Among the more interesting queries for bits and pieces of local and family history was a letter from a granddaughter of a prominent Langdon family from pioneering days. She had been going through some papers of her mother’s and found her mother had two years with no attendance listed for her schooling. Other relatives had suggested that since the Langdon school had burned, taking some or many records with it, her question asked about the reason why there was “no school in 1917 and 1918”.
To the best of my knowledge, which could be missing some important facts, the school in Langdon has operated every year since 1886 to the present. In the early days the school was open when people like E. J. Fox and Joseph Power were available to teach and were hired “for a term” which might have been a three-month period. Fox started his first term in April, not September, and considering North Dakota winters, even in pre-statehood years, this was understandable. The Children’s Blizzard in the 1880s, which caused the death of many children in Dakota Territory, made the choice of summer over winter school days a wise one. However, “town schools” where children lived closer to the buildings developed in most communities by the 1890s. Many rural schools continued to be summer schools until the advent of school buses closed their districts.
Yes, the school at Langdon did burn, but the year of that fire was 1911, not 1917 or 1918. One of the entertaining stories of that momentous fire was passed on to me with great laughter by the older sisters in the Kelland family who often visited our home since they were friends of my aunts. They remembered their younger brother, Charlie, bouncing into their bedroom early one morning with the news that the school had burned during the night and classes for that day were called off. To Charlie this was a day of vacation. He might have changed his mind a few days later when classes resumed in the Opera House (later the Masonic Temple), the earlier Masonic Temple (later a creamery), above the firehall, in church basements and in empty store buildings. School did not take a lengthy vacation, and there were several graduates in the Class of 1911 when graduation time came around. The new building carried a date of 1912, which is the date it was completed.
The letter writer suggested that the school might have been closed in 1917 and 1918 due to the war or because the teachers might have been drafted. In replying I could tell her that other members of her mother’s family were in school at Langdon in 1918 because a brother had graduated that year, and her mother was listed with the class of 1926. Being born in 1908, her mother would have been the average age in 1926 to graduate from high school.
She also suggested maybe parents in 1917-1918 had decided to homeschool their children. My guess is that homeschooling for regular students was unheard of in North Dakota until around 1990 when some churches began advocating the practice. Catholic parochial schools had existed for many years before that time, and the early homeschool advocates were, in general, not affiliated with Catholic congregations. However, when I was a child and would suspect for years before that time, there were families with a special needs child who was kept at home and whatever education that child had was unsupervised homeschooling. When remedial and special education classes developed in the 1960s a gradual shift was made towards mainstreaming all children into a classroom situation. When I first began teaching in Colorado, parents who had a child with hearing or vision problems would beg to have their child allowed in public school and were often denied that request. Jefferson County (a large and often considered very modern district) had one building for all special needs children which in those days included even minor or temporary physical disabilities such as a child with crutches or a cast on their leg. Langdon was a bit more liberal because people my age remember a boy with a cast and crutches who would literally fly up and down the many levels of stairs in the old Langdon Public School arriving ahead of those of us who had only two legs to climb the stairs.
Around the time of Langdon’s Centennial someone found a copy of the school board minutes from the 1917-1918 era and brought them to the Cavalier County Library where I had a chance to read some of them. The school was closed during the flu epidemic of that era for a short time. My memory is roughly from Thanksgiving until after New Year’s. At the time local churches were also closed, and many community events discontinued to avoid spreading the flu which eventually seemed to find each home in the area.
As an elementary student during World War II I do remember a time when or two shipments of coal for the school did not arrive. If the delay was short, we wore winter coats and mittens in class. In what might have been 1940-41 we had a longer vacation, and I was sent to the farm to stay with relatives. It was a muddy spring, and when the two pre-school cousins I was to watch and myself became stuck in a muddy field, my aunt called the school board member next door and said “come and get this kid and take her to school” so I spent a week or so in Hay #3, taught at that time by Elsie Schrader. The school had more children than desks so most of us sat with a friend. It was quite an enjoyable experience since country schools had some features the Langdon school did not – a closet library, a noon hour where you ate at your desk and, believe it or not, a merry-go-round on the playground.
The several generations who have attended school in Langdon all have some entertaining tales to tell, and one that someone had passed on to this particular letter writer was about coming to Langdon for high school and finding a place to room and board. Before school buses this was a necessary situation for many teenagers. Today there are any number of local grandparents who can tell you stories about the places they lived while attending high school.
Renting rooms to students of all ages began back in the 1890s and early 1900s. Some of the “renters” were summer school teachers who wanted to take high school or even college courses from Professor Thomas Sheehan (later with the state Department of Education). Others were students those teachers in training felt would benefit from the more extensive curriculum in the town schools. My oldest aunt was about eight when she began that process. Her country school teacher had been hired to teach in Langdon and helped her find a home where she could work and go to school during the day unless the family where she stayed needed her during the day as well. After three years in third grade, not because she was not bright enough to keep up with the work but because she “missed too much school”, she decided to just work full-time and gave up on passing to fourth grade. The people she had stayed with preferred a full-time employee, and in that capacity, she got more than a bed and meals. In her 90s she was still reading and becoming self-educated.
Trying to answer her questions was a glimpse of the many ups and downs of education down through the years. Some might call it a rollercoaster ride. By the way, if you want records for grand or great-grandparents, a good place to start searching is with the school they attended. Some high schools may have records and share with proper identification. When working as county superintendent I learned many schools did not keep their records or sent them to surrounding schools when they closed. Some told me they had disposed of the records – that might not have been a true answer, but it was their response. If the school no longer exists, a few records may be warehoused in Bismarck, but others are difficult to locate.