Oregon's Early Rural Schools Web Exhibit

drawing of globe, mapping equipment, and books
A detail from an 1890 Oregon School Register and Record Book. (Oregon State Archives Image)
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Exhibit Introduction

Many Oregon public school students now routinely use iPads and other computer devices loaded with educational apps. Others struggle with writing in cursive form. How times have changed from the era before World War II, when devices consisted of chalk, pointers and pencils...when proper cursive styles were enforced with penmanship grades.
An education revolution, driven partly by greatly enhanced mobility, stands between today’s students and those of yesteryear. The early years of the 1900s saw the development of mass-produced cars at affordable prices. This fed the demand for better-paved roads as proponents sought to “Get Oregon Out of the Mud.” Modern travelers often fail to conceive of just how difficult it was to travel even a few miles on muddy, unpaved roads. And Oregon had precious few miles of paved roads in the 1800s and early 1900s.
student drawing of Teddy Roosevelt
Minnie Lightfoot, a Marion County sixth grader, drew this image of President Theodore Roosevelt in 1905. (Oregon State Archives Image)
school handbell
An old school hand bell used to call students to the classroom. (Oregon State Archives Image)
Rural and small town schools were sited with this practical reality in mind. Students walked or rode on horseback or in a buggy to get to school. As a result, some Oregon counties each had well over 100 strategically located school districts, often centered around a one-room schoolhouse.
By the middle decades of the 1900s, paved roads had lessened the need for so many small schools. Buses could ferry students cheaply and effectively to larger and more efficient schools. A massive school consolidation movement swept through Oregon, in some cases merging 9 out of 10 school districts. The number of districts has dwindled to 197 in the entire state.
Many of the old one-room schoolhouses were repurposed as community centers, private schools or museum exhibits. Others were converted into private homes, torn down or allowed to degrade into ruins over the decades.
This exhibit takes a stroll through an earlier time in Oregon. It offers glimpses of old schoolhouses, students at work and play and the colorful life revolving around rural schools in the state.

About the Student Artwork

1905 student drawing of a mill
A mill drawn by Wasco County 7th grader Lavona Moore in 1905. (Fort Dalles Museum) Enlarge image and see attached poem
Much of the student artwork featured in this exhibit was originally presented at the 1905 Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition in Portland—notable as the first world’s fair on the Pacific Coast of North America.
Nearly 1.6 million people attended the event, which ran from June to October. Students from around Oregon submitted school work on subjects designed to show visitors the high quality of education in the state.
Other drawings in this exhibit were displayed at the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis, Missouri.
Note: Some images have been tinted for exhibit purposes.