One-room schools were commonplace throughout rural portions of various countries, including
Prussia Prussia, , Old Prussian Distribution of the Baltic tribes, circa 1200 CE (boundaries are approximate). Old Prussian was a Western Baltic language belonging to the Balto-Slavic branch of the Indo-European languages The Indo-Europ ...

, Norway, Sweden, the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Spain. In most rural and small town schools, all of the students met in a single room. There, a single teacher taught academic basics to several grade levels of elementary-age children. While in many areas one-room schools are no longer used, some remain in
developing nation Image:Imf-advanced-un-least-developed-2008.svg, 450px, Example of Older Classifications by the International Monetary Fund, IMF and the United Nations, UN from 2008 A developing country is a country with a less developed Industrial sector, i ...
s and rural or remote areas. In the United States, the concept of a "little red schoolhouse" is a stirring one, and historic one-room schoolhouses have widely been preserved and are celebrated as symbols of frontier values and of local and national development. When necessary, the schools were enlarged or replaced with two-room schools. More than 200 are listed on the U.S.
National Register of Historic Places The National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) is the United States federal government The federal government of the United States (U.S. federal government or U.S. government) is the national government of the United States ...
. In Norway, by contrast, one-room schools were viewed more as impositions upon conservative farming areas, and, while a number survive in open-air museums, not a single one is listed on the Norwegian equivalent to the
NRHP The National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) is the United States federal government The federal government of the United States (U.S. federal government or U.S. government) is the national government of the United States ...


Prussia was among the first countries in the world to introduce a tax-funded and generally compulsory primary education for either boys and girls. In comparison, compulsory schooling in France or Great Britain was not successfully enacted until the 1880s. The state-sponsored system was introduced in the late 18th century and has had a widespread influence ever since. The first Prussian schools were simple one-room schools, but by 1773 Friedrich Eberhard von Rochow had already set up a model school with primary education in two separate age-grouped
classes Class or The Class may refer to: Common uses not otherwise categorized * Class (biology), a taxonomic rank * Class (knowledge representation), a collection of individuals or objects * Class (philosophy), an analytical concept used differently f ...


Ireland Ireland ( ; ga, Éire ; Ulster Scots dialect, Ulster-Scots: ) is an island in the Atlantic Ocean, North Atlantic. It is separated from Great Britain to its east by the North Channel (Great Britain and Ireland), North Channel, the Irish Sea ...

, free primary education was mandated in 1831, prompting the establishment of many single-teacher National Schools across rural areas, most initially using a room in an existing building. By the 1890s there was a school in every
parish A parish is a territorial entity in many Christian Christians () are people who follow or adhere to Christianity, a monotheistic Abrahamic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus in Christianity, Jesus Christ. The words ''Christ ( ...
. Most extant one- and two-room school buildings date from the decades after 1891 when primary education became compulsory. Most of those still in use today have been extended following merger with neighbouring schools. Since 2002, any state-funded school with at least 10 pupils is entitled to at least 2 teachers; the 21 schools which fell below this threshold are located on offshore islands. In recent decades, an increasing number of schools have been founded for parents not content with the National School system. These include ''
Gaelscoil A Gaelscoil (; plural: ''Gaelscoileanna'') is an Irish language Irish ( in Standard Irish Standard may refer to: Symbols * Colours, standards and guidons, kinds of military signs * Heraldic flag, Standard (emblem), a type of a large sym ...
eanna'' (which teach through
Irish Irish most commonly refers to: * Someone or something of, from, or related to: ** Ireland, an island situated off the north-western coast of continental Europe ** Northern Ireland, a constituent unit of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and North ...
rather than
English English usually refers to: * English language English is a West Germanic languages, West Germanic language first spoken in History of Anglo-Saxon England, early medieval England, which has eventually become the World language, leading lan ...

) and multi-denominational schools (most Irish schools are controlled by one or other of the ). Although such schools eventually become eligible for state funding, they usually begin with a single teacher in a room or
prefabricated building A prefabricated building, informally a prefab, is a building that is manufactured and constructed using prefabrication Prefabrication is the practice of assembling components of a structure A structure is an arrangement and organization of i ...

United States

Many schools also served as the local chapel on Sundays, and evening/Saturday meeting places for local people and activities. Being mostly rural, many schools had no plumbing or sanitation. Teaching standards often varied from school to school as the teacher was compelled to coach children of all ages/grades within one room and regardless of their area of main competence. The quality of facilities at one-room schools varied with local economic conditions, but generally, the number of children at each grade level would vary with local populations. Most buildings were of simple frame construction, some with the school bell on a
cupola In architecture, a cupola () is a relatively small, most often dome-like, tall structure on top of a building. Often used to provide a lookout or to admit light and air, it usually crowns a larger roof or dome. The word derives, via Italian lan ...

. In the
Midwest The Midwestern United States, also referred to as the Midwest or the American Midwest, is one of four Census Bureau Region, census regions of the United States Census Bureau (also known as "Region 2"). It occupies the northern central part of ...
sod Sod, also known as turf, is grass Poaceae () or Gramineae () is a large and nearly ubiquitous family In , family (from la, familia) is a of people related either by (by recognized birth) or (by marriage or other relationshi ...

construction was also used, as well as stone and
adobe Adobe (; ) is a building material Building material is material used for construction. Many naturally occurring substances, such as clay, rocks, sand, and wood, even twigs and leaves, have been used to construct buildings. Apart from ...

in areas like the
Southwest The points of the compass are an evenly spaced set of horizontal directions (or azimuth An azimuth (; from ar, اَلسُّمُوت, as-sumūt, the directions) is an angular measurement In Euclidean geometry Euclidean geometry is a ma ...
where trees were scarce. In some locations, the schoolhouse was painted red, but most seem to have been white. Mission Ridge School was one of the early schools in
Mason County, West Virginia Mason County is a county A county is a geographical region of a country used for administrative or other purposesChambers Dictionary, L. Brookes (ed.), 2005, Chambers Harrap Publishers Ltd, Edinburgh in certain modern nations. The term is der ...
. It has since been moved to the West Virginia State Farm Museum complex near Point Pleasant. Examination of the materials in this building indicates that boards and timbers were hand-sawed and also hand-planed. Square nails were used throughout the building. Except for the roof and a few boards in the floor, all of the material in this building is original. The
blackboard A blackboard (also known as a chalkboard) is a reusable surface on which text or drawings are made with sticks of or , known, when used for this purpose, as . Blackboards were originally made of smooth, thin sheets of or dark grey stone. ...

is painted black. It was not until much later that slate was used for chalkboards, although students often had individual slates for writing practice. Teachers in one-room schools were often former students themselves. Their role is well-described by a student from
Kentucky Kentucky ( , ), officially the Commonwealth of Kentucky, is a state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazine published by the U.S. Department of State * The State (newspaper), ...
in the 1940s:
The teachers that taught in the one room, rural schools were very special people. During the winter months they would get to the school early to get a fire started in the potbelly stove, so the building would be warm for the students. On many occasions they would prepare a hot, noon meal on top of the stove, usually consisting of soup or stew of some kind. They took care of their students like a new mother hen would care for her newly hatched chicks; always looking out for their health and welfare.
A typical school day was 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., with morning and afternoon recesses of 15 minutes each and an hour period for lunch. "The older students were given the responsibility of bringing in water, carrying in coal or wood for the stove. The younger students would be given responsibilities according to their size and gender such as cleaning the black board (chalkboard), taking the erasers outside for dusting plus other duties that they were capable of doing." Transportation for children who lived too far to walk was often provided by horse-drawn
kid hack A kid hack was a horse The horse (''Equus ferus caballus'') is a domesticated Domestication is a sustained multi-generational relationship in which one group of organisms assumes a significant degree of influence over the reproduction and ...
sulky A sulky is a lightweight cart A cart or dray (Aus. & NZ) is a vehicle A vehicle (from la, vehiculum) is a machine A machine is a man-made device that uses power to apply forces and control movement to perform an action. Machin ...

, which could only travel a limited distance in a reasonable amount of time each morning and evening, or students might ride a horse, these being put out to pasture in an adjoining paddock during the day. In more recent times, students rode bicycles. Southern students and teachers most often walked to and from school; a three-mile journey was not uncommon. Due to the poor quality of roads, automobiles were not frequently used. The school house was the center and focus for thousands of rural communities, hamlets, and small towns. Often, town meetings and picnics were also held there. The vast majority of one-room schools in the United States are no longer used as schools and have either been torn down or converted for other purposes. However, in some rural communities, including among the
Amish The Amish (; pdc, Amisch; german: Amische) are a group of traditionalist Christian church fellowships with Swiss German Swiss German (Standard German Standard High German (SHG), less precisely Standard German or High German (not to ...

, one-room or two-room schools are still used, primarily for
elementary education Primary education is typically the first stage of formal education, coming after preschool and before secondary school. Primary education takes place in primary school, the elementary school or first and middle school depending on the location. ...

elementary education
, with students graduating to local or regional middle and high schools. As of 2017, almost 400 one-rooms schools still operate in the United States.

Octagonal schoolhouses

There are several historic one-room schoolhouses in the United States that were built in the shape of an
octagon In geometry Geometry (from the grc, γεωμετρία; ' "earth", ' "measurement") is, with , one of the oldest branches of . It is concerned with properties of space that are related with distance, shape, size, and relative position of ...

, instead of the more traditional rectangular style. Most are located in the northeastern part of the country and some have been restored and placed on the
National Register of Historic Places The National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) is the United States federal government The federal government of the United States (U.S. federal government or U.S. government) is the national government of the United States ...
. The following octagonal schoolhouses still stand: * ; Sitka, Alaska * Octagonal Schoolhouse; Cowgill's Corner, Delaware * Birmingham School; Chester County, Pennsylvania * ; Schuline, Illinois * Watkins Mill Schoolhouse; Lawson, Missouri * Modern Times School; Brentwood, New York * * Dryden District School No. 5, Eight Square Schoolhouse; Dryden, New York * Octagonal Schoolhouse (Essex, New York), Octagonal Schoolhouse; Essex, New York * Octagon Stone Schoolhouse; Canaan, Pennsylvania * Sodom Schoolhouse; Montandon, Pennsylvania * Hood Octagonal School; Newtown Township, Pennsylvania * Diamond Rock School; Tredyffrin Township, Chester County, Pennsylvania * Wrightstown Octagonal Schoolhouse; Wrightstown, Pennsylvania

Teacher's residence

The teacher's residence, or teacherage, was often attached to the school, or very close by, so that a male teacher's wife and family were an integral part of the management and support system for the school. Single, female teachers were more often billeted or boarded with a local family to provide for social norms requiring social supervision of single females.


Motorized school buses in the 1920s made longer distances possible, and one-room schools were soon consolidated in most portions of the United States into multiple classroom schools where classes could be held separately for various grade levels. Gradually, one-room school houses were replaced. Most one-room schools had been replaced by larger schools by World War II except in the most rural areas. However, they are still common in rural parts of Australia and Alaska.

Preservation: buildings and cultural

In Calvert County, Maryland, Port Republic School Number 7 closed its doors in 1932 and sat unused for over 40 years. Then, in 1976 the Calvert Retired Teachers Association, looking for a Bicentennial Year project, decided to restore the one-room schoolhouse. On July 24, 1977, after months of hard work by teachers and community volunteers, the old school bell rang out once more, and the little one-room school house, filled with its memories and memorabilia, was ready for visitors. It is now one of the county's tourist attractions. A similar project was done in Queen Anne's County, Maryland, by retired Teachers and Community Volunteers. The restored schoolhouse is located in front of Queen Anne's County High School. In Iowa, over 125 small one-room school houses have been turned into local museums. The buildings in some places found new purpose as homes. In Harrisburg, Nebraska, Flowerfield School serves as a living museum, and fourth-graders within the Nebraska panhandle spend a day at Flowerfield going through an average school day in 1888. The students have the opportunity to experience both log and sod versions of the house, writing with quill pens, and a trip to the nearby museum, where they learn about other aspects of life in 1888. In Vandalia, Indiana, the Vandalia District # 2 one-room schoolhouse served Owen County's Lafayette Township students in grades 1 – 8 from the time it was completed in 1868 until it closed in 1951. The building, restored by a group of volunteers in 1976, is presently maintained and preserved by the Vandalia Community Preservation Association. The One Room School House Project of Southwestern College (Kansas), Southwestern College in Winfield, Kansas, includes listings and information on some 880 schools throughout the state and nation. The information, pictures, and stories included in this site have been collected and sent to the project by researchers and historians from across America.


File:Lincoln's 1822 school.jpg, The one-room blab school attended by Abraham Lincoln in 1822 File:Knick School, Darke County, Ohio 001.jpg, The Knick School in Darke County, Ohio in 1996 File:AS St John-church-&-school,.jpg, St. John the Baptist Church (1841) and a one-room schoolhouse (1845) with an attached teacherage, now a working museum in Canberra, Australia File:Port Republic School Dec 08.JPG, Port Republic School #7 in Calvert County, Maryland File:EurekaSchoolhouse.JPG, The Eureka Schoolhouse in Springfield, Vermont, was built in 1785 and in continuous use until 1900 File:FeltaSchool1.jpg, The Felta Schoolhouse in Sonoma County, California, Sonoma County, California was built in 1906 and closed on November 27, 1951 File:Schoolhouse Lochiel Arizona 2014.JPG, The one-room adobe schoolhouse in Lochiel, Arizona File:Copper Harbor One Room School.jpg, The Copper Harbor Room School File:Granite, Colorado one-room school, 1954.jpg, One-room school in Granite, Colorado in 1954 File:Harvey One-Room School.jpg, The Harvey One-Room School in Bucyrus Township, Ohio, built in 1876 File:Vandalia, Indiana Historic One-Room School.jpg, Vandalia, Indiana, Owen County, Lafayette Township District #2 Schoolhouse was completed around 1868 and closed in 1951. It is preserved and maintained by the Vandalia Community Preservation Association File:North Bass Island School.jpg, North Bass Island School, a one-room school with teacherage on Isle St. George of the Lake Erie Bass Islands is the last operating one-room school in Ohio. The K-8 students attend the school and fly to another island or the mainland for high school. File:Prudence-island-schoolhouse-in-2007.jpg, The Prudence Island Schoolhouse on Prudence Island in Portsmouth, Rhode Island is the last operating one-room school in Rhode Island File:Coventry Brick School House.jpg, alt=Exterior view of the Brick School House, Coventry, Connecticut, The Brick School House (Coventry, Connecticut), Brick School House in Coventry, Connecticut, was built in 1825 and closed in 1953. It is now a local museum and the only one-room school open to the public in Connecticut File:RCHS041.jpg, Pleasant Point District 24 One-Room School, Rush County, Kansas. The school opened in 1907 and closed in 1959. Maintained by the Rush County Historical Society.

See also

* A-b-c-darian, the youngest students in a one-room school * Blab school * Ranch school * Ungraded school * One-room jail


Further reading


External links

Audio Interview with 1920 student in 1820 1-room schoolhouse in E. Fishkill, NY (55 min.)One Room School Houses in the Ottawa ValleyCSAA a National One-Room Schoolhouse Support OrganizationOne Room School House Project of Southwestern CollegeUniversity of Northern Iowa - One-room School Museum
{{Authority control One-room schoolhouses, School types History of education