One-room schoolhouse history lesson

AMELIA DUAX, Staff Writer

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This past Saturday, Aug. 26, a crowd of around 30 people had the opportunity to go back in time to experience the chalkboards, quill pens and old wooden desks of the one-room rural schoolhouse.

UNI’s Marshall Center Schoolhouse, located on campus by the corner of Indiana Street and West 23rd Street, was where Marilyn Meyer, a one-room schoolhouse first-grade teacher, gave her insight on the historical rural schoolhouses across Iowa.

Meyer was a first-grade teacher in Everly, Iowa for 35 years and is now part of the Clay County Historical Society. Her passion for history and teaching led her to meet Bill Sherman, a man who worked at the Friends of UNI Museum, located in the lower level of the Rod Library at UNI.

Sherman had inspired Meyer to seek out old schoolhouses across the state. At the time, about 50 had been located. Now, Meyer has successfully found around 131 schoolhouses, some of which have been converted into modern homes.

“Often times, the schools were used for churches,” Meyer said. “They make lovely homes; they’re so solid.”

According to Meyer, the turnout for Saturday’s event ended up being better than she had anticipated.

“At first, I didn’t think anybody was coming,” Meyer said. “I was pleased [with the turnout], and I think it was more personal for the people who asked questions.”

Some of the audience members were former one-room schoolhouse teachers themselves. Meyer hopes that her message of the importance of teaching was clear to everyone in attendance, especially the younger audience members. 

Meyer’s granddaughter, Melissa Meyer, who was in attendance at the lecture, said she was proud of her grandmother’s presentation.

“It’s very nice to hear her talk passionately in front of other people that are willing to come listen to that kind of thing; it’s nice to hear,” Melissa Meyer said.

Laura Klever, a UNI student who also went to the event, talked about what she gained from the presentation.

“It was just fun to hear the stories of when [Meyer] taught,” Klever said. “It’s something that’s interesting to me. It was neat to see how passionate she was […] She took the pictures of all the schoolhouses she showed us.”

In fact, both Melissa Meyer and Klever are seeking careers in education.

“We’re both studying to be teachers right now, but it’s a big difference from having every class in one tiny room compared to schools that are two stories tall,” Melissa Meyer said.

Marilyn Meyer’s presentation was made possible by the Friends of UNI Museum’s Rural Schoolhouse Speakers Series.

Amy Rohrberg, an associate professor and costume designer in UNI’s theatre department, was at the schoolhouse and was able to give more insight on the Speakers Series.

“It was called a ‘Lecture Series’ for a while,” Rohrberg said. “I said that people don’t want to come and see lectures, but they’d love to hear a speaker! We were sure there were experts or people in the state who knew, and there was plenty of interest in the schoolhouse. So, as we just started calling around to retired teacher organizations, the historical societies and the Iowa Humanities Board, there was a list. So, we just started calling and asking if they’d like to come and talk.”

Rohrberg went on to describe the response they received from schoolhouse experts.

  “We had a great response to a real variety of activities that we could offer,” Rohrberg said. “Indeed, we found some very interesting people, and from all over the state.”

According to Rohrberg, the Friends of UNI Museum group has been active at the museum for a very long time.

The group plans on having more events like Marilyn Meyer’s presentation in the future, as well as possibly raising funds for the museum exhibits. The next Speaker Series event is set to be on Oct. 28.