First page of the red paint archive.

Why We Have “Red” Schoolhouse History

Posted by Rusty LaGrange on March 26, 2020 (Comments Closed)as ,

Back to School in a Little Red Schoolhouse

Our Easter break is over now and (if not for the corona virus) millions of children would be returning to their brown, beige, or light green school campuses. Of course, they come in other colors, but those are the most common. You don’t see little red schoolhouses any more.

  A typical prairie style red school building

Over one hundred years ago, children returned to their little red schoolhouses, many of them known as “one-room” schools, when the smaller number of students filled one room — and that was enough.

Although most wooden schoolhouses in the U.S. are now painted white, a few generations ago it was customary, especially in New England and other northeastern sections of the country, to paint framed schoolhouses red. It’s not because that color was preferred, but because red paint was cheaper than any other kind obtainable. So the “little red schoolhouse” became a symbol of popular education in general.

When Secondary School was the Next Step

In 1930 the U.S. Bureau of Education issued a bulletin on secondary education. Those who instituted the charge of this work were surprised that most people didn’t know that term at all. Secondary education is the training provided at high school levels.

In other words, secondary schools are simply high schools, institutions that give instruction between elementary or primary school and the university level. The name was adapted from the French usage. It’s now distinctly American.

Probably the first time, in 1821,  a secondary school was established was known as the English High School of Boston. Now every state in the Union maintains free high schools at public expense.

As you enter your school, you can dazzle your classmates with the reason why old prairie schools were painted red. And, if you think about it, most “white-picket fences,” typically marking the front yards of well-to-do families, were easily kept bright white due to the lye and water-based paint that could be made right on the farm. Just whitewash, common paint with a glimmering effect.

Simple effect, simple design in a century of simple life lifestyles.

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Rusty LaGrange