Relic Home and Blacksmith Shop

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

SCHOOL DAYS WITH MATHILDA ~ Eleanor P. Madsen




1891 is a long time ago. Schools at that time were much different from the schools of today. Methods 
of teaching the three R’s varied as much as the characteristics of the students being taught. 
Looking through family history I found that my mother, Mathilda Lund, started school in Mt. Pleasant, 
Utah some eighty-four years ago. Picture a little girl in a pretty, ruffley calico pinafore, with long black 
stockings and shoes that buttoned tight around her ankles, her black braids ties with colorful ribbons, skipping 
happily to the First Ward School House, where she commenced her first year of school. This school was a 
brick building, also used as a church. It was built in 1875 and stood on the corner of Third South and State 
Street until 1908, when it was torn down to make way for the new South Ward Church. 
Education was very important to Mathilda’s parents and the other pioneers of that time. They couldn’t 
wait for large, spacious class rooms to be built, so the children were scattered all over town with one or two 
grades in each building. 

The second year Mathilda went to Simpson School on the southwest corner of the Wasatch Academy 
block. The school was named for Hans Y. Simpson because of his generosity in providing funds for its 
construction. It is probably the best known of the early school buildings. 

Mathilda’s third grade venture was in a brick building on First North and First West which was later 
used as the City Hall. This was an exciting place for school, since Pleasant Creek ran past the building. In the 
fall and spring months when the windows were open, the children could hear the ripple of the water as it 
splashed over the pebbles along its way toward the Sanpitch River.  


The children were always anxious for recess time, when they could play along the banks of the creek, 
making houses in the willow covered nooks, using willow branches to sweep their playhouse floors. Playing 
house was fun for both boys and girls. Sandwiches were brought from home for the recess period, and 
sometimes the children exchanged their “graham” bread for cornbread and other kinds of jam sandwiches. 
In 1897, the new three-story, red brick Public School building was completed, and for the first time all 
the eight grades were housed in one building. With the bringing together of so many children, it seemed 
there was need for more regimentation and stricter discipline. 
The school day began about 8:00 a.m. with the ringing of a large bell in the tower of the school building 
that could be heard all over town. It was a signal to be up and moving. 

About five minutes to nine, the school Principal appeared outside the entrance of the building and rang 
a smaller bell. This one had a wooden handle which allowed him to swing it in many directions. This was the 
signal for the children to line up on the wide wooden walks on the east and west ends of the school building. 
The children stood four abreast in rigid rows, the first grades first and consecutively up to the eighth 
grade. Part of the classes marched through the west doors, and the others through the east double doors. 
A child who was late getting in line had to stand aside until all had marched in. Then he or she reported 
to the Principal’s office, where he was given a permit to enter class. The next day he had to bring an excuse 
from home, giving the reason why he was late. Needless to say, there was not much tardiness. 

The children hung their wraps on the long rows of hooks just outside of each classroom. They sat by 
flat-topped desks made of wood with a long groove across the top to hold pencils and pens. There was an 
inkwell on the right side. Three or four desks were fastened together with long runners. Underneath the 
desktop was a place for books and papers. A cast iron piece on either side held the paper and bookshelf in 
place. 

The inkwells were a source of some unpleasantness in the class room. Mathilda had to be careful to 
keep her long, black braids in front of her, as quite often the freckled-faced boy who sat behind her would put 
the end of the braid down the ink bottle. 
On a number of occasions Mathilda felt like leaving the room when an ink bottle went flying past her 
toward the front of the room, aimed at the teacher, who somehow had learned to duck at just the right time, 
leaving the ink to splatter over the blackboard behind him. Many times the whole class would be punished 
because the culprit couldn’t be found. 
School always commenced with prayer by one of the students, followed by the singing of favorite 
songs: America, Columbus, the Gem of the Ocean, I’ll Paddle My Own Canoe, and Old Mother Hubbard is 
Plucking Her Geese. 

One of Mathilda’s best linked classes was Geography because she liked making the relief maps with 
clay. She made maps of South America, the European countries, Asia, and Africa. Another class she liked was 
writing. She was a good penman, and it was a delight for her to make the push-pulls and the O’s that went 
round and round between the ruled lines across the page in such even rows. 
Mathilda was a good speller and looked forward to each Friday afternoon, when spelling matches were 
held. Prizes were given to the last ones who “stayed up.” Sometimes a five cent rubber eraser was given. 
Along with the spelling matches there were arithmetic and geography drills and diagramming of words. 
A great deal of memorizing went on in the early schools. Mathilda learned readings from Whittier, Walt 
Whitman and Longfellow’s “Hiawatha.” One of the classes had a rule that if anyone whispered five times he 
had to write “whisper” a thousand times and also memorize and recite for the class, “Skeleton in Armor.”  


Recess was waited for eagerly. If the weather permitted, the children played hopscotch, jump the 
rope, ball, crack the whip, Ginnie, Duck and marbles. When it was stormy the girls spread the capes or shawls 
they wore on their desks or on the floor and played “Jacks,” which were agate marbles. 
When the Principal rang the bell there was scurrying to the lines and all marched back to the school 
rooms and lessons. The teachers were very strict disciplinarians, and some carried a rawhide whip, which was 
used to bring the unruly into line. 
Holidays were looked forward to with great anticipation. On Saint Valentine’s Day a red and white 
crepe paper-covered box stood in a corner to receive all the Valentine hearts the children had made. 
At Christmas time the older boys would go into the mountains to get Pine or Juniper trees, which 
would be decorated with circles of paper chains, popcorn and cranberry strings. 

Graduation from the eighth grade was a big event with a fine program given by the students. The girls 
carried little baskets of lilacs and bachelor buttons. Mathilda was lovely in her long, white ruffled dress, 
adorned with ribbons and lace and starched petticoat underneath. The boys were handsome in their 
knickerbockers pants and white shirts with wide, stiff collars and large bowties. 

The first graduating class from the eighth grade of the Mt. Pleasant Public School was in 1898. There 
was no High School there until 1908, so it was a big step for the graduates to go to Ephraim to Snow Academy 
after eighth grade graduation. 

1891 is a long time ago. School day memories are precious, whether they are made in 1891 or in 1975. 
The early schools prepared our parents and grandparents to cope with the society in which they lived as the 
educational methods of today prepare their grandchildren for a new and different society. Each one worked 
toward the same goal of building strong character and teaching students to get along well with people. This is 
the foundation of educational practices, whether in Mathilda’s day or in our day. 

Source: History of Mathilda Lund from Family Records, Diary of Christian N. Lund in Church Historian’s Office, These Our Father

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