Northern Illinois University

Northern Today

Susan Webb
Susan Webb


‘America’s traveling schoolmarm’ visits NIU,
transports students to one-room school life

October 27, 2008

Susan Webb, known as “America’s traveling schoolmarm,” visited campus Oct. 7 and 8 to guide 25 undergraduates from the College of Education along a brief historical journey into the late 19th century.

Students in a “History of American Education” class entered the reconstructed Milan Township one-room school, where they settled into desks designed for small children.

Before them stood Schoolmarm Webb, wearing a self-designed black dress and an antique broach resembling the clothing of schoolmarms at the turn of the last century.

“Susan Webb’s presentation was both instructive and entertaining,” said Lucy Townsend, curator of the Blackwell History of Education Museum. “I am so fortunate that she was able to fit NIU into her busy schedule.”

Using artifacts and graphics, Webb led students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, listen to poetry, solve arithmetic problems on the blackboard, analyze photographs of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln and read aloud from the famous McGuffey readers.

She also told humorous stories of life in rural Midwestern communities and showed the class a 1908 photograph of her father and uncle standing in front of their one-room school in Missouri.

Webb also entertained students and faculty in a reception hosted by the interdisciplinary Museum Studies Certificate of Graduate Study Program Committee and the Blackwell History of Education Museum. She recounted her experiences as a country school re-enactor in Virginia, Connecticut and Alabama, including the methods she used to research the lives and memorabilia of those who attended and/or taught in country schools.

“I’m called ‘America’s traveling schoolmarm’ because I travel to different parts of the country to make historical presentations,” Webb said. “Most historical re-enactors perform in only one school museum.”

On this trip, Webb traveled from her home in Birmingham, Ala., to her alma mater, Clarke College, in Dubuque, Iowa, where she gave a presentation.

From there, she went on to Ames, Iowa, where she participated in the ninth annual Iowa country school preservation conference. A charter member of the Country School Association of America, she regularly makes presentations at the association’s annual conferences.

Webb also makes presentations throughout Alabama under the auspices of the Alabama Humanities Foundation, an affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.