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America’s One-Room Schools: Sites of Regional Authority and Symbols of Local Autonomy, after 1850


Before the nineteenth - century’s mandatory education laws, churches and towns created schools according to local needs. The one-room school was a product of local community and autonomy. Educational reformers sought to standardize schooling through guidelines for schoolhouse and playground design and standards for curriculum and attendance. These external reform movements provided the impetus for communities to reform or resist such impositions. America’s social memory of the “little red schoolhouse” paints the picture of one-room schools as sites of conformity and innocence, but historical archaeology of specific schools reveals tensions encoded in these buildings, their documentary records, and associated artifact assemblages.

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April Beisaw would like to thank the Saline and Pittsfield historical societies for their support with archaeological research at the Blaess and Geddes (Town Hall) schools, especially Wayne Clements and Marcia Ticknor. Many community members volunteered their time in the field and the lab. Jim Gibb sparked my interest in this topic when we worked on the Oella School in Maryland and he convinced me that there was much more to be learned from these sites.

Jane Baxter would like to thank the various people and organizations who supported archaeological work at the Old Edgebrook Schoolhouse: The Cook County Board of Commissioners, the staff of The Forest Preserve District of Cook County, The Old Edgebrook Historical Society, Christian Barron a DePaul alumnus who brought the schoolhouse site to my attention, and the staff and students of the 2011 field school season.

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Correspondence to April M. Beisaw.

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Beisaw, A.M., Baxter, J.E. America’s One-Room Schools: Sites of Regional Authority and Symbols of Local Autonomy, after 1850. Int J Histor Archaeol 21, 806–826 (2017).

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