Thrift and Community Development

Home Education Unit Plans Thrift and Community Development Thrift and Community Development

Thrift and Community Development

This primary source activity, which could be used in a history class to explore the reform era or in a class on economics or current events, teaches students about Sara Oberholtzer and asks them to evaluate her work. Most importantly, it encourages students to use the lessons of the past to better understand the present by comparing the historical issues that informed Oberholtzer’s beliefs with the issues faced in our communities today.

Essential Questions

How can the story of another American, past or present, influence your life?
How does continuity and change within the United States history influence your community today?


Students will be able to:
• Explain the three pillars of thrift
• Correlate the temperance movement and the school savings bank movement
• Apply the historical thrift movement to contemporary neighborhood problems

Suggested Instructional Procedures

1.  Activate prior knowledge and opinions about thrift by asking students, what is thrift? What do they think the word means? Where have they heard it before? Are there other words or ideas they associate with this term?

2.Write each of the three “pillars” of thrift on the board, leaving space beneath each to fill in related ideas: “Industry: Work hard and honestly; Savings: Spend less than you earn; Stewardship: Give back to your community.” Explain the first pillar, then call on students to explain it back in their own words. Use guiding questions such as: What does industry mean? What does it mean to work hard in your life? What kinds of jobs do you have now? How does school fit in, even though it doesn’t pay? Write their ideas in the space below the first pillar. Repeat with the second and third pillars.

3.Use guiding questions for Savings such as: What kinds of things do you spend money on? Where could you make cuts in spending? How would it be possible to spend more than you earn? Why is it important to save money now? Why will it be important when you are no longer school? For Stewardship, ask guiding questions such as: What does stewardship mean? What does “give back” mean? How do you give back to your family community, to your school community, or to your neighborhood community? Are there other ways you could give back to your communities?

4. Review the YMCA images with students. Ask guiding questions such as: What do you see? What is the message of the cartoon? What symbols or words support that message? Then have students agree or disagree with the messages, using the notes about the three pillars of thrift to support their opinions. Encourage them to look at each historically as well as from a contemporary perspective.

5. Next, have students read Sara Oberholtzer’s “School Savings Banks”(excerpt from Transactions) to gain an understanding of the historical and practical application of the pillars of thrift. Students could read this as a class or read and summarize independently or in small groups.

6. Next, students can be encouraged to discern Oberholtzer’s motivations by interpreting the motto on her letterhead. If the class does not draw the conclusion that Oberholtzer was related to the temperance movement, state it explicitly.

7. Have students read excerpts from The Value of School Savings Banks, Testimony of Educators, No. 2. Tell them that as they read the selection they should highlight key terms, phrases, and sentences that relate to the letterhead quote. As a formative assessment, have students answer the following writing prompt: “In what ways did the school savings banks ensure wiser living and decrease pauperism, intemperance, and crime?”

8. Have students connect the historical example with contemporary issues. Encourage students to create a list of social issues that affect the school’s community. Allow this portion of this primary source activity to turn into an informal discussion, even encouraging lightly moderated argument, as the students will be more likely to connect to the material if they have some ownership and investment.

9. Then divide the class into debate groups to formally debate the proposition: “The practice of the three pillars of thrift can help improve the problems in our neighborhoods.” Have students outline their arguments using the debate outline. Use the public forum or a similar debate style to frame the debate and keep it structured. Allow a few students to act as judges to keep the activity as student-centered as possible.

Extended Authentic Connection

This primary source activity can be used as a launchpad for students to plan and implement a service-learning project. Many schools require a service-learning project for graduation, which could be built from this lesson. Many also participate in the Martin Luther King Day of Service, and this activity can be used as a starting point to plan and implement a class project for that day. This activity can also be used to precede personal financial planning education.


Industry:  (as relates to thrift) working hard and persistently
Intemperance:  (as relates to Temperance movement) drinking alcohol to excess
Pauperism:  the state of being very poor
Stewardship:  the responsibility to manage resources for the long-term good
Temperance:  A movement of the 1800s and early 1900s centuries again alcoholic drinking and for related social reforms; resulted in the 18th Amendment and Prohibition being enacted in 1919
Thrift:  an ethic of hard work, savings, and stewardship