Education in the Early Years of the Western Reserve

Imagine a morning in the 19th century schoolhouse: rough hewn log walls, embers glowing in the wood stove central to the 12 x 16 foot classroom, waxed paper window panes diffusing the spring sunshine. The stillness is interrupted by the gurgle of the swallows in the chimney, while voices sounding more like the cackle of coyotes than young scholars on the path stir the school teacher to action. She smooths back a stray hair, straightens her vest, breathes deeply, and prepares to ring the 8 o’clock bell calling the children to another day in the little valley school.
The Western Reserve pioneers worked quickly to establish formal schools in their growing rural communities. Education of children, then as now, was considered the first and greatest duty.
The first school in Cleveland was located near the corner of St. Clair and Bank St. (W. 6th) by 1817, but our Cuyahoga Valley settlers were already holding sessions as early as 1811 in homesteads or empty cabins. The classes of 20 or more students met for class six days per week, eight hours each day. Teachers were paid by subscription, fees ranging from two to four dollars for each summer and winter term. A teacher might be paid partly in cash, partly in goods such as wheat, while boarding with families in rotation throughout a term. Reading, writing, spelling, arithmetic, and geography comprised the course of study for ages 8 to 14 in the early schools, and in the pre-McGuffey Reader days, The Farmer’s Almanac, the family Bible, or treasured volumes of literary classics served as textbooks.
Schools brought a community together in ways outside daily lessons, and there was pride in the accomplishments of learners of all ages. Evenings in the little school houses saw box supper socials, literary societies, and singing schools, with civic meetings providing a forum for debates on the issues of the day.
From the humble beginnings of the one-room school, judges, lawyers, doctors, journalists, civic leaders, teachers, and entrepreneurs of all sorts received an education sufficient to contribute to the strength of the new community and success beyond the boundaries of their valley home.