Model School students

A century ago, Normal School students made and served a noon meal each day in the winter, feeding teachers, students, Model School children, and others. Today this room in the museum holds the archives.

A century ago, on Sept. 15, 1919, the brand new Vernon County Normal School building in Viroqua opened to students for the new school year. The 1919-1920 school manual described the new school as “one of the very best buildings of its kind,” as “commodious and convenient,” and as “perhaps the best lighted and best ventilated school building in Wisconsin.”

The purpose of the Vernon County Teachers’ Training School, or Normal School, was “to supply Vernon County with trained and competent teachers for its rural schools and to make the schools of Vernon County, through the teachers, places where the foundations for lives of usefulness are firmly laid.”

Residents of Vernon County could attend the school for free. Tuition fees applied to students from other counties, but often those counties paid the fees.

The school manual also advertised the advantages of Viroqua, where the school was located. Viroqua was described as “a prosperous city, with its many stores, its three substantial banks, its immense tobacco warehouses, and its first-class up-to-date co-operative creamery.” The manual also emphasized that “the moral tone of the city is second to that of no other city in the state.” This was important because teaching certificates were only awarded to people “of good moral character.”

High school graduates could take a one-year course, and then qualify to become teachers. Students with one or more years of high school but no diploma usually took a two-year course. And 8th-grade graduates who were at least 15 years old could take a three-year course.

One hundred years later, the Vernon County Museum now occupies the old school building. As part of our celebration of the building’s centennial, the Vernon County Historical Society is partnering with McIntosh Memorial Library and with the Temple Theatre to provide a free screening of the Wisconsin Public Television documentary, “Jerry Apps: One-Room School.” This film was chosen because so many Normal School students went on to teach in Vernon County’s one-room schools.

The film will be shown at the historic Temple Theatre on Main Street in Viroqua on Saturday, Oct. 12, at 4 p.m. Refreshments will be served at 3 p.m., one hour before the screening. The documentary features Wisconsin author and historian Jerry Apps sharing stories from his childhood days as a student in a one-room country school.

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