Schools were important to the early settlers in Oklahoma Territory. In fact, establishing a school site was one of the first decisions each new community made when the land was opened up to claims or lotteries. School was held whereever a place could be found until a permanent schoolhouse was built. C. Sharp, a settler from Tennessee remembered: "We sent our children to school in a dugout; they sat on benches made out of poles and held their slate and pencil in their hands. We had a three months' term of school."
My great-grandfather was John Bell Tracy. (Born in Tennessee in 1859, it seems to me he was most likely named after the popular Tennessee politician that ran against Abraham Lincoln in the hotly contested Presidential election of 1860.) He brought his family westward by covered wagon and established his life in present day Roger Mills county. He worked as a school teacher in Oklahoma, as did his daughter, my grandmother, when she came of age.
I recently found this picture of my great-grandfather with his students one year at their one-room school house :
It was interesting for me to find this picture after learning about the Babbs Switch schoolhouse fire. This image looks so similar to me: a one-room schoolhouse with heavy wire mesh attached to protect the windows from prairie winds and weather. I can only imagine that this school building may have also had a single entry door that opened dangerously inward. These were the features that were later condemned nationwide after the tragic Babbs Switch fire in December, 1924. (See my post Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust on June 30th.) I also find it interesting to look at the students, their prairie clothing styles and the clear disparity in their ages. The little boy in the center front row is particularly interesting. Because he is dressed in a peasant-style shirt, he looks as if he might be from one of the many Russian families that immigrated to Oklahoma. The girls' hair is also well styled. It seems that wearing enormous bows in their hair was quite the fashion. I wonder if these students stayed and built their lives in Oklahoma, and if so, if they survived the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl devastation that had such an impact on the people of that state.