Making America Great in 1915

Posted on April 30, 2017


This is my grandmother, Hazel Hystedt, circa 1915.  From 1914-1917 she was a public school teacher in a one-room school near Funkley, Minnesota.

By her own account, she had 24 pupils in eight grades, and taught manual training, Home Ec, and Agriculture, and “was wanted to start a Sunday School.”  (She declined that last.) One supposes she also taught reading, writing, arithmetic and history, but she did not mention these subjects.

In her spare time she also started a Night School “for foreign speaking persons who wanted to learn English and for eighth graders who had missed their 8th grader diplomas.”  That is where she met Roy C. Smith, who would become my grandfather.  He was not a foreign speaking person, but he was most certainly a person who had not completed an eighth grade diploma.  The record is unclear as to whether his ambition was to acquire his diploma or a wife.  One thing is certain. Every one of their children completed high school – during the Great Depression! – and their grandchildren and great-grandchildren number among them quantities of college graduates and college professors.

Grampa would be astonished, though quietly proud.  Gram would not have been surprised at all.

On the occasion of her 85th birthday, Hazel (Hystedt) Smith received the gift of a painting of a “little red schoolhouse” meant to commemorate her years as a teacher in a one-room school.

Gram and the fallacious little red schoolhouse. She assumed her 7-year-old grandson would understand what “fallacy” meant. She was right.

My grandmother was not in the business of alternative facts.  She wrote about the picture to her great-grandson, Rob the Firefighter, then age 7:

“The school building is a fallacy!  My school was not red and we had no pump as we had no water.  I paid a boy 10 cts per school day to carry water for school needs.  My salary 52.50 per month.  Paid only $10.00 per mo for room and board!  My school was shaped same but white – a muddy [part?] of lot!!! But we flew a flag!! visible to every train passing by on M & St L short line to Int’l Falls Minnesota.  RR 3/4 mi from school.”

Last month my sister Mary and I went on an epic Family History Road Trip across northern Michigan through northern Wisconsin and all through Minnesota, ending up in Fargo, North Dakota. One of the highlights of the Road Trip was a search for Gram’s schoolhouse.  We might have found it.

Maesse School (pronounced “Macy”) – near Funkley, Minnesota

At the very least, we found one very like hers, of the same vintage, not more than five miles from the one where she taught.  If the Maesse School was not hers, we are pretty sure she would have known the teacher who taught there.  They would have boarded together at the MacGregor farm, and would have had their mail delivered to the Funkley Post Office at Jack Fisher’s grocery store.

We found our visit to the old schoolhouse a moving experience.  These were, after all, our people.

Antrim County is full of old schoolhouses, some of them repurposed, others turned into historic sites.  All of them are treasured, because they symbolize a core value of this part of the country.  The taxpayers will support public education – paid for by the taxpayers and free to the students – for all the children of the community.  This is not at all the same thing as an education paid for by the taxpayers but provided by private entities for profit.  Such a concept would have shocked the consciences of the taxpayers of Beltrami and Itasca and Hennepin Counties in Minnesota and of Antrim County Michigan 100 years ago.

Just sayin’.