Throughout the 1800s, as settlers spread across the American prairies and turned them into farmland, the first public building to be erected in a new community was often a 1-room schoolhouse. By the century's end, more than 200 000 1-room schools dotted the nation's landscape, and half of all American schoolchildren attended them.1
In Winslow Homer's The Country School, class is in session. According to custom, boys sit on one side and girls on the other. An exception is the boy and girl on the low bench at the right, who may be brother and sister. Siblings were allowed to sit together so that they could share the same books (or maybe not, in this case). Some of the older children read by themselves or in small groups. Others practice writing or work on arithmetic problems, using a long sloped shelf on the back and side walls for writing in lieu of a desk.
Koepsell TD. Winslow Homer (1836-1910)The Country School, 1871. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2006;160(9):875. doi:10.1001/archpedi.160.9.875