Round Prairie School
Contributed by Laura Winn Kane
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My Great-Grandfather, Charles Bolton Hedgcock, was born and raised in Schuyler County, Illinois.  I thought the following might be of interest.  It is a transcription of a letter received from him in response to questions I had asked for a grade-school report I did in 1976. He was 89 then. It mainly describes his schooling.


To Our Great Granddaughter;
Laura Lee Winn.
Dear Laura:

     We are so glad to hear from you and flattered that you should want to know about our early schooling. Since your G. Grandmother can neither talk or write, because of a stroke, I will tell you of mine and add that hers was similar.

     I was born May 27, 1886 in a one room log cabin in my Grandfather Andrew Jackson Hedgcock’s farm. Of this I am proud. My Grandfather Rev. John Caston Bolton M.D. helped my mother bring me into this world and baptized me later. He was educated to minister to both the physical and spiritual needs of his flock. I started to school when I was six years old, 1892. By this time I was living in our four room home my parents bought on an 80 acre farm when I was one year old.

     Did I walk to school? Yes. Our home was less than ½ a mile from the school. Others in our school walked as far as two miles. They often rode a horse or used a horse drawn cart.

     Was it in the country? I am proud to say it was in the country, known as Round Prairie. The Kickapoo Indians had burned this patch of prairie every third year so it would grow prairie grass for buffalo pasture. Buffalo provided food for the tribe and the skins were used for tents and clothing - especially boots.

     Where the bathrooms inside? No. We called them privies. One for girls and one for boys - located at each end and back side of the large school yard. Water was pumped from a well in the center of the front side of the lawn next to the front fence.

     What time did school start? It started in the fall after the farm crops were harvested. Both boys + girls, men + women worked in the harvesting. School lasted 5 months. A spring term was held later for the young children less than 9 years old. Both boys + girls went to work all day the next day after their 9th birthday. Our day lasted from 4:00 AM to about 9:00 or 10:00 o’clock at night. Chores, feeding, currying horses etc. from 4 to 5:30. Breakfast 5:30. In the field at 6:00 AM or get a reputation for laziness - feared by people of that day + place. The school day lasted from 8:00 AM to 4:00 PM. One hour noon and two 15 minute recesses.

     What were the subjects? Arithmetic, grammar, spelling, reading, writing, (and I mean writing - not scribbling or printing) history of community and state, and later the United States. School opened each morning with a song or two and a recitation of the Lord’s Prayer. This prayer was not rattled off but repeated slowly + meaningfully when the teacher was really a good one.

     Round Prairie school was a one room building with two entrance doors, one for girls, one for boys. An entrance hall or room for each where overcoats, caps, mittens, overshoes etc could be put on a hook + floor beneath. The main room was about 36’ x 32’.  Four windows along each side. Kerosene lamps with reflectors between each window and two on the wall behind + above the teacher’s desk. A wood burning stove in the center of the entrance end of the room. Ceiling high. Blackboards across the whole of the teacher’s desk end. The teacher cleaned + swept the floor before leaving in the evening. Older boys kept fire going in winter. The school was a beautiful building, painted white - repeated painted every second or third year. There was a large wooden porch at
the entrance end and a board sidewalk from the highway to this porch. It was 6 feet wide. We used to hippity hop its length.

     The West half of the school yard had a grove of maple trees. The East half had no trees so ball games could be played.

        We did not have grades. Children were grouped according to their ability to master subject matter. I was in the fast group in arithmetic in a medium group for history.

     In the winter literary society met there twice a month. My father made a reputation as a debater. My mother was easily the best speller. Her father - a minister - had seen to that.

     I am so glad our school was not graded. Why should children who learn easily - and those who learn slowly be in the same class. There were no flunks. Schools in Tucson, Arizona are experimenting with this kind of education. I am totally for it + feel sorry for pupils who must be held back and bored with a slow class. How poor children who learn slowly shed tears trying to keep up. Maybe educators - who are usually easy learners cause the slow learners to suffer - will change their minds about this matter.

     Tell your teacher what I think. Tell her I am Professor Emeritus of Northern Michigan University with a record of 10 years High School teaching + coaching, and 35 years of Collegiate teaching + coaching.

     Many will tell you I should not have told you this but with me it is a part of my convictions after living nearly 90 years + teaching 45 of them.

     Your mother tells me you are enjoying this way of being educated.

     I am so glad you like school. It speaks well for both you, your parents, your teachers.

With Great
Grandparental love,

CB + Maude Hedgcock.

Clothing worn: Boys overalls, girls long skirts but of a cloth that lasted under hard usage. Bare footed in summer up to age 16 or so. Number of pupils: Winter - some 20 to 30. One year 3 were 20 and 21 years old. Summer: some 15, maybe, most of whom were under 9 years of age.

How about “New Math”: Before it was installed I voted for it - not really understanding what it meant.

     I hope it will be discontinued - soon. Why should all persons understand the math needed to get to the moon? Cause it to be mastered by the engineers who are going to enter that type of work.


Copyright 1999, 2000 Laura Winn Kane

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