Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

One-Room School: The Tradition Is Updated

August 29, 2014 Think THF


One-Room School is one of The Henry Ford’s longest-running programs. It has made memories for generations; current teachers and staff members remember coming to Greenfield Village for this program as children themselves. And now we have revised our One-Room School Teacher’s Guide to update the program.

William Holmes McGuffey School (Object ID: 34.777.1)

Teachers can reserve either McGuffey School (a representation of a typical Michigan school of the 1840s) or Miller School (the real school Henry Ford attended in the 1870s). To keep program costs reasonable, we have created a guide with pre-, during, and post-visit activities so the teacher can lead his/her own students. (Groups can also visit Scotch Settlement School to participate in a 20-minute elocution and civics lesson with Greenfield Village’s schoolmarm/schoolmaster, wearing historic dress.)


Miller School (Object ID: 43.153.1).


Our current One-Room School Teacher’s Guide was about 10 years old. Certainly we needed to update the way program related to current education standards and curriculum, including the Common Core State Standards. But what really pushed our need was a comment from a teacher at one of our Educator Open Houses. She asked, “What about school life for African-American students in the 1800s?” Most of her students were African-American, and she wondered if they would have been in a school like McGuffey, or sitting alongside Henry Ford at Miller School.

The new guide addresses education for African-Americans and other minority groups. It also incorporates visits to sites in Greenfield Village that show the great steps some people have taken in order to learn. For instance, boys in their young teens would become an apprentice at places like the Print Shop, in order to learn the trade. This generally meant moving away from home and working for the printer for room and board for years before mastering the business. At the Hermitage Slave Quarters, students will learn how enslaved African-Americans learned to read and write in secret. Check out the revised Teacher’s Guide here.

Reward of Merit Given to Sarah White by Her Teacher, Alexander McGuffey, Washington County, Pennsylvania, 1833 (Object ID: 43.85.1).

Giving students a new perspective on education through our One-Room School program has been so rewarding. It’s also been fun for us to learn more about the history of education and to sift through The Henry Ford’s many school-related artifacts. In the archives, we found many rewards of merit. During the nineteenth century, teachers rewarded students for excellent work or good behavior with these paper cards. Probably the most historically significant reward of merit we found was a handmade one given by 17-year-old teacher, Alexander McGuffey, to his student, Sarah White, in 1833. Alexander McGuffey was the younger brother of William Holmes McGuffey, originator of the McGuffey Readers textbook series and he himself the writer of the Fifth and Sixth Readers.


School Reward of Merit Given to James Grattan by His Teacher, Miss Carman, 1850-1859 (Object ID: 30.950.6.1).


We can’t wait to see students in the Village this school year dressed in their do-it-yourself historic clothing, writing on slate boards, and thinking about the educational opportunities they might undertake in their lives. We’d love to hear about your One-Room School field trip; feel free to contact us or post some photos to The Henry Ford’s Facebook page!

Catherine Tuczek is former Curator of School Programs at The Henry Ford. She will never forget her childhood one-room school field trip, where she was disciplined for talking out of turn by standing with her nose in one spot on the blackboard for what seemed like eternity. Note that this was NOT at Greenfield Village.  

teachers and teaching, school, Greenfield Village buildings, Greenfield Village, educational resources, education, by Catherine Tuczek

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