Charley Johnson’s Memories


The following is a transcript of Charley Johnson’s memories that he shared with his daughter Joan Johnson Gallion.


My earliest memory of school was when I attended a country school.  The school year was 3 to 5 months long.  I attended school in a small sod school house.  There were not enough desks so my younger sister and I sat in the window ledge.  We had a box to put our feet on as our legs were too short to reach the floor.  At recess we put our books under the upturned box.

            Our desks were called double desks.  Each one seated two and if the school was crowded a small child often had to sit in the middle between two older children.

            The girls wore their hair in long braids that hung down their backs.  Each desk had an inkwell.  It was a common trick for the big boy who sat behind one of the girls to slyly dip the end of her braided hair into the ink well so when she stood up ink flew everywhere.

            The early school rooms were heated by a potbellied stove and wood, cow chips or coal were used for fuel.  Those setting close to the stove roasted while those farther away from it froze.

            The children carried their noonday lunches to school.  A few had regular lunch pails but most brought lunch in sirup or lard pails.  Meat or jelly sandwiches and sometimes cake or cookies and an apple in season, and possibly a hard boiled egg was the usual lunch.

            Water was carried from a neighborhood spring or well.  The bucket set on a bench and a dipper was hung near it.  Everyone dipped from the bucket and drank from the same dipper.  Then Dr. (Samuel) Crumbrine started a movement to do away with the public drinking cups to keep down the spread of disease, so each child was required to bring his own tin cup.  These hung on nails driven into the wainscoating—a name by each nail.  Later many schools had wells dug to supply drinking water.

            Each school had two outdoor toilets—one for boys and one for girls.  Some schools had only one toilet so only one child could leave the room at a time; a second could go when the first was in and back at his desk.

            In country schools the teacher came early in cold weather to have a fire going and the room warming before the children arrived.  When the day’s classes were done and the children dismissed, the teacher cleaned the floors and black boards and made preparation for the next day.

            Salaries were low—25 to 40 dollars and the teacher boarded with some family in the district often sharing a bed with one of his or her pupils.  Salaries gradually rose until the depression years when they dropped again.  Elementary teachers were paid less well than high school teachers.  Contracts stated that the teacher must keep order, keep the building clean and in good repair and your salary would be paid only if the district had the money to do so.

            Many elementary teachers completed the 8th grade often taking the 8th grade a second year, attended 3 to 6 weeks of County Normal—later called County Institute—took the County Teacher’s Examination and was granted a Third Grade certificate to teach.  Further examinations made it possible to earn a Second Grade certificate, then a First Grade certificate.  These certificates were renewable by attending County Normal.  Certificates were issued by the County Superintendent.  The County Certificates were discontinued in the early forties or the late thirties.

            To graduate from the 8th grade, the children took County Examinations.  In the 7th grade, the examination was given on Geography, Physiology, and Kansas History.  Passing grades in these subjects made it possible for the pupil to not have classes in these subjects in the 8th grade.  Examinations in all other classes were given at the end of the 8th grade.  An average of 80 with no grade below 60 was required for graduation.  The County Superintendent issued diplomas to all who made the required grades.

            Test for examinations were sent out from the State Superintendent’s office.  Examinations were conducted at various centers in the county with usually two teachers present at each center.  No teacher conducted exams where she would be giving them to her own pupils.  County exams were discontinued by legislative action in 1945, I believe.

            Early schools had no library books.  The teacher brought a few books and some schools bought books by having box suppers or pie suppers to raise money,

            Ages of pupils ranged from five to twenty-one years.  Farm boys stayed out of school until farm work was completed in the fall, then went to school.  Some really wanted to learn and others went to see if they could run the teacher out.

            When basketball became a popular game, some of the larger rural schools had outdoor courts and competed with the town elementary schools.  I taught in a school where we had a good team.  We had no basketball suits or tennis shoes.  When we played the town schools, we were not allowed on the court with work shoes so we had to wear overshoes.

            In the winter, when snow was deep and the children walked to school, the farmers broke paths by hitching a team of horses to a log and dragging it to break a path.

            If I remember correctly, “hot lunches” were started in the town schools in the late thirties.

            During the 40’s, the School Reorganization Law caused many of the elementary rural schools to be discontinued.  A second law in the 50’s closed out the rest.  At present (This was written in the early 1970’s) there is only one country school in the county.  It is part of the Quinter district.  At one time there were over 60 districts in the county. 

            During World War II the schools helped salvage waste scrap iron from farms and city dumps for the war effort.  7th and 8th grade boys and the male teachers were dismissed from school duties at time to gather scrap.

            Indoor games for stormy days were ciphering matching, Geography matches, and spelling matches.  The teacher named two captains; sides were chosen and competed in Geography, spelling, and arithmetic.

            Outdoor games were a form of baseball called “work-up”, dare base, black man, beckon, and hide and seek.

            Basket dinners were common in both town and country districts on the last day of school.  All of the patrons in the district gathered for a day of visiting and fun and their sharing of the food carried in.

            The school house in rural areas was the community center and “Literary” was held once a month on many districts.  It was held in the evenings.  Kerosene lamps provided the necessary light.  Programs were a community affair.  Officers were chosen and a subject for debate decided on.  Three persons were chosen to debate on the affirmative side and three on the negative.  Judges were chosen to name the winners.  A committee was selected at each meeting to prepare a “paper” to be read at the next.  It was usually more fiction than fact and caused a lot of excitement.

            People came—whole families in lumber wagons, sleds, or carriages.  The horses were tied to the hitch rack until time to return home.

            Teachers who did not board in the district rode a horse or drove a horse and buggy from home.

            I started teaching in 1915; took two years out in World War I when I was in military service and then continued to teach until 1942 when I was appointed to the office of Gove County Superintendent.  I served in that capacity until I retired on July 1, 1959.

Note:  His brother Warner Johnson served as Sheridan County Superintendent during the same time.