Google the Fourteenth Street School and a campus in Bangor, Maine, and a 1920s/1930s group of New York City artists will pop up. The Modesto classrooms where the McHenry children learned their letters and practiced their sums have faded in history.
But on the Second Saturday of March, the Modesto schoolhouse and its predecessors came back to life, set in the McHenry Museum and described by retired teacher Karen Tiffin as part of a lesson on 19th-century education.
“There would have been one teacher for all grades,” said Tiffin, who taught for 25 years at Orville Wright Elementary in Modesto.
The youngest children in the smallest desks would have sat in the front, closer to the wood-burning fireplace. Older children would have helped out the younger, and done daily chores like pumping a communal pail of water, chopping wood for the fire and filling the inkwells.
Those inkwells and a long, dark ponytail got Ed Arnold in trouble, he told the small audience. “I did it. Couldn’t resist,” said Arnold, who after his nefarious start as a Pennsylvania schoolboy went on to teach at Davis High.
Good thing he did not misbehave in the early days, when having the schoolmarm tell parents she had to discipline their child meant a surefire trip to the woodshed.
Students in those days provided their own books, banded together with a leather strap – the 1900s version of a backpack. Along with books, kids brought their lunches in small, covered pails.
Schools had no play equipment and few balls or bats. Most recesses would have included pick-up games of drop the handkerchief, blind man’s bluff and hopscotch, Tiffin said.
Join free historical discussions from 2 to 3 p.m. at the McHenry Museum, 1402 I St.
APRIL 11: Join Jeff Jardine, Modesto Bee columnist, and share his knowledge about World War II.
MAY 9: Ed Arnold will explore the history and continued presence of baseball in Modesto.
TO COME: The notorious Black Bart, Modesto’s cruising traditions and other topics are planned for the series