Wednesday, June 21, 2023

New Publication: Broadway School in the 1940s

It’s a fact: a school is more than a building, more than books, more than the teachers and students within—and the farther you get from your school days, the more you appreciate the impact of school on you and your community.

The building on the northeast corner of Dunklin and Broadway was a public school from 1904 to 1955. Today, most people know it as the Carpenters Hall, since the local Carpenters union operated it as an office building longer than it was a school. Now, it has been remodeled into private apartments. Schroeder breathes life into the history we sense as we ponder this historic building.

Reflecting in his eighties, historian Walter A. Schroeder shares his personal experiences of attending Jefferson City’s Broadway Elementary School in the 1940s. It was a much different learning environment than what today’s schoolchildren experience. While public documents and newspaper accounts can present a basic outline of what public elementary schools were like in the past, only accounts like these—of personal experiences—can make history come to life.

A slim volume packed with information, Broadway School in the 1940s offers details like these:

  • All boys wore long pants; all girls wore dresses. All shoes were made of leather.
  • Class size was 30–35 children, and all the teachers were unmarried women.
  • All pupils had their weight and height recorded every six weeks.
  • Student desks had a round hole originally meant to hold an ink bottle, but the ink bottles used in the 1940s didn’t fit the holes. So kids dropped paper wads down the holes: “Bombs away!”
  • Students learned to write in cursive using the Palmer method.
  • Washington’s and Lincoln’s birthdays were observed separately, on different days.
  • The playground had separate sides for boys and girls, with the same playground equipment on both sides.
  • The hand-held, brass school bell was wielded by the principal or by the janitor.
  • Report cards included notes on deportment, study habits, and attitudes.
  • Cloakrooms held coats, caps, gloves, scarves, and galoshes—but no actual cloaks!
  • All the students, and nearly all of the teachers, walked to school every day. School was never closed for inclement weather.

In addition to his detailed accounts of what Broadway School was like in the 1940s, Schroeder offers his reflections on the changes he’s observed after seventy years: decorum in the classroom, changing technology, evolving public educational policy, diversity, and more.

“I want people to have a detailed description,” Schroeder says. “Over a thousand kids were educated in that building. Early education leaves an indelible imprint in our lives. Elementary education was so different in the past. And there are few people left who have memories of Broadway School as it was.”

An entertaining, authentic collection of memories of a wartime schoolchild, Broadway School in the 1940s paints vivid scenes of a historic elementary school, inspiring readers of all ages to make comparisons to their own school memories.

Broadway School in the 1940s, by Walter A. Schroeder
Published in 2023 by the Historic City of Jefferson, Inc.
58 pp.; 28 photographs and illustrations

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