Montana's Historical Schoolhouses

Visions and Voices by Charlotte Caldwell

"The erosion of rural population, and the coming of paved roads and school buses — and most of all, centralized budgeting of school systems — have taken us away from much of what the one-room schools represented. But not everything, as the pictorial and testimonial eloquence of this remarkable book and the noble preservation effort behind it so well prove.”

Ivan Doig

This book is a celebration of rural Montana and her people and the richness of their spirit and heritage, as captured and symbolized through one-room schoolhouses. As many of these schoolhouses are now threatened by age and the ravages of weather and neglect, I hope to promote a sense of preservation and appreciation for these endangered rural treasures.

A Sense of Place...

The story of Montana’s one-room schoolhouses, as recollected and recounted by those most intimately connected to those places, is the story of the American frontier and the high value placed on education by those who came to homestead, mine, or work the railroads. It is a story of the Western spirit and of a culture marked by tenacity and endurance. These stories — told by students and teachers, many of whom are now in their 80s or 90s — tell of adventures traveling to and from school, the school day, recess games, family life, daily chores, and above all, the sense of community, as defined by these iconic humble schoolhouses.

My quest to find and capture these historic one-room schools and the stories held within led me to a back-road exploration of all 56 counties in Montana. The stories and experiences about education in a one-room school are simple, yet profoundly enlightening about a rural life of cohesion and connectedness. There was ubiquitous pride in their voices as they spoke of their schools’ important role within the community fabric, and there was an echoing lament about the repercussions of school closings with the accompanying slow demise of community cohesion and spirit.

The preservation of one-room schoolhouses is important, as they are among Montana’s first frontier structures. Whispering from within these schoolhouse walls are stories about parents or grandparents immigrating, homesteading, and persisting with tenacity to make a life, build a school, raise their children and crops, and create a community.

Visions and Voices is printed, edited, designed, formatted, and distributed by Montana companies. With pleasure, I will donate the profits from my book to the Preserve Montana Fund, a campaign of collaboration between the Montana Preservation Alliance, the Montana History Foundation, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. This donation will serve to create a challenge grant, earmarked for Montana’s endangered one-room schoolhouses. 

Books will be available anywhere, but in order for 100% of the profit to go directly to a nonprofit for the benefit of historic one-room schools, purchase directly from the Montana History Foundation.

Contact Gena Ashmore
 [email protected]

(406) 449-3770

Montana History Foundation

1750 North Washington Street

Helena, MT 59601

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