School Year Was Shorter in 1912

17-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Wednesday, April 17, 1912: At last I have managed to get a subject that I think will suit me. I read it over this evening. It was very interesting to read.

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

The previous day Grandma wrote that she was trying to find a topic for a presentation on the upcoming last day of school. What was the interesting subject that Grandma came up with?  I wonder what types of topics were considered appropriate back then.

The school year was shorter a hundred years ago—and length varied a lot between one school and the next.  For example, the school year at the one-room school-house where Grandma’s sister Ruth taught ended on March 27.



Schools in the rural districts of Northumberland county are closing for the vacation of several months, and will not resume until the fall. In the rural districts many of these schools closed this week, and the various teachers will be seeking employment elsewhere until time shall travel over a course of perhaps several months, when they will be found behind the teacher’s desk, instructing young minds and in some cases wielding the rod, urging some tardy loiterer along the paths of knowledge.

Seven months is the average school term in the rural districts, and at the close of March and the beginning of April the school boy looks for the close of the school, and incidentally helps his father in the preparation of the soil for the planting of the crops.

Milton Evening Standard (April 6, 1912)

11 Responses

  1. Interesting that teachers would seek employment elsewhere during school vacations. These days I believe teachers get a salary that is spread evenly over the year…

    • Teachers must not have been paid very well back then. I also think that teachers salaries are now spaced out across the entire year. But, I can remember that when I was a child that some of my teachers got construction jobs or did other seasonal work during the summer months.

  2. […] The previous day, she wrote in the diary that she’d selected an interesting topic, but provided no hints about what it was.  Was it humorous? . . . . serious? . . . about a controversial topic? . . . Recent early spring view of some flower beds on the farm where Grandma grew up. I bet that Grandma would have preferred to be outside on a nice spring evening instead of being stuck in the house writing a speech. (I just realized that I'm making an assumption–she actually could have been outside when she wrote the speech.) Like this:LikeBe the first to like this post. […]

  3. Interesting that teachers worked in other jobs during the holidays. My daughter and her grandparents were teachers, none of whom worked elsewhere. I understand the current concept in Australia is that while there may be school holidays, teachers are on stand-down rather than holidays and may be expected to work, as my daughter did last week through her 1st term “holidays”. Technically they only get one set of holidays a year.

    • Interesting–I don’t think that teachers in the US generally take summer jobs not related to teaching anymore. Union contracts probably would govern whether or not it is allowed.

  4. One of my daughters is a teacher and she always tries to find work during the summer, related to teaching or not. She has ended up teaching summer school and “rediness” classes for pre-k. This year she hopes to work in her cousins gym. 7 months was a long vacation but I guess the students were needed in the “real world”. They aren’t so much needed nowadays.

  5. Five months break! Everyone would forget! But quite true they were probably working on the farms etc. How long do your children get now in summer? We only have about 5-6 weeks in summer (Dec-Jan) and that includes Christmas and all the busyness. There’s not much down time.

  6. […] on the last day of school. On April 16, she wrote that she was trying to find a topic; and, of the 17th she wrote that she’d found an interesting […]

  7. […] about in yesterday’s diary entry apparently was her oration. She wrote the speech on April 16, 17 and 18; and finalized and memorized it on April 22 and 23. I suppose that she practiced it in class […]

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