School (and calamity) days


Today’s school children who come from colder climates, are used to having snow or calamity days throughout the winter. This was most likely not the case in William McKinley’s educational days. Most likely, school was open on days where school would close today, and those children who could walk or ride to school on those days attended. We are often asked about William McKinley’s early education and the reason the family moved to Poland, Ohio in 1852. H. Wayne Morgan gave a good description of both.

Morgan, H. Wayne, William McKinley and His America (Revised Edition). Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 2003.

P 5: “In the 1840s, Niles resembled scores of other county hamlets in Ohio. It boasted little more than a tree-shaded, unpaved street, lined with clapboard houses, a country store, a small church. And a bridge across the creek. It was laid out in the 1830s, but as early as the first decade of the century, discoveries of coal and iron ore in the adjacent hills promised it a future as a manufacturing town. By the 1830s, a local foundry was turning out regular consignments of andirons, stove castings, pipe, and household utensils, and the plant boasted a smokestack thirty feet high, a man-made wonder for the area. In this factory, the elder William McKinley entered into a brief partnership in the iron business. He made little money as a manager and foreman. He owed any success to his diligence and common sense rather than to any innate business acumen. But he was never in debt beyond his ability to pay, and happily for him, his household expenses were few, for the older children helped their thrifty mother with her work.”

P 5-6: “William McKinley, Sr. wanted his children to rise above his own station through education. Though lacking diplomas and degrees, the elder McKinley was not ignorant. Both he and his wife tried hard to maintain adequate intellectual standards in the midst of the arduous duties of child-raising. Hume’s History of England, Gibbon’s Decline and Fall, and the early works of Dickens graced the scant library shelves alongside the Bible in their household. Every member of the family old enough read the better monthly magazines and passed them on to others. Horace Greeley’s Weekly Tribune came into the home to fortify an antislavery bias that reflected the McKinleys’ humble origins and Northern sympathies. Though the family lacked intellectual pretensions, they encouraged study.”

P 7: “William entered school as the war with Mexico drew to a close. The small folk were aflame with patriotism, and the McKinley children did their share of parade-ground drills in paper hats, and wooden swords.”

P 7: “William’s taste for reading, his desire to please his family, and his own interests made him a good if not brilliant student. ‘Billy had a head on his shoulders,’ as one former teacher put it.”


The little white school house in Niles, Ohio attended by William McKinley. The site is now where the National McKinley Birthplace Memorial now stands.

1995.1.285 (2)

An arithmetic book used by William McKinley.

P 7: The elder McKinley was not satisfied with Niles’ educational facilities and wished to send his youngest children elsewhere for a more substantial education. The nearest place was Poland, Ohio, which boasted an academy, or high school, which New Englanders founded [note: Niles’ first high school, Central School was built ca. 1870]. In 1852, the family moved there so the children could attend the academy/ It meant considerable inconvenience for the father, whose business took him elsewhere, but he rode on horseback to see his family on weekends.”


Extracts from a letter written by Mrs. B. Gerlach Ammerman, one of McKinley’s teachers at Poland Union.



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