JUMP TO PAGE   100  >  200  >  300  >  400  >  500  >  600

Little White Schoolhouse: 1900

Little White Schoolhouse: 1900

From the same circa 1900 batch of 5x8 glass negatives as Little Boy Blue we bring you more sullen moppets than you can shake a stick at. Which the tot in the middle is holding. Now, smile for your great-great grandchildren. View full size.


On Shorpy:
Today’s Top 5

Ad astra per aspera

--To the stars through difficulties. My mother was of this generation. As a child one of her duties was to clean the oil lamp chimneys, but she lived to watch man walk on the moon.

One Roomed School

As I have mentioned before, my Mother-in-law was a schoolteacher in a one roomed school in Kentucky.

If I remember correctly, she had 18 students and she always remarked how well behaved they all were.

In fact she was 18 at the time (about the age of this young lady) and taught 1st grade through 8th (I do believe that is correct. Have to ask the wife and make a correction if not).

Either way, that is where she met her future husband. He was 10 and she was 18, and 10 years later they married. Stayed that way for 50 years. They passed away within a year of each other. She, then he.

Bit of a soap opera, but there you are.

Teacher in Training

The boys wearing ruffles is the "Little Lord Fauntleroy" look that was very popular (with mothers, not so much with little boys) at the turn of the 19th into the 20th century. You can see it again in the 1899 photo #20473 and photo 20679, just before this one. And the way the girl in polka dots has her hair pinned up like the teacher, while the girls in pinafores do not, suggests she may be a teacher in training rather than one of that school's pupils. It was not at all uncommon to be out in the world working by age 15. The "everyone has to go to college" to qualify for a job, is a post WW2 phenomenon. Apprenticeships were the way one often got jobs in 1900 and before. Plus, teachers often were quite young because some districts would no longer employ women if they were married. I can not understand why, but it made sense to people in the 19th century.


It's difficult to imagine but my wife has told about her days in lower Minn going to the one room school house. The rented farm house where they lived was near a large lake. During the cold parts of winter dad drove across the lake to work to save many miles. Other times my wife, her two older brothers, older sister, and younger brother, often walked barefoot across the muddy fields. Once at school they washed their shoes and feet at the outside pump and placed the shoes on the porch to dry. So I'm guessing many school days were barefoot days. A preschool sister and brother were still at home. Another brother would come later.

Our Gang & the Beaver

Looks like a young Jackie Cooper on the back row and Jerry Mathers in the front.

Sunday best

If their moms knew it was class picture day, they sent the kids to school in their best clothes. It looks like that's the case here. Their pinafores are spotless. i agree the girl in the back row in the dark blouse looks like she's better off than the other kids. The older boy on the far left and the girl on the far right look pretty formidable. I bet the younger kids stayed out of their way.

Ruffles and Flourishes

The mothers of some of those boys must have REALLY wanted girls, based on their wardrobe choices. Or they had older daughters and just handed down the ruffled shirts out of necessity.

One-room school

These kids - about twenty-five of them at a rough count - were probably all in one classroom with one teacher, seen in the photo. Even though discipline was different, it must have been a tough job. School teachers were universally young and unmarried, and few had much experience.

Serious Business

Getting photopraphed was serious business at the time. Dead serious highly official pretty expensive business.

Plus, it took serious effort from both photographer and subjects. The subjects had to stand still at the right moment, else the photograph would have been spoiled. I submit

- Exhibit A - Mr. Double Turtleneck, and
- Exhibit B - Mr. Checkered Bibs Over Striped Shirt
both seem to have been very close to the line.

Those glass plates were expensive if bought, and laborious to make if home-made by the photographer.

[The 5x8 dry plate this image was exposed on, at $1.25 a dozen, cost 10 cents in 1895. So, not very expensive. - Dave]

Woe to the kid who ruined the shot. With the mores of the times that would likely have been a matter of "physical contact" consequences rather than "no bisquit".

What does not quite compute is the fact that they seem to be reasonably well dressed, which would match the momentous gravity of this event, but that quite a few are barefoot all the same.

A motley crew

seemingly cowering under the beady eye of the teacher.

Re: One of these things is not like the others

Polka-dot pupil is likely the only adolescent in the bunch (except perhaps for the girl upper right, beside Teacher). This might account for her mature demeanor and elegant composure. The other little girl beside Teacher, all in white, looks like Bernard Burch in his later years (


While they are living at the beginning of a marvelous century, the boys are the right age, born around 1894-1896, to almost surely see service in the Great War.

[Statistically speaking, probably not. Around one-quarter of American males aged 18 to 31 were in military service during the conflict. And only half of those served overseas. So the odds would be around 1 in 8. - Dave]

Creative Photographer

The typical school photo of this vintage has the kids standing in stiff lines in front of the school building. Someone was thinking out of the box when they set this shot up. It's a nice pose using the rocks and the oblique view of the school in the background.

Mix and match

I agree that many of these kids must be siblings and cousins, given the similar prominent brows and sticky-outy ears. Clothing-wise, most of the girls are dressed almost identically, except for the oldest girl in the back row, whereas there's a surprising amount of variety in what the boys are wearing--everything from overalls to ruffled shirts to a sailor suit.

A little coal dust here, a little coal dust there and

Lewis Wickes Hines could have taken this photograph. These kids look miserable and I don't see anything romantic here. Tell that teacher we want Toto back.

Must've Had Cable

Don't see any antennas on the roof.

What a century these kids were going to see.

A number of the boys may have fought in World War I. Then there was the Great Depression, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. A number would have been around for the first moon landing. I hope everyone in the picture ended up living good, happy lives.

One of these things is not like the others,

The girl in the dark dress with the polka dots, a city girl among country kids.

Skin head, but with reason

The young lad in the back row left seems to have all of his hair shorn away. Without claiming to be any expert on juvenile hair fashions of the era, he may have been a victim of an old-time treatment for head lice. In the early 1900s, my grandmother (and her sister, and several others as well) were playfully sharing around a hat while enjoying recess from school, and all came home with lice. Her mother shaved my grandmother's head bare, and washed down her scalp with kerosene. She said was the accepted way to deal with it at the time, so one supposes the same held for the unfortunate rest of that group. She admitted that yes, it took time for her hair to grow back, but she swears it did away with the pesky lice.

The ears

Most of these kids must be related.

Easily intimidated

Unlike some of today's smart-aleck, sassy kids, these youngsters seem to be very strictly disciplined, no "out-of-bounds" behavior (as Montessori called it) and they have extremely serious expressions, the whole lot of them. Also I can't help but notice how most have old faces and we can almost see exactly what they will look like as adults, especially the boys standing in the back row, toward the left. I bet if Miss Schoolmarm had to send home a bad report, there would be hell to pay.

Something there is

But something there was not was a shortage of rocks for wall building -- it must be New England.

Syndicate content is a vintage photography site featuring thousands of high-definition images from the 1850s to 1950s. The site is named after Shorpy Higginbotham, a teenage coal miner who lived 100 years ago. Contact us | Privacy policy | Site © 2023 Shorpy Inc.