By Fred Collins
When I was a boy, school began after Labor Day. Not long after school started, it was time for the rite of the school pictures and the memorable class photo. This tradition goes back to the early 1900s. Many parents and kids were preoccupied with their dress for this special occasion. Most likely, early class photos were taken at graduation as part of the day-long ceremony and picnic. These pictures of my grandparents’ generation have always fascinated me. The photo with this article is a recent acquisition and is marked on the back: New Waverly Texas.
The girls have fancy dresses, and some boys have ties. The boys in the back have on boutonnieres. Some of the girls have corsages on their dresses. This was not what kids typically wore to rural schools about 1910. It would appear they made every effort for a positive impression. But notice their stern expression, and also note that some of the kids are barefoot. Perhaps this was at sixth grade graduation, the end of education for many if not most kids at rural schools at the time. The school was probably one room, as was typical for rural America until the late 1920s. These schools had one teacher, maybe a teenager herself. My grandmother taught school in a one-room schoolhouse in Arkansas in 1916 at the age of 17, following her own graduation at age 16. Before you scoff at such an education, remember that the system of one-room rural schools produced the parents of what we refer to as the “greatest generation.” The kids in the picture and their children built the America we all enjoy. Perhaps we should re-evaluate one-room school education.
The book Ringing the Children In by Tadd Sitton and Milam C. Rowold studied one-room schools. It is based on a series of oral histories the authors collected from elderly people who had attended one-room schools in Texas. In addition to recalling some colorful incidents, the authors make some interesting points about today’s education system compared to one-room schools. They show the strengths of this simple education system and how many new education techniques follow the examples set in one-room schools. If you would like to know more, the book will be reviewed at a History Discussion Group meeting at Kleb Woods Nature Center on Sept. 10, 2015 at 9 a.m.
To learn more about Texas or Cypress history, visit Commissioner Steve Radack’s Cypress Top Historic Park at 26026 Old Hempstead Hwy., open daily from dawn to 7 p.m. The Cypress Historical Society website, cypresshistoricalsociety.com, has more information on the museum buildings, special tours, and on available genealogy and history information. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call the society at 281-758-0083.
Historical facts courtesy of Cypress Top Historic Park Collection & Cypress Historical Society: Preserving Cypress History for Posterity.