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The Lost Blackboards of Oklahoma

“The past isn’t dead. It’s not even the past.” — William Faulkner

The first group of historic chalkboards was discovered last June in four classrooms on the second floor that were having their old blackboards replaced with whiteboards and smart boards. Underneath the blackboards were thin slate boards covered in math, music and handwriting lessons, hygiene tips, student names and brilliantly colored chalk drawings dated November 30th and December 4th, 1917.

It seems when the old slate boards were covered with new ones over a couple of weeks in late November, early December of 1917, several teachers decided to leave their work up, dating it and signing it for posterity. The new boards were mounted on top of the old ones in wood casings with enough of a snug fit to keep the 1917 chalk from wearing away.

Workers dismantling old blackboards at Emerson High School in Oklahoma City to make way for new whiteboards and Smart Boards discovered blackboards with lessons and drawings intact from November of 1917. Instead of being removed, they had been covered up with new “Slate Black Boards” installed by D. J. Gers & Co. We know this because janitor R. J. Scott signed and dated three of the old ones (November 30th, December 1st and December 4th, 1917) before the new ones were put in place. The new ones were larger than the ones they were covering so there are only a few holes and some adhesive marring the old blackboards. The writing, arithmetic and art are all in exceptional, like-new condition.

The 1917 blackboards were found in four classrooms. They wrap around the rooms, a blackboard perimeter surrounding students with learning. Lessons include addition, subtraction, simple multiplication on one board, a multiplication wheel on another, musical notation, in-class homework titled “Busy Work” with assignments like “draw a 5 in. square,” “Name 8 kinds of trees” and “How many pints in a half gallon?” A student has left us important hygiene tips in a list entitled “My Rules to Keep Clean” — “1. Wash my hands / 2. Wash my teeth / 3. Comb my hair” etc. — and there’s a list of names, probably students, next to some subtraction problems (Robert, Agnes, May, Sophia, Homer, Franco, Ray, Gladys, Mabel and Newton).

The glory of the collection is the drawings, though. In bright colors, there’s a little girl in a blue dress blowing a soap bubble and another girl in a bright pink dress who I suspect is sprinkling salt on a turkey’s tail feathers. That’s the largest turkey, but there are at least two others. This being November, the first Thanksgiving was a recurring theme in all three class rooms. There are plain white chalk outline drawings of pilgrims and two mutli-color scenes of the Mayflower arriving at Plymouth, complete with Plymouth Rock marked 1620.The History Blog » Blog Archive » 1917 blackboard lessons found in Oklahoma City school


The History Blog サ Blog Archive サ More 1917 blackboards found in Oklahoma school

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  • Sam L. February 28, 2018, 10:02 AM

    Cool!!

  • ghostsniper February 28, 2018, 11:41 AM

    Is that colored gurl getting ready to rail that turkey?

  • twolaneflash February 28, 2018, 3:37 PM

    My mother was almost 2 months old in 1917 when these boards were chalked, living in Tipton, OK. Tornadoes have scraped the area clean of many historical monuments, grave stones, and everything but distant memories.

  • Monty James February 28, 2018, 3:39 PM

    WHITE PRIVILEGE ALERT
    WHITE PRIVILEGE ALERT
    MESSAGE FOLLOWS
    OLDCULTURE TRACES DISCOVERED IN OK CITY.
    CURSIVE WRITING, CORRECT GRAMMAR, REPRESENTATIVE ART, NUMERACY.
    REVERENCE FOR GOD AND COUNTRY.
    ALL DIVERSITY UNITS CONVERGE AND DESTROY REPEAT CONVERGE AND DESTROY.
    NO PLATFORM FOR HERITAGE POPULATION.
    THIS IS NOT A DRILL.
    MESSAGE ENDS

  • Monty James February 28, 2018, 3:52 PM

    The link in the History Blog post, to the 1909 edition of Blackboard Sketching, is fantastic. It gives an idea of the sort of skills teachers had before society started collapsing:

    Blackboard Sketching

  • el baboso February 28, 2018, 6:21 PM

    Monty James beat me to it. If these were found in the coastal enclaves, what are the odds, that after a few horrified whispers of “crimethink,” these would have been quickly pried off the walls and tossed in some dumpster-sized memory hole?

  • Casey Klahn February 28, 2018, 6:52 PM

    I’m wondering how those slates come down without snapping; hoping they get preserved intact.

    Geez, they don’t get much renovation in that state, do they? ‘Bout time they did some remodeling around there.

    Before computers sucked our brains, there were lots of chalk-art menus to be seen in Seattle restaurants. We also didn’t have cameras in cell phones, so probably not much of that was preserved.

    The primitive art style and preserved historical milieu of these boards is refreshing to see.

  • Sam L. February 28, 2018, 8:05 PM

    Monty’s ALERT post takes me back to my military days.
    Damn you, Monty!

  • pbird March 2, 2018, 1:03 PM

    Casey, I still see chalkboard menus in Seattle and around the area. Don’t despair.