Weekly Features

Education In The Early Years of Doddridge And West Virginia

Hickory Ridge School Dedication

With the end of our school year in sight, I thought it might be interesting to research a little history of our education in the early times.

   If you are like me, when you think of early schools, you think of the Hickory Ridge Log School that was relocated from Hickory Ridge (a ridge that runs between Slaughter Run and Camp Mistake) to the Doddridge County Park by the Doddridge County Bicentennial Commission in 1976, which resulted in the creation of the Doddridge County Historical Society of which most of the Bicentennial Commission members joined, including Dr. Alton Childers and his wife, Glenda, Pearl Jett, Mabel Wagner, Chuck Michels, Carolyn Knight, Clem Powell, Ora Seese, Ed Cole, and Dennis Wolverton. The Bicentennial Citizens Advisory Committee included Dr. Alton Childers, Charles Michels, Fred Freeman, Pearl Jett, Veda Davis, Bernice Gain, Martha Williams, Cletha Osburn, Ray Hudkins, Frankie Smith, Mary Romine, Dessie Casey, Tom Smell, Mabel Wagner, and Carolyn Knight. The Master of Ceremonies for the Bicentennial Finale was Lewis E. Knight.

   The log school was then donated to the DC Historical Society for safe keeping and to stand as a reminder to all who see it how important it was to colonial parents that their children get an education.

   In the early days when Doddridge County was still part of the Virginia wilderness, the land was still unsettled and was absent of any social institutions including schools, courts, and in many cases law enforcement. Communities took care of their own and in most cases didn’t take kindly to outside interference.  

   During that time, the Virginia government was reluctant to create a free school system and after schools were created, they did not fully control the education requirements for the poor and the indigent children except in the certification of common schoolteachers. 

   Teachers depended upon the families who hired them and fired them. Terms were set in written contracts primarily for the protection of the families who hired them. The contracts obligated the families who hired them to provide the teacher with room and board including proper food, drink, and lodging for a predetermined length of time.  Teachers often boarded with nearby homes during their contracted time and were expected to bring their own bedding.

   The teacher would agree to teach a specified number of students reading, writing, and arithmetic. On occasion, the agreement would include another subject, but rarely did the subjects go beyond those mentioned previously.  Writing was considered most important.  When regular grading periods were approved, writing was graded just as was the reading and arithmetic.  Military precision in all aspects of penmanship, especially the proper way to hold a pen, was emphasized as illustrated in the photo included in this article.

   Sometimes the teachers were persons of uncertain and varying levels of knowledge and temperament. Some were well-educated and well-equipped for keeping school, while others relied on their strong personalities and the power of the Hickory “withes” to maintain order within the classroom.  Rarely did parents interfere when it came to matters of the education.  Teachers were given broad range for the disciplining of rowdy students.  The consensus was that discipline was imperative when teaching in a one-room school where the students were divided into two group, “beginners” and “older students”.  The older students helped the younger students with their lessons while the teacher continued to teach other students.  

   Most of the 18th century children in what is now West Virginia who were fortunate enough to receive an education, received it in what was commonly referred to as a field school (common school). The common school later developed into what we know today as the public or free school. Many settlements erected a fort which was often used for both Church services and for school.

   The first recorded school in West Virginia was in 1747 in Hardy County, VA (now WV). It was recorded in George Washington’s journal on August 18, 1747 during the surveying expedition to which he was attached.  Likely there were other schools in the area, but due to the remote wilderness conditions of western Virginia (West Virginia), it was the first one recorded that has been discovered to date.

   Many of the first schools were products of the initiative on the part of schoolmasters who wanted a pecuniary reward and by a missionary spirit.    These schools were known as “Private Subscription Schools” and were held in whatever available space could be used.  It might be held in a loft, barn, or a room in a private residence.  These teachers quite often would move to more attractive locations once their contract expired leaving vast areas without schools.  In short, the best communities were served by the best schoolmasters. In larger towns and communities, private schools could remain open for longer periods of time as well. 

   In the General Act of March 5, 1846, control of the District Public School System of any adopting county in voter elected commissioners was vested to the commissioners, but the subdistricts of individual schools were under the immediate control of three trustees.

   The county precincts or sections were required to be of such size and convenience that all the children in each district may attend daily the school therein.  The resulting schools were opened to “all white children over the age of six.” 

   Each commissioner was expected to visit the schools in his precinct at least once each month to examine the scholars and address the pupils if they saw fit.  It was their “special duty” to visit the families of the poor, and to use their constant and best endeavors to prevail on them to send their children regularly to school.  They had the authority to expel students found guilty of grossly reprehensive conduct, or what they deemed unacceptable bad habits.

    In 1847 (about the time the Hickory Ridge Log School was built), the General Assembly approved an Act that stated, “no books shall be used, nor instruction given in the public schools, calculated to favor the doctrinal tenets of any religious sect or denomination.”

As the focus became more on the education of our young citizens, it became important for both practical purposes and for self-respect to receive at least a minimal amount of education.  Individuals began to be embarrassed to ask a neighbor or an elected official to sign a legal document or read a letter for them because it revealed their lack of education.

In 1886 teachers were expected to perform certain duties as part of their job description.  They were expected to conduct themselves in manners that were beyond reproach.  Less than such conduct resulted in dismissal.  The posting from that year says it best and is as follows:


Duties: (Before and after school sessions).

(1) Wash windows and clean classroom with soap and water at least once a week.

(2) Check outhouses daily (plenty of old catalogues are available at the school board office).

 Apparel: (Forbidden to wear in public at all times).


(1) Bathing costume.

(2) Bloomers for “eyeling”.

(3) Skirts slit to expose ankles.

(4) Bustle extended over ten inches.


(1) Detachable collar and necktie removed from shirt.

(2) Shirt sleeves unlinked and rolled.

(3) Hair loosely cropped (unless bald or have disease of the scalp.

       Conduct: (Cause for immediate dismissal).

(1) Smoking of cigarettes, use of spirits, frequenting pool parlors and public dance halls.

(2) Marriage or other unseemly behavior by women teachers.

(3) Joining of feminist movement such as the suffragettes.


Superintendent    Sept 9, 1886


   The following article was taken from a newspaper article published many years ago.  It is my opinion that perhaps it is still relevant today.

            1. SUCK IT UP.  There are going to be awful teachers, b*t**y people, and incredibly ridiculous homework assignments.  Things are just unfair sometimes and you have to deal with it and keep going.

2. EXERCISE.  Trust me.  If there is one stress reliever, that is 100% foolproof, it’s exercising.  Just get up and do something.  Do anything.  If you really hate running, turn up your music and dance until you fall down.

3. DON’T EAT SCHOOL LUNCH.  It’s disgusting.  Make yourself a sandwich.

4. DO NOT PLAN OUT YOUR FUTURE.  There are new forks in the road everywhere you go, and you have to take advantage of even unexpected opportunity.  Just go with it and let yourself be free.

5. IF YOU ARE NOT AT HOUSE PARTIES every weekend getting drunk and high, you are perfectly normal, and you are not missing out on anything.

6. PUT YOURSELF OUT THERE.  Even if you are shy, it is in your best interest to get involved and feel like you are a part of something.

7. TRY. Be the best you can.  Don’t take classes that are way too easy for you.  Put effort into getting the most out of yourself that you can.

8. DON’T TRY TOO HARE.  If you are awake until 4 a.m. every night with homework, take a step back and look.  What is this for?  Getting into college?  Shut up.  You can let loose a little.

9. TALK TO YOUR TEACHERS.  Talk to the people who sit by you in class, even if you don’t know them.

10. DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT BEING “COOL” or having “cool” friends.  Hang out with people you like.  Make efforts to get to know people.

11. YOU’RE NOT THE ONLY ONE who is feeling sad, depressed, lonely, and stressed out.  THESE FEELINGS ARE NORMAL, and everyone has them.  Learn from them because it’s part of growing up.

12. HAPPINESS IS NOT THE ULTIMATE GOAL HERE.  Seriously, learn to live with feeling broken and hurt sometimes.  It’s life.  It’s how we learn, and it’s how we become better and stronger.

   Next week I shall cover the one-room schools from 1900-1950, mandating education for children. We delve into the coming of the school bus, what preceded it, and the impact it had on schools and education as the people it.

God Bless and Stay Well

Patricia Richards Harris

Sketch from a writing textbook used in early schools illustrating how to correctly hold a pen.