The Hancock-Henderson Quill, Inc.
Mc Guffey and Rossville Country Schools and Their Teachers
By Carla Rich Montez, formerly of La Harpe Special For The Quill
She stands on the large concrete step in front of the building and rings the brass bell in her hand. It's time for school to begin.
Already she has filled a bucket from the pump outside. She will pour some of that cold well water into a large stone jar that sits outside the boys' cloakroom. The children will visit this "water cooler" throughout the day when they are thirsty.
In the winter, she will have shoveled paths in the snow to both the boys' and girls' outhouses which she will have cleaned and replenished with toilet rolls. Before she returns the shovel to its place in the stone coalhouse, she also will have cleared a path in the snow from the bus stop to the front door.
The thermostat on the oil stove will have been turned up upon her arrival. She will sit a full teakettle on it to humidify the classroom and heat water for hand washing at lunchtime. That same stove will warm the soups and sandwiches the children will have brought from home. Occasionally it will also dry mittens and boots.
It's 9 a.m. It's 1960. And this is the routine this teacher will repeat nearly every weekday morning, from August to May, at this one room schoolhouse.
South of La Harpe, two one room schools were built near La Crosse in the late 1800s. During the century they operated, Mc Guffey and Rossville served thousands of children and were led by hundreds of teachers.
In the early 1960s, both schools were forced to close. School consolidation required the children and the teachers to disburse to larger regional schools. And though an era in public education ended, the memories of those country schools remained in the minds of two of the teachers, Mary Cartwright Kellogg and Mildred Bavery.
Now retired and living in La Harpe, they spent a recent afternoon talking about their years as one room schoolhouse teachers.
For Kellogg, teaching was her calling-so much so that she jumped at the opportunity to teach at Mc Guffey on the condition she would attend Western Illinois University to earn a degree. During college, she relied on her own grade school teacher, Ethel Mc Connell, who would be her mentor through those early years of teaching.
Kellogg's parents, farmers northeast of Fountain Green, used the earnings from the family's dairy farm-"our milk money"-to pay the tuition that earned her a degree in elementary education. Attending during the summers only, Kellogg finally completed that degree in 1966-ten years into her career. At Mc Guffey, she taught the first through fourth grades.
Bavery, from Basco, began teaching at age 22. Already a graduate of Western, Bavery spent four years at Rossville, the school for fifth through eighth grade children. She commuted daily from her boarding room in La Harpe.
For her, the Rossville years from 1957 to 1961 were some of her best years as a teacher. "[The kids] were good. They knew what they were doing. They had good home lives-parents who were interested in them."
In fact, one room schoolhouse students did tend to be good students because they had multiple opportunities to master skills. "In the lower grades, you gained by listening to the ones ahead of you. If you were in one of the upper grades, and you didn't pick [the lesson] up when you had it, you could learn it from the lower grades," said Bavery.
According to Kellogg and Bavery, a typical day might go like this. Every morning, the children would stand, hand over heart, to say the Pledge of Allegiance, and then the teacher would read a story aloud. Math was usually taught in the mornings "because that's when kids were the sharpest," said Bavery. Reading, writing, spelling, and English were the predominant classes though art, geography, history, science, and health were worked into the curriculum as time allowed.
The children shared one large classroom with each grade occupying a single row of wooden desks facing the front of the room. Each grade consisted of two to five children with a total school enrollment of less that 20.
Blackboards hung on one wall and above them were narrow cardboard posters with examples of cursive letters. At Rossville, an upright piano sat in one corner.
The room included a library which children would visit during free time. To supplement the 30 books at the school, the teacher would sometimes drive to the large public library in Carthage to borrow additional materials for children who might be working on book reports.
When it was time for a lesson, the teacher would sometimes bring one class to a table at the front of the room. While she worked with that grade, the other children were kept busy with assignments.
Mid-morning, around 10, it was time for recess. The playground at Mc Guffey consisted of swing sets and a large grassy field for games like red rover or tag. Kids who chose to swing had to follow a special rule for Kellogg.
"Some kids didn't have shoe strings, so there was a rule that you couldn't swing with your feet toward the building," said Kellogg. "I had a window broken that way once," she explained. Recess also included an opportunity to jump rope. Kellogg held one end. The other end was tied to the pump handle.
At Rossville, the playground featured basketball hoops and a grass baseball field where Miss Bavery was always the pitcher. Sometimes the boys would hit the softball into the adjacent farm field of "Butch" Wright where it might get lost depending on the height of the crop that might be planted there. Football was another popular game.
In inclement weather, recess was taken inside. Card games and board games occupied some of the children while others-mostly the girls-roller skated up and down the rows of desks. The wood floor "rink" produced a deafening sound, but the skates also polished the floors.
At noon, the children ate lunches brought from home. The usual meal, carried in a square metal lunch box with leather handle and flip fastener, consisted of foil-wrapped grilled cheese sandwiches, a Thermosª of soup, and graham cracker squares held together by homemade frosting.
Milk, at 5¢ a carton, was provided by the school, delivered by the weekly Macomb Dairy milk truck, and cooled in the refrigerator in the school. For $1, a child could purchase a card worth 20 punches of milk-white or chocolate.
Children who became sick at school found themselves resting their heads on their desk for the rest of the day. With no phone in the school, the teachers could not contact parents. In the rare instance where illness or injury required it, the teacher sometimes drove a sick child home or sent one of the older kids to a nearby farm house to make a call to the family.
By 3:30, classes ended, and the children loaded the only bus that would take them back home. During unusually wet springs, when the muddy roads were impassable for the bus, a farmer would hitch a hayrack to his tractor, pick up every child, and deliver them to school.
Once the children had gone home, the teachers still had work to do. Floors were swept, sometimes using a granular green compound. It not only controlled the dust and polished the floor, it also improved the skating.
The blackboards were washed. Papers were graded, and lessons were prepared for the next day. Sometimes, during the school day, children assisted with chores like emptying the water bucket or pounding the blackboard erasers on the concrete steps (or on each other if no one was looking). If everything went as planned, the teachers would leave by 5 p.m.
When the community needed a meeting space larger than the schools, it utilized a nearby church in La Crosse. Long unused for religious services, the church served as a community center that hosted school board meetings, summer picnics, and neighborhood activities. At the end of the school year, it was the site for the community picnic, a potluck that everyone in the neighborhood attended.
La Crosse Church was also the site of the annual Mc Guffey and Rossville Christmas program.
"This was a big production," said Bavery. She and Kellogg would spend part of their Thanksgiving break selecting the songs and speaking parts. In December, recesses would be shortened, or lessons abbreviated, so that the children could practice.
"The little kids had two short recitations. The upper grades put on two short skits. Both schools sang a song individually, and the closing song [was sung] by both schools. I had very little musical talent, so [we were fortunate that] one of the mothers was kind enough to play the piano," said Bavery.
Kellogg and Bavery would pool their money to prepare gift bags for the children. They would buy bulk candy at Miller's Grocery Store in La Harpe and then meet at the Cartwright home to fill a bag for each child. Gum drops, chocolate haystacks, hard candy, and oranges were the delicacies they selected. On the night of the program, Santa would hand it all out.
After the holiday, Miss Bavery looked forward to her first day back to school. "All the boys had gotten new flannel shirts for Christmas, and they wore them that day," she explained.
In the early 1960s, when Mc Guffey and Rossville closed, the children and teachers moved to modern schools that featured running water, restrooms, gyms, metal desks, electronic bells, and many more grades, children, and teachers in each building. Miss Bavery began teaching the 7th and 8th grades in Terre Haute, and Mrs. Kellogg taught the 1st and 2nd grades in Fountain Green.
During their years as one room schoolhouse teachers, Kellogg and Bavery performed every role at their schools. In one person they were the secretary, the custodian, the nurse, and the activity coordinator. They could hoist a five gallon bucket of water, prepare daily lessons for four individual grades, throw a decent pitch, and write the script for a one-act play.
They were remarkable people, and they are some of the last members of this very special time in American public education.
Mrs. Kellogg taught Carla Rich Montez how to read and write at Mc Guffey School. It was a lifetime gift.
Jim Rich, Carla's brother, learned how to hold his pencil the right way thanks to Miss Bavery.
As your thoughts turn to the start of a new school year, please take the time to thank a teacher. If you wish to contact Mrs. Kellogg and Miss Bavery, their information is below:
Mary Cartwright Kellogg
La Harpe Davier Health Center
101 North B St.
La Harpe, IL 61450
703 North Center St.
La Harpe, IL 61450
Mrs. Mary Kellog
Miss. Mildred Bavery
Mrs. Kellogg's Class in 1961 in McGuffey School.