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A Second Home

Missouri's Early Schools

Sue Thomas

Publication Year: 2006


The one-room schoolhouse may be a thing of the past, but it is the foundation on which modern education rests. Sue Thomas now traces the progress of early education in Missouri, demonstrating how important early schools were in taming the frontier.
            A Second Home offers an in-depth and entertaining look at education in the days when pioneers had to postpone schooling for their children until they could provide shelter for their families and clear their fields for crops, while well-to-do families employed tutors or sent their children back east. Thomas tells of the earliest known English school at the Ramsay settlement near Cape Girardeau, then of the opening of a handful of schools around the time of the Louisiana Purchase—such as Benjamin Johnson’s school on Sandy Creek, Christopher Schewe’s school for boys when St. Louis was still a village, and the Ste. Genevieve Academy, where poor and Indian children were taught free of charge. She describes how, as communities grew, additional  private schools opened—including “dame schools,” denominational schools, and subscription schools—until public education came into its own in the 1850s.
            Drawing on oral histories collected throughout the state, as well as private diaries and archival research, the book is full of firsthand accounts of what education once was like—including descriptions of the furnishings, teaching methods, and school-day activities in one-room log schools. It also includes the experiences of former slaves and free blacks following the Civil War when they were newly entitled to public education, with discussions of the contributions of John Berry Meachum, James Milton Turner, and other African American leaders.
            With its remembrances of simpler times, A Second Home tells of community gatherings in country schools and events such as taffy pulls and spelling bees, and offers tales of stern teachers, student pranks, and schoolyard games. Accompanying illustrations illuminate family and school life in the colonial, territorial, early statehood, and post–Civil War periods. For readers who recall older family members’ accounts or who are simply fascinated by the past, this is a book that will conjure images of a bygone time while opening a new window on Missouri history.

Published by: University of Missouri Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-9


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pp. ix-11


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pp. xi-xii

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Introduction: Children on the Frontier

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pp. 1-6

Children arriving in St. Louis in the early 1800s found strange sights and sounds everywhere in the small settlement on the west bank of the Mississippi River. Parents and children alike must have been amazed at the colorful crowds: a fur trader standing on the riverbank with his hair...

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1. The First Schools in Upper Louisiana

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pp. 7-13

Many French settlers in the Upper Louisiana Territory— also known then as “the Illinois Country,” “Spanish Illinois,” or “Spanish Louisiana”—did not read or write. In France, working people learned through apprenticeships, a practice that continued in this new world. Formal schooling was considered...

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2. The Missouri Territory

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pp. 14-27

As Upper Louisiana became the Missouri Territory, territorial leaders officially recognized the importance of providing a free school system. Although the plan was progressive in theory, putting it into practice at that time was not easy. With a small population spread out over thousands of acres...

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3. A New State

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pp. 28-39

During the early 1800s, more Americans eagerly pressed westward each year, looking for a place to establish homes and put down roots. By 1820 the white population of the Missouri Territory had grown to almost sixty thousand, with the slave population at more than ten thousand, as pioneers...

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4. The Rural Schoolhouse

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pp. 40-52

James Rooney was writing about his school in Texas, but his words ring true for children in Missouri who went to log-cabin schools. For most of the children in Missouri who lived...

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5. The Rural Schoolteacher

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pp. 53-66

The Geyer Act of 1839 authorized the position of superintendent of common schools, and an 1853 law provided for county commissioners of common schools to set standards for teachers. They were expected to qualify in respect to character, learning, and ability for positions in the public...

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6. The Scholars’ Day

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pp. 67-82

The child “scholars” often had to tend to chores before leaving for school. Sometimes older children helped dress and feed their younger brothers and sisters. When the chores were done, it was time to wash up under the pump or from a bucket of water, pack...

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7. Tools of Learning

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pp. 83-93

The earliest schools had few supplies. Most learning tools were brought from home. Before paper was available, children wrote with charcoal on large pieces of birch-tree bark. Later, scholars used small individual slates and slate pencils, which were cylinders of rock. These...

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8. The Slow Progress of Common Schools

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pp. 94-102

In 1840, less than 40 percent of those eligible attended public schools. W. B. Starke, the superintendent of common schools, reported during the years before the Civil War that more than one hundred thousand children in Missouri had no visible means of instruction. “The extreme apathy of the people in some...

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9. Rebuilding Missouri’s School System “Without Regard to Color”

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pp. 103-119

In the years following the war, Missouri had a desperate need for both black and white teachers. Few African Americans had been trained or allowed to teach before the Civil War. During and after the war, white teachers had to take the “Iron- Clad Oath,” a loyalty oath affirming their innocence of...

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10. A Gathering Place

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pp. 120-132

By the last decades of the nineteenth century, small-town and rural schools had become social centers for both black and white families in communities throughout the state. The door to the schoolhouse was open for many community events. The location was usually convenient for neighboring...

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pp. 133-135


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pp. 137-142

About the Author

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pp. 143-158

E-ISBN-13: 9780826265661
E-ISBN-10: 0826265669
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826216694
Print-ISBN-10: 0826216692

Page Count: 157
Illustrations: 35 illus
Publication Year: 2006

Edition: 1