Exploring One-Room Schools

Do you know that by the turn of the 20th century, the United States had an estimated 219,000 one-room country schools? Today, we're trying to save a few thousand nationally. From the following presentations, learn of the history and folklore of our country's  remaining schoolhouses. Discover how preservationists from across the USA are saving and restoring these iconic country schools that helped launch a great nation. Hear rare stories that surround these unassuming little buildings, and find out why they hold such charm for historians, writers, photographers, educators, historical societies, former attendees, and one-room school enthusiasts. These programs are lively, informative and packed with visuals. And the best part? I will present them free to your group or organization in my area!

The Rocky Road to the Schoolhouse Door: Creating Our Common Schools


From the end of the Revolution it was not an easy task to establish a nationwide system of “common schools,” but Americans persevered. Learn of the problems and pitfalls of a scrappy and diverse populace whose greatest wish was to produce literate, moral, responsible, and disciplined citizens who would uphold the hard-won republic.


Our nation’s one-room schools, at one time numbering over 200,000, were testimony to the determination of communities large and small to guarantee their children’s future through education.

This presentation will take you on a gentle romp through the evolution of these first truly “public” schools with a focus on the determined local community as the backbone of American education.


Visuals and commentary will be lively!

“Mary Had a Little Lamb”……and Now, the Rest of the Story!


Who would have thought there really was a Mary, a lamb, and a schoolhouse of “Mary Had  a Little Lamb” fame? As a matter of fact, the purported legendary schoolhouse of this beloved poem still stands today and is located in Sudbury, Massachusetts, a quiet suburb of Boston.  It is a classic “little red schoolhouse,” meticulously preserved in proximity to an inn, a gristmill, and a spired New England church.  But, the schoolhouse is only part of the story.


Rare is the child or adult who does not know the words to this timeless poem or song, yet the details of its origin, publication, and triumph as an American icon are more obscure, oftentimes debated, and involve a number of historical heavy hitters. The schoolhouse itself is associated with a very strange preservation story!


Making Connections:

In this photographic and pictorial presentation, we will visit the schoolhouse, examine the controversy over the poem's  authenticity, meet a cast of notable historical characters related to the story, and draw our own conclusions about what is real and what is imagined.


The Stars of the Story Include:

Mary Sawyer

Mary’s Lamb

John Raulstone

Rebecca “Polly” Kimball

Sarah Josepha Hale

Thomas Edison

Henry Ford

The Sterling Schoolhouse

The Wayside Inn, Sudbury, Massachusetts

William H. McGuffey

Clarence Nash (the voice of Donald Duck)

The Old South Church of Boston

The Bunker Hill Monument

Schoolhouse Rarities


In researching country schools of America we find familiar stories of multi-aged and graded classes taught by a single teacher, the ubiquitous outhouses, water buckets, lunch pails, slates, pick up games in the schoolyard, box socials, wood or coal stoves, and community programs, to name but a few. While common stories abound, there are also tales of the unexpected, the unique, even the bizarre that involve the history and life in a one-room school.


This presentation uncovers some interesting and thought provoking stories, all historically well-documented. Hear tales of country schools that take us “out of the box," beyond our daily mission of schoolhouse preservation.


  • A haunted schoolhouse

  • A deadly schoolhouse fire 

  • A schoolhouse murder 

  • A Schoolhouse in miniature

  • A one-room school on a train 

  • A movie set schoolhouse 

  • A sinister schoolmaster 

  • A cruel blizzard for schoolchildren of the plains                                   


A One-Room Schoolhouse in its Historical Context


As a living history interpreter in the 1841 District #1 Schoolhouse in Nashua, NH, I find great enjoyment in unearthing any and all mention of schoolhouses in our town’s historical reports and records, especially entries relating to our remaining “little brick school,” the District #1. Complete town reports were kept from 1837 forward and a superintending school committee included annual essays on the state of the town’s schools.


We are lucky to possess their writings, as they serve as windows into the world of all one-room schools. They document what this committee thought about the direction of education, the organization of schoolhouses, teachers, scholars, programs of study, expectations, problems, suggestions, and hopes for the future.

My visual presentation will illustrate a time capsule of that world of the 1840’s when one-room schoolhouses were on the rise. We will explore the realities of a typical town school system and how they dealt with the issues of the day.


What we find in this capsule are familiar difficulties and successes faced by public schools  both past and present,  Participants may even come away saying… “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” 

Saving the One-Room Schoolhouse: What’s In It for Us?


This visual presentation will outline the reasons why people fall in love with one-room schoolhouses and work to preserve them so visitors can experience education of the past. From their humble beginnings to current efforts at costly preservation, there must be compelling reasons for people’s preservation efforts. The program seeks to explore:


  • the hopes of the early builders and supporters
  • the contributions of dedicated teachers
  • the aura of the country school that beckons us to engage in research and to continue restoring them
  • the hopes of preservationists today, including the Country School Association of America  
  • the current use of schoolhouses as living history museums
  • …answers to the question….What’s in it for us?




Claim to Fame Schoolhouses:

“Act Bigger than You Are!”

 Of the over 200,000 schoolhouses that once dotted the American landscape, most have faded into history with the rapid growth of our country and our educational system.


The little schools were often sold off to citizens and churches and repurposed as town offices. They were used as sheds and storage bins, left to decay in fields and woods, burned for firefighting practice, converted to homes and businesses, left to the use of civic groups, or spared for use as museums.


The best hope for their preservation often lay with being attached to a famous person, historical event, or important historical milestone.


In this presentation, meet a number of the more famous preserved schoolhouse museums across the country today and learn why they earned their fortunate notoriety. Explore in this visual program those who claim to be the “oldest” at something, those attached to American presidents, those who had varied famous attendees or teachers, and those related to historical events, folklore, or literature.


We will ask how our own little schools might get a boost from their own “claim to fame” (even on a local level) to promote our efforts at preservation and lay some love on these survivors!