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Open Air Schools in Indiana

The open air school movement began in Europe and was quickly adopted by the United States. The first open air school in United States was in Providence, Rhode Island in 1908. The Indiana Society for the Prevention of Tuberculosis (later known as the American Lung Association of Indiana) worked to establish open air schools in Indiana. In 1913 the first open air school in Indiana opened in Indianapolis at the Lucretia Mott School.

The main goal of the open air school movement in Indiana was to care for children who were anemic and/or under nourished, or who had tuberculosis or had been exposed to it. Children with any communicable diseases, severe diseases, or were mentally challenged were excluded from open air schools.

Here are some of the attributes of an open air school as set out by the Indiana State Board of Health:

  • Smaller student to teacher ratio in the classroom.
  • Fresh air and sunshine: Provide children with more mental stimulus and greater physical activity.
  • Food: Provide the children with wholesomely cooked food.
  • Rest: At least one rest period for one hour a day.
  • Curricula: Highlight manual training, gardening, and handwork so as to provide greater elasticity and freedom of movement to the children.
  • Personal hygiene: Emphasis on bathing and dental care.

A typical day at an open air school in Indianapolis went as follows:

Arrive at 8:30 AM.
8:45-9:00--Academic work.
9:00-9:15--Lunch of hot chocolate, bread and butter.
9:15-10:15--Academic work.
10:25-12:00--Academic work.
12:00-1:00--A substantial dinner is served. Milk in menu.
1:00-2:30--Rest period (children sleep on sleeping porches).
2:30-3:00--Academic work.

As a greater understanding of tuberculosis developed, open air schools grew out of favor. They dwindled out in Indiana in the 1930s.


The first open air school in the United States at Providence, Rhode Island, 1908.

Brochure by the Indiana State Board of Health explaining the open air school philosophy.


Original Theodore Potter fresh air school building.

Classroom at the original Potter fresh air school.

Cook with student at the Potter school, 1914.

Cover of the invitation to the dedication ceremony of the new Theodore Potter Fresh Air School Indianapolis, Indiana, 1924.

The newly completed Theodore Potter fresh air school, 1924.

Potter Fresh Air School Dining Room

Classroom at the new Potter fresh air school.

Kitchen at the new Potter school.

Nap time for fresh air school students.

Students in a classroom at the Lucretia Mott open air school Indianapolis, Indiana. The Mott School was the first open air school in Indianapolis.

McCoy open air school in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Muslin screens on the windows in an open air school classroom.
Many ordinary school rooms were adapted for open air use by leaving the windows opened and fitting them with muslin screens.

A rest period at the Potter school.

Child wearing an "Eskimo Suit."
The suit consists of a two piece pajama suit with a hood, made from heavy woolen blankets. It slips over everyday school clothes.

Group of students at the Lucretia Mott School.

Perry Randall fresh air school, Ft. Wayne, Indiana, 1917. Ft. Wayne was the first city outside of Indianapolis to open an open air school in the state.

Sunnyside fresh air school students in Oaklandon, Indiana.

Open air school students, Indianapolis, Indiana.

Mills open air school in Crawfordsville, Indiana.

All images are provided for the personal use of patrons and researchers and may not be incorporated into publications, websites, or exhibits without written permission of the Indiana State Library or other appropriate copyright holder. Image Sources: Photographs are from the American Lung Association of Central Indiana Collection housed in the Manuscript Section of the Indiana State Library. Other images are from the Indiana Division Pamphlet Collection and Clippings file. Text Sources: Text on verso of photographs Bodenhamer, David J. and Robert G. Barrows. Encyclopedia of Indianapolis. Bloomington, IN: Indiana UP, 1994. Indiana State Board of Health. The open Air School Movement in Indiana. Indianapolis, IN, 1918. Kingsley, Sherman C. Open Air Schools and Open Window Rooms: How to Build and Equip Them. New York: 1916. Sunnyside Sanatorium. A History of Sunnyside Sanatorium, 1917-1952. Indianapolis, IN, 1952.

MA BF 1-10-2020