Grade school pupils almost all sat at desks in the 1920s, but in the Missouri University’s Laboratory Schools, I never sat at a desk or carried a heavy book bag. MU students in the School of Education were being taught to teach in the elementary and high "LAB" schools, and we were teams of children in chairs around tables learning together. Our books and supplies were provided by the reasonable tuition we paid.
Parents took their children to school and came for them at 4 p.m. "Hands on" learning was important. In the fourth grade, for example, we walked from College Avenue and Sixth Street to the Dorn-Cloney Laundry downtown. There were eight or 10 panel delivery trucks parked with their rear doors open to the sidewalk, ready for loading. Indoors we smelled the pungent naphtha soap and felt steam on our faces, we watched sweating people smooth bed sheets and table cloths between the big hot pads of the mangles and heard the bang when their foot pedals were released. We saw thick starch that made men’s shirt collars stiff, mountains of clothes to be washed, stacks of folded pressed things and racks of clothes on hangers. They gave teachers lots of price lists and blank tickets and receipts.
What did we learn from the Dorn-Cloney visit? For weeks we applied the laundry experience to history, arithmetic, and English. We kept books, made change, gave oral and written reports. Other visits were to White Eagle Dairy, Columbia Savings Bank, the Herald Statesman newspaper, Hamilton Brown Shoe Factory and Columbia Ice Plant.
Being part of the University of Missouri those 12 years gave us unusual opportunities because student teachers helped to teach us; they were backed up by "role-model" permanent staff. Who could possibly forget Mary Jesse, Miss Elizabeth Burrell, Caroline Hartwig, Dr. H.Y. Moffett, Mrs. Fanny Bardlemeier or Mrs. Virginia Symms?
Jolly superintendent Dr. Ralph Watkins said, "Running up the stairs is good exercise, as long as it doesn’t disturb anyone." So we took the steps two at a time, quietly. When I was sent to Dr. Charles Butler’s office, he began to talk as old friends and he forgot that I had been sent there!
In high school, we girls could choose swimming; we ran two blocks to McKee Gymnasium’s pool - in winter, our hair froze icicles below our caps on the return. There was no pool for men at that time. U-High fellows and girls used MU gyms, fields and athletic equipment. In track, I learned to throw the javelin.
Lab School schedules corresponded to the university’s, but a county superintendent set schedules for country grade-school kids. Once when I visited Turner School, a woman taught a room full of pupils ages 6 to 14. Everyone had to be quiet while anyone was "reciting." One teacher dealt with all ages, all grades and all topics. Older students coached the younger ones in reading and arithmetic at the back of the room. There was no other adult present, no telephone, no electricity. We drank from a dipper and bucket and went down a path to the "bath."
At 4 o’clock I was glad when the teacher picked up her big, brass bell and made it roar. I immediately got up saying, "Ida Johnson, I see your bare toes sticking out through those ragged tennis shoes!" Was I embarrassed! Everybody else sat quietly at their desks, waiting until the teacher said: "Rise....Pass!"
MU Lab School is a thing of the past - but loved and not forgotten.