Des Moines Open Air Schools

Open air schools in the United States started in 1908 but closed down by 1941.   Children who attended usually suffered from tuberculosis (TB).  Most people with TB were treated in sanitariums, but this made it difficult for children to acquire an education.   Des Moines began an open air school in 1914 for underweight and those physically unhealthy.   This first school was not open to children who had TB, though.  Wallace Elementary (1404 E. 13th) and Casady School (16th St & Jefferson) were both open air schools.

The above picture ran with an article in the March 7, 1921 Des Moines Tribune.  The student, Margaret Hall, states that her school is located at Eighth and College Avenue (Open Air School, 1521 8th St.- old North High) and consists of three rooms.  “The middle one is kept warm so when we get chilly we can go in there.  We have wool suits and overshoes which we wear in the colder rooms.”  A separate article also ran that day.   Below you will find an excerpt.

History of the Open Air School  (excerpt)

by Irene Welsh, Des Moines Tribune, 3/7/1921

“In 1914 a plan was made by the superintendent to have an open air school for children who were underweight or physically subnormal, but no children who had tuberculosis were allowed to come, as there were other schools for tubercular children and also sanitariums.

“The first school was a small building with canvas curtains all around it so it would not be so cold and to keep out the rain and snow.  There were twenty children at first and only one teacher. . . She also had to make the woolen suits that we wear instead of our coats and caps.

“Now we have a little building of three rooms.  It looks like a little bungalow from the outside.  Two of the rooms are all windows on three sides, which can be opened and closed according to the wind and so a draft would be through the room.  They also could be pushed out in a way that the rain and snow could be left out and yet get plenty of fresh air.”

The Des Moines Tribune image at top of page is not very clear.  Below is an image from the Indiana Potter Fresh Air School (1913).

I don’t know about you, but that looks awfully cold.  I’m not sure how the students were able to concentrate in that environment.  America’s History says that Indiana students’ health improved, but the schools closed down due to academic concerns.

If you know more information about the open air schools in Des Moines, please add your comments!

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