The Lone Star School in Johnson County, Missouri

When I bought this photograph from a dealer in Arkansas, he and I both assumed the photo had originated in neighboring Texas, which is known as the Lone Star State.  Well, it turns out there have been schools with the name “Lone Star” in several different states.  The only additional information on the photo was a name written on the back.  But what name was it, exactly?  The note looked like “Wilmith Reiber, Zach’s mother”:

Lone Star School, Johnson County, Missouri 4


That interpretation made sense, but it wasn’t quite right.  After two hours of searching, I realized the correct reading is “Wilmeth Reiber Zech’s mother.”  Wilmeth Reiber Zech’s mother was Winifred Erline Hermon Reiber (1890-1954).  (Note: although Herman and Harmon are common spellings in Missouri, her family name was Hermon.)

In the 1910 federal census, Winnie Hermon was living as a boarder near Post Oak in Johnson County, Missouri, and teaching at a “district school.”  She was twenty years old.  (She had also been listed as a boarder there in the 1900 census, when she was only ten.  Her mother had died a year after Winnie’s birth.)  In April 1912 Winnie married Perry Oliver Reiber (1887-1969) in Warrensburg, Missouri.  Seventeen months later, in September 1913, they had their first child, Ernest Edgar Reiber (1913-1981).  They then had a daughter in 1915 and a second daughter, Wilmeth, in 1919.  It’s clear from these records that Winnie stopped teaching after her marriage, which means the photo was taken no later than 1912.

I reached out to the Johnson County Historical Society to see if they have a copy of the photo in their records.  They don’t, but they have a different photo of the school with a date of 1911, so we can rule out that year.  My photo could have been taken a year or two earlier, when Winnie was twenty or in her late teens.

Over the door of the school is a handmade sign with the letters F.W.T. in the lower right corner.  Maybe those were the initials of the maker?

Lone Star School, Johnson County, Missouri 7


I wonder if Winnie enjoyed teaching school.  It must have been hard work.  She shouldered so much responsibility at such a young age.  I bet she remembered these kids long after she married, moved away and started a family of her own.

Lone Star School, Johnson County, Missouri 6

Lone Star School, Johnson County, Missouri 5

(You can see a larger version of the image above in a separate tab here.)

I’d like to thank Bill Wayne, President of the Johnson County Historical Society, for his generous assistance.

Lone Star School, Johnson County, Missouri 2




34 thoughts on “The Lone Star School in Johnson County, Missouri

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  1. I’ve been in Post Oak — and Warrensburg, for that matter — thanks to the presence of relatives in Missouri, including Johnson County. I love this glimpse into the area’s past — so like the early schools of Kansas and Iowa. I do wonder about the symbols on the sign. The star is self-explanatory, but the trefoil seems a little odd to me. There must be some meaning, either personal or locally significant, to it. Of course I did a little poking around, but I couldn’t find anything.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That’s amazing that you know Post Oak! I got the impression from the Web that there isn’t much there (an intersection?). Names like Post Oak and Lone Star are so evocative. You mention Kansas and Iowa. Winifred was born in Corning, Kansas, and lived there at least until the state census of 1895. Her mother, Nellie Andreon Spears (1859-1891), was from Black Hawk County, Iowa. She married Winifred’s father there in 1876. Family records like these hint at the cultural and economic connections between all these places. It’s a part of the country that I know little about, but I love to see the old schoolhouses, many of which are long gone.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Not only that, Black Hawk County is where my paternal grandfather lived: in Waterloo. I used to roller skate in the park there, and he would take me down to see the roundhouse at the rail yard. He was a guard at Rath Packing there — now in the news because of shutdowns in the meat packing industry.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Great photo and great sleuthing to find out about the main subject, the teacher.

    My father (b. 1924) went to school in a similar one-room school in rural Kansas, all ages/grades together. He told me that the older kids often helped the younger ones. That was the only way a teacher could manage, given she had to teach all grades, not just one or two. My father’s older sister went on to become a teacher herself, so I imagine the older girls took on most of teaching assistant duties, trying on the job of teacher for size before graduating.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It’s like a kind of learning ecosystem, where knowledge flows from the teacher–who might still be a teenager–to the older kids, who then help transmit it to the youngest. It seems like it would be an efficient system if the participants are capable and willing. I don’t know if Winnie Hermon spent any time at a Normal School, which would have been desirable for a girl in her position. She may not have had the opportunity.


    1. I was just speculating about that in a comment above. If the teachers were capable and the kids were eager, they could probably learn a lot. But what if they didn’t see the point, or their parents didn’t? They’d probably just get the basics.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Compulsory education must have presented challenges for many families. If you didn’t comply, the government could take your children away from you!


  3. My great-grandparents married in Johnson County and I’ve been to Warrensburg. Hadn’t heard of Post Oak, though. Good job on figuring out that name. The kids boots are interesting – farm kids, indeed. Many look quite grumpy!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad you saw this post, Eilene. I remember your Johnson County connection from the post you did about weddings. I almost commented on your post when I read it, but I hesitated because I wasn’t sure when I’d get around to sharing this photo. It isn’t particularly cheerful, but portraits of children are often moving, and that’s certainly true of this one.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Such a great job you’ve done, researching this photo! It makes me think of how many stories there are that never got told. You bring these people back – and especially all those hard working women teachers – most of them forgotten now, but they changed the lives of so many children and they built the future for all of us.👏

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I bought the photo because of the children, and secondly because of the sign with the name of the school. As I began to learn about Winnie Hermon, I became more interested in her story. She lost her mother when she was one year old. Her father remarried two years later, and Winnie lived with them for at least a couple of years, but sometime between ages 5 and 10 she went to live in another state (Missouri). Did she ever see her father again? Did she live in a loving home? Did she have dreams for the future?

      Thank you so much, Thérèse! 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Oh, that is intriguing. So, in fact she didn’t have her own parents for very long. Kids had to grow up much faster back then. Poor little girl… I hope she got to be happy in her new home, but I suppose she must have had a hard time getting over such a big trauma – if at all possible.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Maybe the home she went to was a loving and supportive one. It was common in those days for parents to send children away if the parents couldn’t afford to care for them properly. I wonder if she actually wanted to become a teacher, or if that was simply the best option available to a girl in her position.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. It’s certainly not a bad option. Pretty independent and a way to contribute and earn your own money. She probably got a lot of respect as well. The home she went to must have been ok to be able to give her an education. In Sweden they used to have children’s auctions when kids were without parents or the parents were too poor- but they mostly ended up as work force on some farm… not a very bright future I’m afraid.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve never heard of children’s auctions before. Times were very different! It’s important to remember that institutions such as orphanages were often very harsh envrironments to grow up in. Adulthood must have seemed like a liberation to those children.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. It’s like Little House on the Prairie! A few decades later, but I’m sure not all that different. I remember from the books that when Laura started to teach, she was no older than her oldest pupils.
    I wondered about the name – Reiber is clearly German, but Wilmeth I have never heard of. Perhaps it’s an anglicised version of Wilmuth?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Winnie’s husband, Perry Oliver Reiber, was born in Johnson County. According to family trees on Ancestry, his father, John Reiber (1840-1916), was born in Hessen, Germany, and came to the USA with his parents when he was about six years old. When he was about 35, he married Nancy Smithers (1847-1936), who was born in Indiana. They had six or seven children, including Perry Oliver.

      Wilmeth is definitely an unusual spelling! I don’t think I’ve ever run into it before.

      Liked by 1 person

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