The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

Visit us on FaceBookGenerations of Memories
from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

School Days In The 1920s And 1930s

By Charlotte Snapp © 1992
As told by her mother, Rebecca Orr Snapp

Issue: May, 1992

As August came to a close, I began thinking with great anticipation about returning to school in just a few more days. We lived in the Walkers Creek community located about seven miles west of Marion, Virginia. The school was called Walker's Creek School. I fondly thought about our little two room school house sitting on a knoll surrounded by beautiful green fields and a gently flowing creek nearby. The rooms were now empty except for the wood stove which was used for heating in the wintertime and our two seated desks which had room to put our books in the shelf in the seat in front of each desk.

On the first day of school I quickly finished my chores and got dressed. As I went out the door, I picked up my lunch box (a lard bucket) which was filled either with sausage biscuits, applebutter or jam biscuits, fried eggs, an apple, homemade cookies or cake. I did not mind the mile walk to school as I would see my school friends and my teachers who worked so hard to teach us. My Primer or first grade teacher was Ida Anderson, second and third grade teacher was Elizabeth Buchanan.

As I arrived at school, the once empty school house was bustling with friendly faces and excited chatter discussing the summer activities. We only had seven months of school with days beginning at 9 a.m. and lasting until 4 p.m. This was done so the kids could help with the farm work.

As the teacher called the class to order, I noticed that as usual, attendance was very good. The first 15 minutes were set aside for all classes to join together in prayer and devotions. When the roll was called each student present recited a Bible verse from memory. We did not have to deal with the problems of smoking or drugs because they were unheard of. Each student listened attentively as the teacher spoke because she was a strict disciplinarian. If someone misbehaved in class, they either had to stand in the corner, were paddled or switched, or had to stay after school to do extra work. But worse yet, when the parents found out about a behavior problem the child was punished when he or she got home.

We did not have a class for physical education but during lunch we would have ball games or play Crack the Whip. This game was played by everyone joining hands and running part of the way down the hill, come to an abrupt stop and start pulling. The one on the end of the line would go up in the air.

As the school day ended, we walked the mile home discussing the day's events and the homework assignments we must complete by the following morning. Our day did not end with school. When we got home we changed our clothes and did our chores such as feeding and milking the cows, preparing supper and washing and packing away the dishes. We had to do all our schoolwork before we went to bed.

As the rainy and cold, snowy wintertime approached, we did not enjoy our mile walk to school quite so much. As the log trucks traveled the roads each day, they made ruts in the dirt road which became very muddy and you could hardly walk. We would sometimes wade snow up to our knees. With the frigid winter temperatures, we would sometimes nearly freeze before we arrived at school.

I went to school during the depression years when times were hard and money scarce. I had one Sunday dress and a pair of shoes and two dresses for school and an everyday pair of shoes. I did not begin school until I was almost eight years old as no one began until their seventh birthday. A lot of the children quit school when they were in the fourth or fifth grades because they planned to spend the rest of their lives working on the farm and thought this was all the education they would need. When I entered the seventh grade, I found out that I was the only student in the seventh grade. Now you are thinking, gee that would be fun to be the only student in class. But it was very difficult because I had to answer all the questions and more was expected of me.

I have fond memories of my high school years where I attended a much larger school than the little two room school I was accustomed to. There was no bus coming through by our home on Walkers Creek to take us to high school. So I boarded at Uncle Ross's home in Rich Valley. I was excited about staying there because this was my favorite place to go for a visit or at holiday times. During high school we attended school eight months. We had to pay $1.50 a month in order to ride the bus. This was a treat for me as we had always walked to school. We also paid tuition. The eight and ninth grade students paid $3.50 a month and the tenth and eleventh grade students paid $4.50 a month tuition. The eleventh grade was our Senior Year.

From time to time we would have a bit of humor at school. Each day a bell would be rung at the end of the day to dismiss the students from their classes. During the winter we would sit around the radiator to stay warm. One day while the boys were sitting around the radiator, one of them tied a piece of copper wire to the bell and the other end of the wire to one of the boys' belt. Knowing the wire was tied to his belt, he got up to go to the bathroom which rang the bell. Everyone headed for the door thinking school was dismissed. We got to go home early that day.

Because times were hard, we had to spend our money very carefully only buying necessary items. During the four years I attended high school, I only spent six cents unnecessarily. I bought a one cent sucker and six lemon drops which cost five cents.

While I was in the tenth grade, I got sick and had to have an appendectomy. I was taken to the Saltville Hospital for the operation where I stayed for the next two weeks. My operation was on the 25th or 26th of April, which was the end of the school year. Because I was in the hospital, I had to take my final exams at the beginning of the next school Year.

Graduation was a very special time as only a few students made it through all eleven grades. In my 1933 graduating class, there were thirteen boys and thirteen girls. The girls wore white dresses, shoes and hats. The boys wore white pants and shirt and a navy coat and tie. We had a Junior-Senior Banquet each year. The juniors entertained the seniors by preparing food at school with the teachers' help. Then we were taken by bus to see a movie. This was a real treat for me because this was the first movie I had ever seen. It was a silent movie as was common in those days.