Friday, January 20, 2012

High School in 1889

I'm reading a history of my home town as part of the research for next year's book, The Shadow of a Name. As I read, I've been creating a timeline of what happened when ... because I don't want to have my main character riding a horse-drawn trolley that didn't exist, or living in a part of the county that was populated only by wolves at the time. Just this evening, I've been adding the growth of the school system to my timeline, and I read something amazing:

“The high school curriculum comprises four parallel courses of three years each, the English, the Latin, the German, and the Classical. These courses include instruction in algebra, book-keeping, geometry, botany, human physiology, physical geography, chemistry, physics, geology, English composition, word analysis, technical grammar, orthoepy, elocution, history and development of English literature, rhetoric, political economy, civil government, elements of commercial law, general history, three years each in Latin, Greek, and German. It will be seen that the public schools furnish a good practical education, well rounded out. 9 instructors.

A notable feature of the high school is a series of lectures on subjects directly or indirectly connected with the course of study, given by persons prominent in educational circles, and occurring once or twice per week throughout the year. Among the lecturers have been the Governor of Nebraska, and other State officers, the Chancellor and other members of the faculty of the State University, lawyers, ministers and physicians of Lincoln, and the instructors of the high school.”

Does that course of study amaze anyone else? I remember my mother, who was born in 1913, saying that elocution was her favorite subject ... in 8th grade. I don't know any 8th graders who would even know what that is. I had to look it up. It's "the study and practice of oral delivery, including the control of both voice and gesture."  

And ... orthoepya. The study of the pronunciation of words. b. The study of the relationship between the pronunciation of words and their orthography.

Well, now I have to look up orthography. This is getting embarrassing: the art of writing words with the proper letters, according to accepted usage; correct spelling.

Lincoln's 1889 graduating class was about three times the size of the one pictured at the left. Still, I imagine our graduates dressed much the same. I love the flowers  and the general "feel" of the photo, which says to me that they were proud of what they'd accomplished and they were making the day memorable. 

I wonder how many of those flowers ended up pressed and treasured for years to come. Did any of those young women go on to higher education? What opportunities lay before them? Whatever came their way, I wonder if they used their orthography, orthoepy, and elocution?

As to the high school portrayed above, that is the Lincoln, Nebraska high school, built in 1873. Historian James McKee says that "the trees, it was quickly pointed out, were not for shade or decoration. In the parents' haste to locate the school, they had chosen a site so far to the east of the city that a green belt was needed to protect the building from prairie fires ... Well into the next decade many parents would not allow their children to walk to school in winter for fear that they might be attacked by wild animals." 

Honestly, the more I learn about "the good old days," the happier I am that all I do is write about them.



  1. This is so interesting! I don't know how you get any writing done with the research it takes - especially when the research is so fascinating! Thanks for providing the definitions. It saved me the embarrassment of having to ask - or (gasp) look them up myself! :) I agree with you. The good old days seem romantic, simple and wonderful, until I remember they had no indoor plumbing...
    In all seriousness, I wanted to tell you both how much I enjoy this blog. It takes work to keep it up and your efforts are appreciated.
    Jan in Nebraska

  2. Thank you, Jan. And you're right about the research sometimes taking over. I remember spending two hours trying to find out what a backyard water well looked like in Colonial times. All for a sentence or two in my book. But the rabbit-trails are very interesting.

  3. Thanks, Jan. Honestly I love the research so much that I find myself in a bind with deadlines sometimes because I've been compiling research instead of writing fiction. Somehow it all works out in spite of me. Thank you for your kind words. They mean more than you know!

  4. Fascinating! I read that list of studies to my junior in high school and was glad he didn't ask me what those classes were. I was SO thankful when I read on and you supplied the answers :)

    I just found this blog today but I will definitely be coming back again and again!

  5. I have to inform my fellow blogger, Stephanie, that this blog of hers is our 100th blog! That's a lot of historical tidbits!

  6. Wow. Time flies. I know that I speak for both Nancy and myself when I say thanks to everyone who lets us know that we aren't sending these into empty air. Your feedback is invaluable.

  7. Wow, high school sure has changed! I'm going to share this. :-)