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Highlights Archives

Rural Schools of Southwestern Wisconsin

Fennimore District schoolhouse and class, date unknown (WHI 66222)
WHI 66222

Few symbols evoke as much nostalgia as the one-room schoolhouse. From Tom Sawyer courting Becky Thatcher to young Laura Ingalls fighting Nellie Olesen, they have worked their way into the hearts of Americans for generations. But what were rural schools really like? A recently processed collection of records in the Society's library and archives has yielded more than 100 photographs of rural schools and their students in southwestern Wisconsin. Taken mostly between 1909 and 1915, the photos show buildings used over the previous decades by the teachers and children of Grant County. They document not only the day-to-day lives of teachers and students, but also the yearly fairs and contests in which they participated in the early 20th century.

Preserving Wisconsin's One-Room School Heritage

Many rural one-room schools are gone now. Images like these are powerful reminders of the childhoods that formed influential Wisconsin leaders. Here, for example, is young Gaylord Nelson in the Clear Lake School (front seat of the third row from the left).

To really get the feel for a one-room schoolhouse, visit the Raspberry School at Old World Wisconsin or Reed School in Neillsville. The Society's Division of Museums and Historic Sites preserves and interprets both schoolhouses as examples of Wisconsin's rural one-room school heritage.

:: Posted March 30, 2010

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