Individual Narratives: Rare 1911 Manual Shows Teacher’s Look At Life At Vesper Graded School

 In a state where the one-room schoolhouse was quite the norm in the early 1900s, tiny Vesper, Wis., boasted an impressive two-story brick school building that was the center of learning for area children for decades.

Built in 1906 just off of Main Street in Vesper, the Vesper Graded School was home to students of District No. 1, Town of Hansen. We get an interesting look at life inside the school from ateacher’s record book covering the years 1911-1917. The “Welch’s System Attendance, Classification, Gradation and Close Supervision” book belonged to Ruby (Treutel) Hanneman, who attended Vesper school starting in 1913 and later taught at the school.

The teacher kept detailed notes on conditions at the school, in addition to student performance.
The teacher kept detailed notes on conditions at the school, in addition to records of student performance and attendance.

The detailed notes in the book make one thing very clear: the teacher had her hands full each school year. Not only did one woman handle teaching duties for lower and upper grades, but she had to manage the building and contend with a cranky, bulky coal furnace each winter.

During the years covered in the record book, Vesper had three teachers: Mabelle Rowland in 1911-1912, Ella H. Hessler from 1912-13 to 1914-15, and Sara Icke in 1915-16 and 1916-17. Teachers were paid between $50 and $60 per month. Ruby’s uncle, Henry Treutel, served on the school board in early years (his son Harold attended classes during that time). In the late 1920s, another uncle, Charles Treutel, was also on the board.

It seems the biggest challenge for the teachers was not in the classroom but the furnace room. The coal-fired furnace often belched smoke and gases into the clean-air intake and into the classrooms. “Before you begin school learn how to manage the drafts of furnace and cold air shafts,” wrote Mabelle Rowland in her 1912 “Teacher’s Report to Successor.” “The inspector is very critical on this work.” Teacher Ella Hessler wrote one year later: “The furnace needs repair. The smoke enters the fresh air. The furnace work in cold weather is too heavy for a woman.” Similar notations were made in subsequent years.

Each student's attendance and academic performance were tracked in detail.
Each student’s attendance and academic performance were tracked in detail.

The school typically served from 25 to 40 students per term. Primary grades were on one level and upper grades on the other. The teacher staggered the subjects so she could get lessons started for one group and then move to the other. Classes started at 9 a.m. and students were dismissed for the day at 4 p.m. Course work included arithmetic, history, language, reading, grammar, physiology, domestic science for girls, manual training for boys, civics and geography.

Some of the children walked to school from homes nearby in the village, while others came in from the countryside. Tardiness was common, due to distance walked, duties at home or a pokey walking pace. In 1911-1912, Alfred and Agnes Peterson were the brother-sister tardiness champs with 20 and 17 instances, respectively. Clara Zieher had 18 tardy notations, followed by Erma Dassow with 15 (her brother Elmer had just 4). Absence from school was also common due to illness or duties helping at home. On occasion a student or two left school for a month or two to perform farm work. Arnold Conklin had best attendance in 1911-1912, only missing one day out of 180.

Absences were common from illness or need to stay home and work on farm chores.
Absences were common from illness or need to stay home and work on farm chores.

The book tracked each student’s attendance and progress on a range of subjects. Teachers made notations for some students that ranged from “fair worker,’ “weak eyes” and “slow” to “hard worker,” “irregular and very nervous,” and “dull.”

In the 1911-1912 school year, the school library had a mere 50 volumes. The school invested in books each year, and by June 1917 the library’s holdings included 144 books. For obvious reasons, the boys’ and girls’ out buildings regularly needed repairs and painting. The number of trees on school grounds that were in “thrifty condition” ranged from four to seven.Ruby Treutel enrolled at Vesper Graded School in November 1913, when she was 10. There was some indication she had attended a parochial school prior to that. During her first year, Ruby missed 21.5 days and was tardy six times. Her cousin Harold Treutel had a mere three sick days. Ruby received good grades for the term: orthography, 91; reading, 95; writing, 90; arithmetic, 70; grammar, 89; geography, 83; and constitutions, 90. During the 1914-1915 school year, Ruby was out sick 20 days, but she still maintained As and Bs in all of her subjects.
The teacher's annual summary provides interesting detail on all conditions at the school
The teacher’s annual summary provides interesting detail on all conditions at the school.

During the 1915-1916 term, Ruby excelled in all of her courses, scoring solid ‘A’s in orthography, reading, grammar, U.S. history and physiology. Her lowest grade was a ‘B’ in geography and arithmetic.

Harold Treutel graduated from Vesper Graded School in 1917 and enrolled at Lincoln High School in Grand Rapids. Ruby graduated from Vesper in 1918, also enrolling at Lincoln High School. That may be where she first met Carl F. Hanneman, whom she would marry in July 1925.


About The Author:  Joe Hanneman is a writer, editor and marketer with more than 30 years of experience. He runs the The Hanneman Archive.

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