One-room schoolhouse offers glimpse into the past

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By Melanie Lekocevic

Capital Region Independent Media

Retired teacher and columnist Dick Brooks brings the history of the Little Red Schoolhouse in Coeymans Hollow to life. Melanie Lekocevic/Capital Region Independent Media

COEYMANS HOLLOW — It was a time when students used inkwells for their writing utensils, coal kept the classroom warm and female teachers were fired if they got married.

Education in years gone by was far different from the high-tech whiteboards, laptops and distance learning classes youngsters have today.

History buff and retired teacher Dick Brooks gave a presentation recently at the Little Red Schoolhouse on Route 143 in Coeymans Hollow detailing what learning was like when one-room schoolhouses ruled rural education. Brooks is also a columnist for the Ravena News-Herald and other local publications.

The building now known as the Little Red Schoolhouse was built in 1879 to educate children in District No. 7, long before the Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk district was consolidated. The building has been on the National Register of Historic Places since May 16, 1996, and still stands as a reminder of education in years gone by.

“The teacher, at the start of the day, would ring the bell and you might stand outside and chat with your friends, but when the teacher rang the bell, you took your seat and got ready for the morning exercises,” Brooks said.

The day did not start with recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance or with singing the national anthem. Why not? Because they didn’t exist yet, Brooks said.

Instead, many teachers started the day reading a verse from the Bible.

Students in many grades were taught in the same one-room schoolhouse. In the early years, the same teacher taught grades one through eight in the same classroom, at the same time.

“This school, up until 1949, had anywhere from six to eight grades, depending on how many kids were in the district,” Paul Caswell, president of the Little Red Schoolhouse Society, said. “If they had too many kids, they only had six grades and the other two went to Coeymans, but if they didn’t have enough kids, they had all eight (grades).”

The Little Red Schoolhouse was first opened in 1879 on Route 143 in Coeymans Hollow. Melanie Lekocevic/Capital Region Independent Media

Local resident Dawn Cary attended classes at the Little Red Schoolhouse for first and second grades, with roughly 15 students in the two grades attending school together. For third and fourth grades, Cary attended school in Alcove, fifth grade was at the building now housing the town hall, and sixth grade was in what is now the RCS Community Library, Cary said. Seventh and eighth grades were in the Coeymans school, and high school was at the old Ravena High School.

Moving around so much was just business as usual for students at the time, she said.

“We didn’t know any different — it was just the way we attended school,” Cary said.

Cary is a member of the Little Red Schoolhouse Society and said preserving memories of that time is important.

“I think it’s fantastic that this is available for people to see, especially younger generations who have no idea what it was like back then,” she said.

If things were different for students, particularly in the early days, they were even more so for the teachers.

Brooks read from the “Rules for Teachers” at the schoolhouse from 1872.

Teachers were required to fill and clean the lamps that lit the classroom, bring a scuttle of coal to warm the room, and sweep and mop.

The rules also applied to their personal off-hours.

“Men teachers may take one evening each week for courting purposes or two evenings a week if they go to church regularly,” Brooks read from the list. “After 10 hours in school, teachers may spend the remaining time reading the Bible or other good books. Women teachers who marry or engage in unseemly conduct will be dismissed.”

“So if you got married, you got fired,” Brooks added.

Teachers were also required to set aside a portion of their earnings for retirement “so he will not become a burden on society,” Brooks read — no IRAs or pension plans in those days.

Teachers were also required to adhere to a list of requirements pertaining to their personal habits.

“Any teacher who smokes, uses liquor in any form, frequents pool or public halls, or gets shaved in a barber shop will get good reason to suspect his worth, integrity and honesty,” according to the list.

After five years of teaching, good teachers were awarded a 25-cent weekly increase in their salary.

In 1915, when more female teachers began entering the workforce, rules governing their behavior were added — and were even more strict.

“You will not marry during the terms of your contract. You are not to keep company with men,” Brooks read from the list of rules. “You must be home between the hours of 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. unless attending a school function. You may not loiter downtown in ice cream stores.”

Female teachers were prohibited from riding in carriages or automobiles with any man unless he was their father or brother, and smoking cigarettes and dressing in bright colors were prohibited. Dyeing their hair was also a no-no, and two petticoats were required.

And this may sound familiar — women teachers were paid less than their male counterparts.

“Female teachers were paid 40% to 60% less than the male teachers,” Brooks said. “That doesn’t sound too fair.”

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