Western History/Genealogy Department, Denver Public Library
This photograph, taken in 1880, shows the Arvada School, a one room schoolhouse in Jefferson County, Colorado. Pictured is the teacher, Miss Nellie Stilling, and her students. This was a typical school in many rural areas in the 19th century where a single teacher taught five to eight grade levels, all subjects. In many cases, the teacher would arrive very early to start a fire in the pot belly stove, and prepare a hot meal for the students, clean her classroom (most teachers were unmarried women). All this was in addition to her usual duties of preparing lessons and grading papers. While one-room schools were responsible for graduating many successful Americans, such as astronaut Alan Shepard, the teachers themselves rarely earned any significant recognition or income ("One-Room School"). According to "Cowley County Teacher," in this Kansas county, "wages for female teachers, in 1877 and 1878 averaged $25.99; for male teachers, $31.52 per month" (Cowley County Teacher). The American Dream was probably out of reach for these 19th century teachers.