Consolidation Brings the End to Iowa's One-room Schoolhouses
What was once a hallmark of a simple liberty was now a landmark to a simpler time. The closing of the one-room schoolhouses in rural Iowa would start with the 1950s legislation that stated that all public school districts in Iowa had to provided education from kindergarten to high school. Consolidation of smaller schools into one large school was challenging for the young students making such a big transition. By Iowa law, all public rural schools will be closed by June 1966.
Dr. Sue Grosboll, Historian and Director University of Northern Iowa Museums: On a farm in the 1800s, your life would have been centered around that farm. But over the course of time, that radius of what your life took in got bigger and bigger and bigger. By the 1920s everyone had their own automobile, most farm families had their own automobile. They might only drive them into town on the weekends or drive them to church on Sunday, but it had increased the circle of how far they could go. By the 1950s that was even a bigger circle of influence. So lifestyle, the concepts of time and space had changed in American rural life. So it was easier for them to give up the schools.
Narrator: And give them up they did, as a requirement of an Iowa law created in the 1950s. Basically, the new legislation said that each school district had to have kindergarten through 12th grade, which meant it had to offer its own high school. Consolidation, as it would come to be known, was very slow from 1922 through 1953. Then with the new legislation it picked up steam. The law didn't totally drive it though. World War II had intensified industrialization. People were moving away from rural areas and into the cities, shrinking one-room schoolhouse class sizes. The quality of rural education was pushed into the limelight and found questionable by some. Economics played into it too. It was more affordable to run one bigger school than several small schools. Whether a rural school closed and joined with another district in the early 1900s or not until the 1950s, it was sometimes a distasteful prospect.
Dr. Sue Grosboll, Historian and Director University of Northern Iowa Museums: Consolidation was a difficult subject for people because you have to remember that the local farm families had been controlling these rural schools all of these years. They would select the teacher. They would select the books. It was all under their control. They felt once their children went into the town schools then they wouldn't have such control over the education. They weren't convinced that they were going to get as good of quality. Plus they probably didn't want the children riding in the school bus. It was going to make for a much longer school day and more difficult, they felt, for the children.
Narrator: In those years of change, things were sometimes very challenging for the young students making such a big transition.
Kathy Grout, Former One-Room School House Student - Iowa City, Iowa: In the fall of my seventh grade year, they decided that they were going to have to close the country school. It was like, "oh, my gosh! Now what!" we went into this junior high school with all these kids and teachers -- we knew nobody -- scared to death.”
Rosalind Bails, Former One-Room School House Student - Burlington, Iowa: We went to mediapolis, which was a big adjustment, a big change from one little room and going to a big school. Riding the school bus was a new experience. It was a very long ride. And then a lot of different teachers, a lot of different subjects, a lot of moving around. Making new friends was hard because we were such a small school. So it was a big adjustment.”
Narrator: When it was all said and done Iowa law required all public rural schools to close by June of 1966. Iowa's countryside was filled with the sounds of doors being padlocked and windows being boarded up. What was once a hallmark of a simple liberty was now a landmark to a simpler time.