Wednesday, July 24, 2019

School Supplies for the Prairie Pupil

As the heroine of my next book is the school teacher in the Belles of Wyoming series, I started to wonder just what the students in her classroom would use during their day. Did they have desks or would they sit at tables? Did they use slates? Were they able to pull out a box of crayons and color?

To answer the questions, I started by researching student desks. There are websites devoted to the history of school desks, believe it or not, and I easily found out that Grace Winkleman, my heroine would have to use tables for her students. John Loughlin invented and patented the first student desk, but it didn’t go into production until 1881. Since my book is set in 1880, I can't use them in my story.

Next, I considered chalkboards. Would Miss Winkleman have a chalkboard in her schoolhouse? Was chalk even marketed to educators in 1880? I relied heavily on the blackboard during my years as a teacher, and I was happy to learn that Grace Winkleman would have one in her Wyoming classroom. From 1840, blackboards have been commercially produced by applying thick paint to smooth boards. Poor communities even made blackboards for the schoolroom by nailing pine boards together and covering them with a mixture of egg whites and carbon from charred potatoes. It seems I’m not the only one who recognizes the value of a blackboard. 

Chalk also was available in 1880, both white and colored chalk. By that time, Grace would be able to order from J.L. Hammett’s company, the man who invented the blackboard eraser and partnered with the Milton Bradley Company to make school supplies easy for teachers to order.
To be honest, I very much want to include crayons in the supplies available to my fictional schoolteacher. I suppose I could fudge and pretend students had them. I hate to do that, especially since they wouldn’t be available until 1903. 

Lastly, I investigated the use of slates versus paper. Would the students need to bring slates to school? Here I discovered an interesting fact. Paper became relatively inexpensive after the Civil War. The process to turn wood pulp into had been discovered by then, making it much easier to make, Still, I learned paper was typically used by older students only. Younger children carried slates to school and practiced writing on those.

While my research into the school day continues, I now have a solid idea of the tools students had available to them. In my August blog, I'll discuss the school building itself.

About Marisa Masterson

Marisa Masterson and her husband of thirty years reside in Saginaw, Michigan. They have two grown children, one son-in-law, a grandchild on the way, and one old and lazy dog.

She is a retired high school English teacher and oversaw a high school writing center in partnership with the local university. In addition, she is a National Writing Project fellow.

Focusing on her home state of Wisconsin, she writes sweet historical romance. Growing up, she loved hearing stories about her family pioneering in that state. Those stories, in part, are what inspired her to begin writing.

1 comment:

  1. Like you, I wish Crayons were available. There were some sort of color sticks available. I don't know what they were made of but it sounds as if they are like pastel crayons (crayon in the French sense) used in art. I was happy to learn the fact about paper. That is helpful to me. Thanks.


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