Students returning to school 100 years ago may not have had the same requirements for laptops, book bags and new clothes, but it was an annual rite of passage nonetheless – for those fortunate enough to attend school. Though the public had largely embraced the value of education by 1918, it was still a luxury for many. Here a six ways returning to school was different 100 years ago.
1. Many kids didn’t attend school.
A hundred years ago only 78 percent of children between the age of 5 and 17 were enrolled in school. Today 97 percent of children in the United States are enrolled in schools.
2. Students had less schooling.
A hundred years ago the average person spent far fewer years in studying at school. The median number of years of schooling an adult had 100 years ago was 8.7. Today, the average American 25 years or older has 13.5 years of schooling. In 1918 it was common for students to leave school after eighth grade to begin working.
3. Attending college was even less common.
Bachelor’s degrees were far less common a century ago than they are today. In adults 25 and over, only 26 out of every 1,000 people had a bachelor’s degree. That’s 2.6 percent of the adult population. Today that number sits at 320 – or 32 percent.
4. It was a man’s world.
For every bachelor’s degree earned by a woman in 1918, more than two were earned by men. Women would begin closing that gap gradually. In the years of 1943 and 1944 the tables were turned. With men heading off to World War II in those years more women than men earned their bachelor’s degree. The situation reversed following the war, with men once again making up more of the pool of total graduates until 1981 when more women than men began earning bachelor’s degrees. That trend continues today with women receiving nearly 20 percent more bachelor’s degrees than men.
5. The school year was shorter
Students returning to school 100 years ago would face a school year of 162 days. However, while the school year was 162 days, the average pupil only attended 122 days. Today’s school year averages 180 days, more than long enough for kids in overheated classrooms in June, but not nearly as long as the school year in many foreign countries.
6. More pupils in every class.
The average teacher returning to school 100 years ago would spend the year trying to cram some knowledge into the heads of 30 or more students. Today, the number is less than half that. Public schools have one teacher for every 14.5 students. Private schools have one teacher for every 12.2 students.
If you enjoyed this article you may enjoy Six Oldest High Schools in New England. This story was updated in 2022.