Virginia has long been known for excellent schools. From top-ranked public school systems to prestigious colleges and universities, Virginia schools enjoy a strong reputation around the country. Considering that we have the second oldest college in the nation at William and Mary and the first public school, founded in Hampton in 1634, it’s easy to say that education has always been a priority in Virginia. Looking back at some of these school houses and classrooms from the past, we can be reminded of just how our schools have evolved.
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1. First Schoolhouse in Vienna, 1910.
Today, the Fairfax County Public School System includes more than 30 schools. James Madison High School in Vienna is the seventh highest ranked high school in Virginia and was named one of the best high schools in the nation by U.S. News.
2. African American students learn washing and ironing in a kindergarten class at Whittier Primary School in Hampton, c. 1899.
In 1868, the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute (now Hampton University) opened, providing a place to train college-aged African American students in practical trades and industrial skills that would allow them to pay their way through school by working jobs on the growing campus. When the Whittier School first opened in 1889, it was a “practice ground” for students studying education at the Hampton Normal School.
3. Girls laughing and talking at the entrance of Randolph Henry High School in Keysville, 1943.
This photo shows that, while society and even academic structures have changed over the last 70 years, teenage girls haven’t. These girls seem to be having way more fun than they should be while “studying” outside of the school.
4. First graders go through their daily exercises at a public school in Norfolk, 1941.
This first grade classroom doesn’t look much different than one you might find at any modern elementary school in Virginia. The only difference is that, today, you’re more likely to find students working on an Internet-powered “Smart Board” than a chalkboard.
5. An early Tuckahoe schoolhouse in Goochland County, 1936.
Given the growth that the last couple of decades have brought to Goochland County, it’s hard to imagine that a schoolhouse this small ever existed. An historically rural county, Goochland Public Schools began in 1870. Goochland was the first school division in the state to offer transportation to its students in the form of a horse-drawn wagon. Today, the county offers three elementary schools, one middle school and one high school, serving a collective student body of around 2,400 children.
6. The Central High School marching band practices on school grounds in Charlotte Courthouse, 1943.
Central High School was Charlotte Courthouse’s African American high school prior to integration. Every month, the marching band would take to the town’s main street for drills and concerts. All members of the band were responsible for purchasing their own instruments and uniforms and paying for lessons, although the lessons were provided during school hours.
7. Girls attend home economics classes in the “home ec cottage” at Central High School in Charlotte Courthouse, 1943.
Like many schools in Virginia, Central High School offered home economics classes where students would learn domestic arts like cooking, sewing and household management. The school provided a separate cottage, set up to replicate a functioning home, in which the students could learn these skills.
8. Randolph Henry High School home economics students serving a “guest” in Keysville, 1943.
Randolph Henry High School also provided a “home ec cottage” in which students learned to prepare and serve meals, often to a “guest” teacher or community member.
9. School buses line up behind Randolph Henry High School in Keysville to transport students to and from school, 1943.
While school buses have been available to students for quite some time, some logistics have most certainly changed. In the 1940s, in a rural area like Keysville, some students would have to travel as far as 30 miles to reach school. Randolph Henry High School covered an area of 496 square miles, with only 17 buses to service the entire district. But if the distances seem shocking, then brace yourself for this one – some of the buses would be driven by high school seniors.
10. A Leesburg schoolhouse in Loudoun County, 1930s.
Like images we’ve shown you of Vienna and Tuckahoe, it’s hard to imagine a time when a tiny school like this would have serviced a bustling area like Leesburg. However, it was only in recent decades that Loudoun County saw the population explosion that made it one of the fastest growing counties in the nation. Today, Leesburg alone is home to as many as 11 elementary schools, four middle schools and two high schools.
11. Elementary age school children attend the “Kinleygarten” program outside of the Cotton Mill in Lynchburg, 1911.
Known as “The Kinleygarten" by the mill policeman, the “school” at the Lynchburg Cotton Mill served mill settlement children from the ages of 6 to 8 while their parents worked. The photographer, Lewis Wickes Hine, asked the headmistress, Miss Carrington, where older children attended school, only to be told that few of them did. The only available school was a long way away and many of the children were merely biding their time until they turned 14 and could work in the mill themselves.
12. The Kelley School in Floyd County at Blue Ridge Parkway Milepost 149, date unknown.
Built c. 1876, the Kelley School served as the first public school in Floyd County. Named after the original owners of the land on which it was built, the one-room schoolhouse had no running water or electricity, and as late as 1917, no outhouse. At first, the school did not have designated grades, rather, students would complete a textbook, then pass it along to a younger sibling or sell it to another family. Over time, the school evolved and it remained an operational school until the 1930s, when the state began closing one- and two-room schoolhouses. In 1939, the schoolhouse was sold to Virgie Nolen Pate, a former pupil, who later turned the schoolhouse into a country store.
13. As can be seen from this photo taken in 2014, the Kelley Schoolhouse still stands along the Blue Ridge Parkway today and serves as a reminder of Floyd County’s rich history.
14. John Marshall High School in Richmond, c. 1910.
According to Richmond City Public Schools, when John Marshall High School opened in 1909, it was heralded as the “grandest, most expensive schoolhouse ever erected in the South.” Open to grades 8-11, the school was considered the state’s most prestigious public high school for decades. Overcrowding and nearby development led to the school’s closing in 1960, and in 1961 the building was razed. Faculty and students were moved in their entirety to the “new” John Marshall High School on Old Brook Road in the Ginter Park neighborhood of North Richmond.
What was your school experience like in Virginia? We would love to hear about it in the comments below!