Late 19th century and early 20th century school textbook drawings

As May nears its close, children across the state are getting ready for the end of the school year. Most students in Indiana rent their textbooks and are expected to return them in a condition similar to that in which they were received. Alas, books are often returned with minor additions, such as small artistic drawings doodled in page margins during bouts of boredom. Others may contain acerbic commentary on school life written on any blank spot the student can find.

The need for students to creatively enhance their textbooks is hardly a recent phenomenon. The Indiana State Library holds a large collection of school primers and textbooks from the 19th and early 20th centuries and many of these contain numerous drawings, doodles and humorous anecdotes.

The earliest example comes from a textbook published in 1853 and features several small drawings done in a sort of pointillism style with the images created by small ink dots.

Horses seem to be a popular artistic subject for 19th century students. This image came from a writing primer published in 1886.

Some drawings were very elaborate and were colored with crayons or colored pencils such as this railroad scene dated 1940.

This drawing of a schoolhouse is dated 1938.

This portrait of an elderly man, perhaps the student’s grandfather, was found in a spelling book published in 1901.

Less artistically-inclined students enhanced their textbooks in other ways such as the rather scathing caption on this image from an 1896 English textbook declaring the picture subject as being “not a pretty girl.”

Then there is this example found in the margin of a 1920s spelling book in which the sentence, “Ruth Fox is the best girl in school” is crossed out twice and the words “not so” are added to underscore the point. One can only imagine what poor Miss Fox did to fall from grace!

School textbooks and primers can be found by searching the Indiana State Library’s catalog.

This blog post was written by Jocelyn Lewis, Catalog Division supervisor, Indiana State Library. For more information, contact the Indiana State Library at (317) 232-3678 or “Ask-A-Librarian.”

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