Probably the most interesting of the exhibits in Old World Wisconsin was the Raspberry School. The school shows the trademarks of skilled construction, so the community obviously put a lot of effort into making a good building for their children to be educated. The fact that an expensive purple-pink paint, rather than the more affordable trademark red used on barns, also indicates that this northern Wisconsin community made a substantial communal investment in the school.
The docent, an attractive young lady in her twenties, gave a wonderful presentation to us tourists, who sat in the students’ desks and could flip through the readers and draw on the students’ slates. She explained that a typical teacher who would have worked in the schoolhouse would have been shockingly young by our standards — schoolteachers sometimes started their jobs when they were 15 or 16 years old. (14 year old girls teaching were not unknown — as soon as they finished school themselves, they could take the test and start looking for work.) The total education dispensed by these one-room schools would usually be the equivalent of today’s high school and a year or two of college, so the program was relatively intense and aided by the one-on-one instruction. Boys typically took longer to make it through the school’s program because they would be pulled out of school to help out with work around their families’ farms. So some of the students would be older than their teachers, and it was not unheard of for teachers to strike up romantic relationships with, and eventually marry, their students. Once a teacher got married, she generally gave up teaching as a job because being the wife of a farmer was a full-time job. After touring some of the other farms and seeing just how much work went into them, it’s easy to understand why.