The Good Old Days – Teacher Requirements

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Yesterday, I received an email from a student who was working on a research paper about teacher certification exams. In her online exploration, she ran across a blog post I wrote about Normal schools (Teaching the Teachers) and asked me for some of the sources I used for that post. As I searched for them, I ran across a site that focused on the requirements for teachers that went beyond their scores on certification exams.

1905 teaching contractSince teachers were in charge of molding young minds, many school boards placed extra, more personal and moral, requirements on the instructors they hired. And some, just tried to get as much for their money as possible. Here’s a photo of an actual teaching contract from 1905 that stipulates janitorial labor as part of the position with no extra pay. Also no holidays were allowed.

But that wasn’t all.

There were all of these stipulations as well:
1. Teachers are expected to live in the community in which they are employed and to take residence with local citizens for room and board. Nothing like a little privacy and a place of your own. Though the free meals would be nice.
2. Teachers will be required to spend weekends in the community unless permission is granted by the Chairman of the Board. Do you get the feeling this school board wanted to keep an eye on their teachers? No holidays, no weekend train trips to visit family in the next county without special permission.

3. It is understood that teachers will attend church each Sunday and take an active part, particularly in choir and Sunday School work. Now as a church goer myself, I’m all for encouraging church attendance, but the cynical side of me is wondering if this is stipulated just so they can force her to teach Sunday School classes in addition to her usual classroom duties.

4. Dancing, card playing and the theatre are works of the Devil that lead to gambling, immoral climate, and influence and will not be tolerated. Theatre is a work of the devil yet …

5. Community plays are given annually.ย  Teachers are expected to participate. Uh huh. Double standard, anyone?ย 

6. When laundering petticoats and unmentionables it is best to dry them in a flour sack or pillow case.ย  (So no one sees them hanging on the line to dry). I have to wonder how anything actually dries while inside a flower sack. And can you get a special dispensation if the family you are boarding with (see item 1) has their feminine underthings flapping on the line? Because, really, what hard-working mother would take the time to hide her unmentionables in flour sacks?

19th century classroom7. Any teacher who smokes cigarettes, uses liquor in any form, frequents a pool or public hall, or (for men) gets shaved in a barber shop, (or for women) bobbs (cuts) her hair, has dyed hair, wears short skirts (could not be any shorter than 2 inches above the ankles) and has undue use of cosmetics will not be tolerated under any circumstances. OK – this time I’m on the man’s side. You can’t get shaved in a barber shop??? Something tells me the local barber was not on the school board.

8. Teachers will not marry or keep company with a man friend during the week except as an escort to church services.ย  But on the other hand …

9. Men teachers may take one evening each week for courting purposes or two evenings a week if they go to church regularly. Not only do they get paid more, but they’re allowed to date. Because men would never do anything impure while dating, but a woman . . . well, she can’t be trusted to remain pure. (Sticking my tongue out here.)

11. Loitering in ice cream parlors, drug stores, etc., is prohibited. Yes, because ice cream parlors are such dens of iniquity. Dens of calories, yes, but that’s not the same thing. Usually.

12. After 10 hours in school, the teacher should spend the remaining time reading the Bible or other good books. I’m all for Bible reading, but a good novel is a great way to unwind after a 10 hour day. Too bad my definition of “good books” probably doesn’t match what is intended here.

13. Women teachers who marry or engage in other unseemly conduct will be dismissed. Marriage is unseemly conduct??? Apparently only for a woman (see #9)

16. The teacher who performs his labors faithfully and without fault for five years will be given an increase of 25 cents a week in his pay providing the Board of Education approves. Wow! Makes me appreciate the value of a dollar. It takes 5 years of faithful service (and no marriage) to get $1 more a month.

  • So, which of these stipulations would you have the hardest time swallowing?

Excuse me while I loiter in an ice cream shop with a gentleman not related to me, showing off my bobbed haircut. After 5 years of dedicated service, I’m spending my raise and living it up before the hatchet falls at the next school board meeting.



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For those who love to smile as they read, bestselling author Karen Witemeyer offers warmhearted historical romance with a flair for humor, feisty heroines, and swoon-worthy Texas heroes. Karen is a firm believer in the power of happy endings. . . and ice cream. She is an avid cross-stitcher, and makes her home in Abilene, TX with her husband and three children. Learn more about Karen and her books at:

29 thoughts on “The Good Old Days – Teacher Requirements”

  1. All I can say is, “WOW”! I guess if you lived during that time period it would be normal?? Not, in my mind. It doesn’t make since that a school teacher couldn’t be married.

    Cindy W.

    • I always thought the marriage rule had more to do with a “wife’s place” being in the home taking care of the husband and little ones. But the way this particular school board phrased marriage as “unseemly conduct” raised my hackles a bit, I must admit.

  2. I loved your sarcasm throughout. I don’t get the differences between the men and women schoolteachers, either. I guess I do a little since men back then were meant to be the providers for their families while women did the housework, so being married and woman teacher would be rather difficult on a marriage back then. They didn’t have microwave meals like we do now. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • That’s true, Faith. I wonder if a male teacher who married still had to abide by the first rule about living with area families or if he could save up his earnings for a small house of his own. It would be rather awkward for a newlywed couple to live in the house of one of his students. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • Thanks, Janine. There are a lot of things I love about the simpler times of the 19th century, but these overly restrictive attitudes toward women are not among them. Makes me thankful for the equality and options we have today.

  3. Hi Karen, great post, definitely one to book-mark and come back to, and your remarks have me laughing out loud. As a teacher myself, this makes me wonder why any woman would be one back then. The most onerous to me is the janitorial duties. Ick. Although most of it sounds pretty awful. And yes, marriage being considered a bad thing for her is just nuts. Thanks for the wonderful info. xoxo

    (Do you watch When Calls the Heart on Hallmark? I love it although the not-historical hairstyles make me cringe. But…with her and Jack getting serious, I wonder if the producers will have Elizabeth stay in the classroom if/when they marry. Seems you can get away with a lot more on RV than in books.)

    I wonder…if a teacher married and then was widowed…could she be allowed back into her profession? Hmmmmm. Cray-zee.

    • I watched the first season of When Called the Heart. Loved it. Haven’t gotten around to Season 2 yet.

      I imagine different school boards could handle things differently. So if there were council members with a little more forward-thinking, or if the town was desperate, you might find a married female teacher. But the belief that a wife belonged in the home was very entrenched back then. I think most were forced to retire when they said “I do.”

  4. Oh my, these are hilarious! I agree that the “male teacher cannot be shaved in a barber shop” is hilariously ridiculous. Why?! Were those dens of iniquity back then? Granted, most of them are hilariously ridiculous. Bobbed hair? Oh the horror! LOL
    Thanks for a great chuckle today!

      • Me, too, Carolyn. I think it might have been viewed as an extravagance. Any sober, fiscally responsible man would shave himself at home. And I suppose barber shops were known for being gossip dens for men. Of course, so was the livery, yet they didn’t have a rule against renting a horse.

    • You’re welcome, Kim. Hope you having a good day. I probably shouldn’t tell anyone, but last night I broke rule #11 twice – I bought ice cream in a drug store! Gasp! The sale was too good to pass up. I tried not to loiter too long, though, so hopefully I won’t lose my university position. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  5. I absolutely loved this accounting of a teacher. I have two friends that one is a teacher about to retire and one who is about to start teaching. I told them they must read this post. It’s amazing they had any teachers in those days. Thank you for posting this. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • It certainly is a restrictive list, isn’t it? I get the impression the school board wanted to be in complete control of the teachers they hired. I can appreciate wanting to protect the children, but the teacher is not a slave, either.

  6. These are incredible. Although, they didn’t have standardized testing, either, so…?
    We almost always read books where women are fiercely loyal to the profession and teaching wonderful students (except for the obligatory difficult student whom they ultimately win over). That’s why I avoid books with teacher characters (usually… I couldn’t resist your last book!). I have to think there was at least an equal portion of women who suffered the job because it provided an honest means of support in a society that offered few opportunities for unmarried women, and no other reason. I’d like to write that character, the one that’s desperate to get married so she doesn’t have to teach anymore!

    Today we are blessed with many more options and opportunities, but I enjoyed this post of what my job would have been in the “good old days!”

    • I love that twist, Kerri. Great idea! You can even use this list (or make up your own that is similar) to show how confining and controlling her school board is. ๐Ÿ™‚ Go for it!

  7. Thanks Karen for this post! Boy,I didn’t know being a teacher was so restrictive,especially for a woman! I’m surprised they got anyone to do it! No wonder the real Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote in her books that the only reason she became a teacher was to earn money for Mary to go to a college for the blind.

  8. Wow. You asked which restriction we’d have the most trouble with. For me it would be the reverse–I’d have to look hard to find one I didn’t have trouble with. Terrific post and I enjoyed your humor. Thank you.

  9. The reason female teachers were discouraged from dating and marrying was because they could get pregnant. Giving birth and having to tend to a newborn would hinder her ability to do the job. I know it seems sexist, but when you consider the time period and the fact that women didn’t often work, it makes sense. If you’re in the middle of a school year, the last thing a board member wants is to do is scramble around to find another teacher.

    Great article! I enjoyed reading it.

    • That’s a good point, Ruth Ann. There were definite practical matters to take into consideration. The book I’m working on now has a female telegraph operator, and from my research, it was one job that women could actually have while caring for a newborn. There were several accounts of women bringing their babies to work with them in baskets and tending to them throughout the day when they weren’t needed on the wire. This was more true in rural settings than in the cities, but it was one of the few careers that allowed women this freedom.

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