How was the school in the 1880s

Almost all children actually went to school

Sebastian Ruff answers the questions of the bad wolves
from the Childhood and Youth Collection in the Stadtmuseum Berlin Foundation


Girls and boys


Were girls and boys in the same school?

In the period between 1880 and 1920 it could happen that boys and girls had lessons in a school house, but otherwise never saw each other. Many school buildings had separate entrances for boys and girls on both sides, and boys and girls were taught individually in the classes.
But there were also schools, especially in smaller towns or in the country, where boys and girls were taught together as they are today.


"State School for Boys" in France

Did you have satchels?

At the time of World War I, schoolchildren mostly had leather satchels.
These were carried over the shoulders with two leather straps, just like backpacks are worn today. They were mostly made of brown or black leather or fabric and smaller than today's school backpacks. They had a flap that closed them at the front.

Was it the same for girls and boys?

While the satchel had a long mouth for the boys, it was only half as long for the girls.


Did the students wear smocks?

In the schools in Berlin there were no school uniforms that all pupils had to wear. Nevertheless, the teachers made sure that the students were clean, combed and with came to school in decent clothes.
The sailor suit as clothing for young people has been very popular with boys and girls since the 1880s. The sailor suit was also worn by the boys in the imperial family, this was the model for this clothing. Boys and girls wore these suits, so that in some class photos from around 1900 to 1920 almost all school children looked equally dressed.

In the school museum: we practice writing with old pens


The different types of school

What schools were there at that time?

There were many public schools: elementary schools, secondary schools and high schools.

Were there also private schools?


Yes, in addition to the public schools, there were also a few private schools, especially in the big cities. As today, school fees were high there, so that only children from wealthy families could attend such private schools. In addition to the private schools, the public grammar schools and other higher schools, which offered the students the way to the Abitur, levied school fees.


The subjects

Did you have the same subjects then as you do now?

A normal urban middle school student's schedule in 1910 was no less jam-packed with classes than it is today.
The timetable for a 5th grade student was:

2 hours of religion, 5 hours of German, 4 hours of English, 1 hour of history, 1 hour of geography, 4 hours of mathematics, 2 hours of biology, 1 hour of writing, 2 hours of drawing, 2 hours of singing, 3 hours of gymnastics and 2 hours of elective handicrafts Gardening.

Did you have a lot of school books?

Even then, schoolchildren already had textbooks for many subjects. Most important of all was the primer for German lessons. But there were also textbooks for mathematics, biology and English. But it was also sometimes the case that the school books were left with the class teacher and he then handed them out before the lesson began.

What language was spoken in schools? Standard German? Or also Bavarian, Swabian? Did the Polish students speak Polish or German?

Overall, the aim was to have classes in High German in schools in the German Reich. Of course, there was no way to prevent the teachers and students from reverting to their dialects and dialects in their daily lessons.
On the question of schools in today's Poland, the efforts of the German school administration were very clear: lessons should be conducted in German, the language of instruction, Polish, should be displaced. Despite all these efforts, there have always been a large number of schools and teachers teaching in Polish in Poland.


Compulsory schooling and work

Did all the children go to school?

In the German Reich, at the time of the First World War, school was compulsory for some time, so that almost all children actually went to school. But there were also situations in which the children had to work (in the factory or in the country during the harvest), so that compulsory schooling was sometimes ignored. And sometimes there was maybe no money for school fees.

Children sold newspapers



Did some children have to work properly?

Child labor was only a problem in rural areas; the families who did homework could not be controlled. Many families made money by making toys. Children also had to help make such toys, sometimes before or after school.


How long did the children go to school?

By 1914, almost all students had been in school for 8 years, especially in the city, so that the children could leave school at 14 to work or do an apprenticeship. The grammar schools and other higher schools had to be attended until the age of 18.

Children as "porters"

During the war

What changes were there in schools during the war? The greatest changes in schools in Berlin were brought about by the military service of teachers and fathers. Lessons had to be canceled more and more often because the teachers had to go to war. The mothers were now responsible for looking after their children during school, they attended parents' meetings and signed the certificates.
For important war events, battles or heroic days, either festivals were held in the schools or there was no school.

At what age did the students go to war?

Many of the older students in high schools and other high schools were very enthusiastic about the war in 1914. They then took part in voluntary pre-military exercises and were organized into so-called youth companies. You could visit these companies if you were at least 16 years old. Here the young men were prepared for military service, many of them had already volunteered for service in the war. After the first years of the war, the young people's enthusiasm for voluntary preparatory service was no longer so great. In 1916 politicians and the military demanded that men over the age of 16 be drafted into the war, but these plans never came to fruition. In December 1916, all men between the ages of 18 and 60 were called in for what is known as the “patriotic auxiliary service”. In 1917 and 1918, however, this auxiliary service was also able to record children up to the age of 12.

The enthusiasm for the war


Did the war mean that students had to leave school to go to work?

During the war years, schoolchildren were often deployed outside of school for auxiliary services. In addition to pre-military training, there were also auxiliary services in agriculture, the collection of waste materials and paper, the collection of clothing, fuel, etc. In many areas, the children helped to alleviate the need and replaced the fathers and men who did their military service in the field .


At the children's website you can find out more about the different school systems.


Interview: Emmanuelle, Julienne, Delphine, Dagmara (Children's editorial office Grand méchant loup)
Drawings: Alina, Alice and Clara(Children's editorial office Grand méchant loup)

Photos / postcards:Grand méchant loup
Photo children as "porters": Archive Gerstenberg

© Grand méchant loup | March 2014