The open air school movement was based on the concept that fresh air, proper ventilation, and exposure to the outside contributed to good health. Originating in Europe, the United States model was quickly adopted as a way to provide care and education for children who were anemic, malnourished, or who had been exposed to tuberculosis. The first open air school in the United States was located in Providence, Rhode Island (1908).
While in Europe, the schools were usually conducted in forests or rural compounds, the open air schools in the United States were often placed in unused school buildings, ferryboats, roofs, porches, or tents . The Chicago Tuberculosis Institute conducted the first open air school in Chicago in cooperation with the school board during the summer of 1909. It was so successful that a year-round school was opened on the Mary Crane Nursery roof in Chicago’s city center . In addition to the benefits of fresh air, hygiene and nutrition were also emphasized. Students were fed a morning snack, a hot dinner, and a glass of milk if possible .
Open Air School #1 and #2 - On roof of Mary Crane Nursery, Courtesy of The Library of Congress
A typical day at an open air school in Indianapolis went as follows :
Arrive at 8:30 AM.
9:00-9:15--Lunch of hot chocolate, bread and butter.
12:00-1:00--A substantial dinner is served. Milk in menu.
1:00-2:30--Rest period (children sleep on sleeping porches).
Rest period, Elizabeth McCormick Open Air School No. 2, on roof of Hull House boys club / Burke-Atwell Photo Chgo., Courtesy of The Library of Congress.
As the movement spread, many cities adapted traditional school rooms to open air school work by simply opening the windows. This is what Champaign did in 1920 when the Open Window School opened March 22, 1920, in a room on the third floor of Central School at the corner of Randolph and Hill. Under the supervision of the Champaign County Anti-Tuberculosis League, the school opened with 18-third through fifth-grade students. While in school, the children were provided with woolen suits and blankets, boots, and gloves since, during the winter months, the school was kept at 55 degrees.
The open air school movement began to wane in the 1930s. The last mention of the Open Window School found in the Champaign County Historical Archives is in the 1932 Directory of the Public Schools of Champaign County, Illinois.
[Correction: The post originally stated that the Open Window School was located at Champaign Central. The post has been corrected to reflect that Open Window School resided in Central School at the corner of Randolph and Hill in Champaign.]
- Sherrie Bowser