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Lessons Learned: 1935

1935. "School in Red House, West Virginia." Medium-format nitrate negative by Elmer Johnson for the Resettlement Administration. View full size.

1935. "School in Red House, West Virginia." Medium-format nitrate negative by Elmer Johnson for the Resettlement Administration. View full size.


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Air conditioning

Today they close the school when it gets hot and the air conditioner breaks down. Air conditioning here consists of an open window.

Loving the cursive

The teacher's elegant cursive is just one more thing that has disappeared in these ensuing eighty-one years.

DC ?

In 1971 living in Englewood N.J., I bought a large Dutch Colonial type house that although electrified, still had live gas lines running through it. Hung under the floor joists in the basement were double lines on porcelain stand offs EXACTLY like the ones seen in the upper right corner above. I was told it was from the original Edison direct current lines of old. They disappeared up into the walls at varying points but obviously were not connected to any fixtures in the house.

Ink Wells?

Look closely and you will see at least four ink wells, all positioned at the upper right corner, same place mine were in the 1940's in Brooklyn, NY school.

On inkwells

There are inkwells. Look at the corner of the desks on the left of the picture. There doesn't seem to be anything in them at the moment though. Our school desks in the 1950s still had inkwells, but they were never used.

Reading level

Looking over the shoulder of the little girl in the second row, there's no pandering going on here. Plenty of small text and minimal pictures. Impressive.

I looked at my mom's middle school history book from 1920, and it's the same way. Just text, and a few maps. Compare this to the oversize, overweight and, I would contend, "content-light" textbooks our kids have now.

May not have pens and ink

but there are inkwells in the desks. They're clearly visible on the first and second desks in the leftmost row, and the third desk in the first row of boys.


In a small town in West Virginia in 1935, the kids didn't go to barbers for their haircuts; their mothers cut their hair at home. My father (older than these kids - born in 1911) told us how a haircut happened when he was a kid. Mother put a bowl upside down on your head, and cut all the hair below the bowl. Looks like that's what a lot of these kids got.

And was this a Little Red School House in Red House?


But notice how clean and ironed those dresses are.

No Inkwells

I guess without any pigtails they didn't see a need.

Long arithmetic

About 8 years ago, when my daughter was beginning arithmetic at school, the teacher asked a few of us parents if we wanted her to a) let them use calculators from the word go, or b) actually teach them arithmetic. We all looked at one another dumbfounded. She wasn't kidding. We chose arithmetic.

Looks familiar...

but I don't see Spanky or Alfalfa.

The three "r's"

I believe this town and school may still exist in W.V. Some of those kids look well-dressed while others have no shoes or socks, but they still learned all they could. Being descended from a humble Pa. coal-miner grandpa I can verify that even with his lowly job, he could read and write fluently in two languages and valued a good education for his kids. These kids are paying attention.

Shoes Optional

Love the bare feet!

Cool in the winter

I'll bet that was one school room to keep warm in the winter. No insulation in the walls or ceilings. I would guess this picture was taken in late spring, judging from the flowers, open windows and the kids clothing.

Is that door to the right of the black board a storage room or indoor privy?

Help Wanted: Hair Stylist

Looks like the town had only one barber who bobbed or shaved the girls and boys alike. No braids. No Shirley Temple curls. The girl in the center of the photo has a particularly skill-less variation on a boy haircut. Seems like there would have been a depression era job opportunity for a decent hair stylist in Red House.

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