What was school really like at the turn of the 20th century?

June 22nd, 2017

For the three young children found in the photo above, their time at Nanaimo’s Central School was likely a different world compared to the school time experiences of kids today.

In the early 1900s, it was typical for rural communities to build one-room schoolhouses, placing wee kindergarten babes with older, rambunctious teenagers. A single teacher would be responsible for the learning outcomes of a wide variety of children, ranging in ability and knowledge. In more urban centers, such as Nanaimo, larger schools with additional rooms were built to accommodate a growing population, different age groups, and varying academic aptitude.

When it came to fashion, teachers at the turn of the 20th century didn’t have much liberty with their wardrobe selection. In particular, it was expected that female school teachers wear floor-length skirts with long-sleeved blouses. By the 1930s, women could jazz up their outfit with puffed sleeves ending at their elbow. Men wore the typical uniform: a suit with a tie and nice dress shoes.

Like today, students’ desks were neatly lined row by row facing the front of classroom. However, 20th century kids didn’t have the benefit of 21st century classroom technology.

In a mere century, a lot has changed! (From the collection of the Nanaimo Archives)

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