Healthful Schools: A Vintage Guide from 1918

A digital version of Healthful Schools by May Ayres Burgess, Jesse Feiring Williams and Thomas Denison Wood is now available online for vintage look at how to build, furnish and maintain schools. While many things have changed since it was originally published in 1918, there are several truths that have stood the test of time and are still important in terms of school furniture.
“Ever since before the days of Horace Mann we have been experimenting with school room desks and chairs.” While few students today have heard of Horace Mann the great education reformer, the statement couldn’t hold more truth. Classroom desks evolve and are improved upon every year as factors such as technology and size become more present. “Children are expected to spend most of their time sitting still… it is necessary to provide chairs and desks which will be comfortable.” Modern school furniture manufacturers understand this and have been able to create contoured student chair seats with the use of plastics, which was largely unused during the early 20th century.
Here are some excerpts in regards to school furniture selection that are still true:


Adjustment. Desks and chairs should be adjusted to the height of the child. This may be done either by supplying several different sizes for each room, or by making any individual piece of furniture so that it can be adjusted to the needs of the person using it. In buying furniture it is well to make sure that the adjustments can be made swiftly and easily.


Feet and floor, Seats should be low enough so that the pupil’s feet rest squarely on the floor; otherwise the blood vessels in the under part of the thigh become constricted and retard circulation.

Shape of seat. Seats should be slightly hollowed out to fit the natural curve of the body, instead of being flat like a settee. The width of the seat from back to front should be that which affords sufficient support for the body, but at the same time brings the back of the body against the back of the chair.

Here are some excerpts that are not necessarily true for modern classroom furnishings:



Should be single. That is, each desk or chair should be intended for one person only. Double seating usually means lack of adjustment to the individual child and interference of one child with his fellow.





There are many classrooms that now incorporate cooperative learning strategies, so student desks that provide group interaction or can easily be grouped together are commonly preferred to those old stand alone desks. While slanted desktops are a more ergonomic choice, must classroom desks of today must have a flat top to safely accomodate laptops. Classrooms of the past taught many or all subjects in one room, requiring a desk that was multipurpose. Now with schools providing differenct rooms and environments for different subjects, classroom desks can be specific to the task at hand. Some specific desks are open front desks, lift lid desks, junior executive desks, combo desks, two student desks, collaborative desks, ADA compliant desks and of course, teacher’s desks.
This book is great source for historic information about American schools of the early 20th century. The details included offer visions of what our grandparents or even great-grandparents might have experiences during their time behind a school desk. While these facts are great for nostalgia, there are many sources available today for modern school furniture facts.


















Desk-top slant. The top of the desk should slant in order that books and papers may be held at as near a right angle with the line of vision as possible.




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