids, ranging from grades one to eight. 

Before we get started with learning, we have to finish our schoolhouse chores and set up for the day. I normally go to the well to fill the crock with drinking water. My younger male sibling gets wood for the wood-burning stove, while my younger female sibling sweeps the floor.

Today, we are finishing some reading, and doing some writing, history, geography, and arithmetic on our slate boards.  The best part of the day is spelling, as we sometimes do a fun spelling bee contest among the older kids.  

I am interrupted during my reading to take my younger sister outside to the girl’s outhouse.  It starts to rain.  The one-mile walk home will be long and dismal. Want to join us?’

The One-Room Schoolhouse

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, most American students attended a one-room schoolhouse and experienced a school day similar to the day above.  A single teacher would typically have students in the first through eighth grades. The number of students varied from six to forty. At one time, there were over 90,000 active one-room schoolhouses in America.  In the Town of Brookhaven, we have research on 10 historic one-room schoolhouses that existed. A few are still used for teaching students about what school was like over 150 years ago. 

1850 Schoolhouse Still Stands on its Original Foundation

The Farmingville Historical Society was formed in 1992 to preserve and restore the Bald Hill One-Room Schoolhouse.  The Bald Hill Schoolhouse is a one-room Greek Revival Schoolhouse built in 1850.  It stands on its original foundation at 507 Horseblock Road in Farmingville. The Schoolhouse served the Farmingville community until 1929.  After 84 years of being closed, the Schoolhouse was re-opened in November, 2013 to educate the community through student field trips, history speaker presentations, historic events, and, most recently, through The Virtual One-Room Schoolhouse.  Virtual field trips have become a critical resource for educators due to rising transportation fees, time constraints outside the classroom, and most recently, COVID. 

The Virtual One-Room Schoolhouse Program

The Virtual One-Room Schoolhouse program is a 360-degree inside and outside tour of our 1850 Bald Hill One-Room Schoolhouse. Users can navigate the schoolhouse, inside and out, and learn about all of the features and artifacts. A few of the artifacts are 3D images that can be twisted, turned, and viewed from all angles. Visitors to the Bald Hill Schoolhouse property can access this 360 view from a QR code on the property.  Online users can access the 360 view here

With teachers and the in-person field trip curriculum in mind, The Farmingville Historical Society took the 360-degree One-Room Schoolhouse tour one step further. They added several educational videos and short quizzes on topics related to what life was like for a student growing up in the 1800s.  By the end of the program, students have a thorough understanding of what school was like for a student their age. Topics include: 

  • The President during 1850
  • The Origins of the American Flag
  • The Pledge of Allegiance
  • Recess & Games that were played
  • Food during the 1850s & what students brought for lunch
  • Chores – before, during, and after school
  • 1850-Style Clothing for Men, Women & Children
  • Student Punishments
  • Writing Instruments

Far-Reaching Educational Impact

This Virtual One-Room Schoolhouse truly allows a student or adult to immerse into an 1850 setting and learn about all the aspects of student life at that time. With these educational tools, The Farmingville Historical Society has the opportunity to continue educating students about local history during these challenging times. They are thrilled to have created a program that can bring them outside of their local footprint and educate students throughout the United States. They have students in several states who have participated in The Virtual One-Room Schoolhouse. 

Awarded for Defying the Limits

The Telly Awards, an international award competition, honors excellence in video and television across all screens. The 42nd Annual Telly Awards were dedicated to the way Stories Defy The Limits; a reminder that video and television on all platforms can be used to share, educate, and inform important global and societal issues. In May 2021, the Bald Hill Virtual One-Room Schoolhouse was honored with a Telly Award in the category of “Immersive and Mixed Reality – Museums and Galleries,” further conveying the educational impact of this innovative virtual one-room schoolhouse history program.

Learn more here.

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Jennifer Ross is a Board Member of the Farmingville Historical Society. She is very focused on developing and expanding the Society's local history education programs both in-person and virtually. She hosts field trips to the One-Room Schoolhouse and history lectures at local elementary schools and designed the new One-Room Schoolhouse Virtual Education Program.