Children experience Setzer School Day in history camp

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 29, 2023

By Theresa Parker Pierce

Earlier in June the History Camps at Rowan Museum continued with “Call of the Bell: A one-room school house experience” at Setzer Schoolhouse.

“We’ve come to Setzer Schoolhouse to study and to learn. There’s reading, writing and arithmetic to learn. We’ll learn, we’ll learn, we’ll learn our lessons well,” was sung in rounds.

The sounds of children once again echoed in the walls that once housed many generations of Rowan County pupils. Rowan History Museum campers stepped back in time to 1847 at Setzer School. The one-room schoolhouse was built by China Grove farmers. The school has a split-shingle roof, stone fireplace and wooden benches. School typically only lasted three months during the winter when the need for farm help was lowest. Children of all ages attended the same school and moved up based on mastery. A student who started later in life would be paired with one who could read. This earned the school the name, “Blab School” because everyone read aloud in pairs.

The schoolmarm started the day teaching the rules. Boys and girls could not play together. If someone climbed a tree, they were cautioned they could receive one lash for the first three feet, and an additional lash for each additional foot climbed. Girl’s fingernails were to be kept short and neat. Boys sat on one side, straw hats off and in their laps. Girls sat opposite with bonnets and aprons.

The benches held McGuffey Readers, spellers and well sharpened pencils. Eager students sat up ready to learn. A surprise visit from Superintendent Terry interrupted the teaching of rules for students with a reminder of rules for the teacher.

After ten hours in school, the teacher may spend the remaining time reading the Bible or other good books. He reminded her of her other assorted duties such as filling the lamps, cleaning the chimneys and whittling pens.

Schoolmarm Sierra practiced math problems with the pupils. She puzzled the campers asking them to do farm-related math, trick questions and ciphering. The students were expected to know their math facts and time tables. They did figuring on slates with chalk. Additionally, Schoolmarm Sierra taught the students how to make a paper cup. This way they were able to avoid a pitfall of 1847. During that time students would have shared germs by drinking out of the same dipper which led to outbreaks of diseases.

A nature walk included lessons on edible plants, folklore and animal habitats. Students connected, “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make them drink” as a caution that even a horse knows not to drink water that is stagnate or cannot support life. The students learned “Leaves of three, leave it be,” is a warning to avoid poison ivy. Poplar leaves look like tulips. Their wood is tough and tall. It makes good poles for ship’s masts or axe handles. A real favorite
was the story about “Hearts-a-Bustin,” a plant that looks like the four chambers of the heart. The red seeds appear to bleed from the heart.

Schoolmarm Tricia lead a reading lesson in the Blab School. It was loud and yet it worked as students of all levels read in pairs. They started with letters and sounds moving to paragraphs and stories. When quizzed one student said, “Math was my favorite next to reading.” This was followed by a lunch of sausage biscuits, apples and cookies, similar to a lunch in Setzer’s time. It was eaten outside, of course in the great outdoors. Recess included a group favorite: Anty Over where students threw a ball over the school yelling, “Anty Over” as a warning that they should hold their heads up and look for an incoming ball. Additional games included walking on stilts, jump-rope to rhyming songs, and hand-held wooden toys.

Schoolmarm Crystal held a lively spelling bee. First up the girls competed. Then the boys had their turn. The winners of each group competed against one another for top speller. The students who did not win were quick to announce which word bumped them out of the competition. The schoolmarm provided definitions and sample sentences when requested. The students were required to “say, spell, say” which also caused them to lose their turn if they forgot. With each round of the spelling bee, the words grew more difficult.

Next the students made buzz-saw toys. They threaded a piece of yarn through the holes of a button. Tied together, the string-button toy makes a buzzing sound like a saw used to cut wood. They wound the toy up singing to the tune of “Round and Round.”

The day at Setzer included bowing and curtsying, formal terms, and many “pleases and thank yous.” The students were delighted with the outdoor classes, challenges, and opportunity to experience daily life in the mid 1800’s. But they also learned true stories about how education was unfairly distributed, thankful for the much-needed changes we take for granted today.

The next history camp will be held July 5 and is titled “Wagons, Railways and Reform.” The programs are for children in grades 3-7 and costs $30 per student. Anyone interested in supporting a neighbor, friend or child who would enjoy attending Freedom Camp or any of the other varied camps this summer, please reach out to the Rowan Museum. Ask for Schoolmarm Tricia. The children enjoyed living in the 1840’s school setting being taught by trained history
and professional educators all part of the Rowan Museum: Terry Holt, Tricia Denton Creel, Crystal Wagoner, Sierra Barger and Theresa Pierce.