The Education of Ms. Jeannie: A Move to the Schoolhouse

Happy New Year dear readers! Ms. Jeannie has missed you, missed you, missed you! It has been several months since the last post in October, and in that interim between then and now, a flurry of behind-the-scenes activity has been occurring in the land of Ms. Jeannie Ology.

Indie was quite the little helper!
Indie was quite the little helper!

Most notably, there was a move to a new house and a new town.

As Ms. Jeannie said goodbye to the garden and the greenhouse, and the friends she made of the birds and the butterflies and the bald-faced hornets of the last few years,  she said hello to a history-soaked house and a bustling university town.

This was not a move to just any old house – with luck as a tour guide, Ms. Jeannie found a converted two room schoolhouse built in the 1930’s. Here’s a vintage picture of her new abode…


Not too much has changed in appearance from that picture to today, except maybe the yard is a little more tame:) All the character and all the history are still exactly where they are supposed to be and that is pretty fantastic.


Originally part of one of the largest cotton plantations in the County, the schoolhouse was built along with a church and a commissary building for the plantation slaves.  There is still quite a bit of farmland surrounding the house, especially across the street, so it is not hard to imagine what the scenery might have looked like 100 years ago…


Replace the wheat fields above with acres and acres of cotton and knock down most of the trees and that would be the agricultural landscape here of the 1800 and 1900’s. While the church still remains open and active next door, the original schoolhouse caught fire and burned down completely. In 1936 it was rebuilt and continued to be operated as a public school for black children up until the 1960’s when desegregation put it out of commission entirely.

Ms. Mary Willingham was a former student of the school house…

Photo courtesy of the WPA Federal Writers' Project Interviews
Photo courtesy of the WPA Federal Writers’ Project Interviews

In 1939 she granted an interview about her life for the WPA Federal Writers Project. When asked about her education in the schoolhouse, in particular, this is what she had to say…

“So it’s my schoolin’ you wants to know about now?” she asked. “I got as far as the second grade. That’s how come I can’t talk proper now; I didn’t have enough schoolin’… us chillun went to school there during the week, and to church and Sunday school there on Sundays. That’s the way colored folks done in them days.”

While it is unclear why Mary had to leave school after second grade, we do know that the process of educating black children in the rural South both before and after the Civil War was not an easy task on many fronts.  Back in the 20th century the original schoolhouse was considered primitive by many standards. By 1915, the children still had no desks or even a cloak room to hang their coats and they would have just sat on benches lining the wall. Black teachers made 1/3 of the salary of white teachers, which meant their monthly take home pay was about $25.00 and if white teachers were teaching black children, they would have had to tolerate a lot of ridicule from the white community for their professional choices.

All this seems pretty unfair from both sides, but this schoolhouse, in particular, was actually considered pretty great back in its day because it was in a good location, had ample grounds for playing and the exterior was painted and therefore not subject to rot and mildew.

Inside, the school house is laid out like this…

Thanks to Mr. Jannie Ology for providing the drawing:)
Thanks to Mr. Jannie Ology for providing the drawing:) Little nods to the buildings history are everywhere from the “house” key…

little nods to the buildings history are everywhere from the house key…


to the all-wood walls…


to the giant 4′ foot by 5′ foot chalkboard in the kitchen…


6′ foot tall windows line both the front and back of the house and 11′ foot ceilings make all 1300 sqf feel large and airy. Two pot-bellied stoves serve as heat…


exactly what did the job way back in 1936. A few massive pieces of furniture have also been left behind from classroom days which now serve as bookshelves for Ms. Jeannie’s vintage book club


It seems fitting to be surrounded by so many books and to be managing a book club while living in a historic schoolhouse.   It makes  Ms. Jeannie thankful that access to education and to books and to higher learning for all is so much more accessible today than it was in the 1800 and 1900’s. Living in such a space that encouraged minds to build more intelligent futures is very inspirational –  whether it be a 7 year old Mary or twenty-something year old school teacher or an eventual history-loving book club tenant. Education continues…

Boyo quite agrees. He has learned a lot himself moving from the wild back yard that introduced him to Ms. Jeannie in the first place and settling in to his new post as babysitter of the books in the new house…


As you can see education extends to all here:) Ms. Jeannie is really looking forward to sharing a variety of new adventures with you in the new year… in her new house… in her new town. Happy January dear readers, Ms. Jeannie’s glad to be back with you all:)



7 thoughts on “The Education of Ms. Jeannie: A Move to the Schoolhouse

  1. Thanks for the update Ms. Jeannie Ology! Congrats on your new home! What will Ms. Jeannie find in her new location to delight us all? Looking forward to your new adventures!


  2. Amazing new home! What history! Ive always wanted to live in a warehouse loft or an old church. keep us posted. Im looking forward to how you finish your nest.


  3. Thank’s Miss Jeannie for the run down and look around your new and historic home, I am sure you & Boyo will have lots of new adventures and I look forward to reading about them all. Have a wonderful life in your new home. Mary


  4. What an utterly charming new home! Thanks for bringing us up to date on your latest news…as always, I’ll look forward to hearing about the adventures Spring brings you in your new town. P.S. This has just now reminded me that years ago we talked of finding an old firehouse to make our nest. Hmmm.


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