This Is What School Was Like 100 Years Ago

This Is What School Was Like 100 Years Ago

Your great- (or great-great) grandparents really did have to walk five miles in the snow to get to school! Here's how American childhood education has evolved since the 19th and early 20th centuries.

School often played second-fiddle to work

A young spinner being watched by the overseer at Yazoo City Yarn Mills.Underwood Archives/REX/Shutterstock

Today's child-labor laws would be unthinkable to early American families. With the exception of professional or fairly wealthy households, parents often couldn't make ends meet without children working the family farms, pitching in at family businesses, or getting jobs in mills, mines, or factories outside the home. Some of those jobs are part of the reason why the school year doesn't start in January. 

Some students had to travel very far to school

student traveling on horse to school vintageCourtesy Louise Basse/Reminisce

Louise Basse and her horse, Jane, navigated seven fields and gates to get to school in Goldendale, Washington, in the early 1900s.

School was segregated

Segregated SchoolShutterstock

The turn of the century was still long before the dawn of the Civil Rights movement, and school still had a long way to go in terms of offering equal opportunities for all students. According to, in 1910, the vast majority of African American students still lived in the South, where schools were far poorer than in the North. Average school years in the South were only 121 days, and there were no attendance laws. Black teachers' salaries were dismally low, and public secondary schools for African American students were few and far between.

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