Schoolmarms and Schoolmasters

Education on the American Frontier was a little spotty and it usually depended on how settled your area was as to how much your children received. And because of the shortage of women, most teachers were men. In that case they were called school masters. I know this won’t come as a huge shock to you, but the men had it a lot easier as you’ll see.

But back to the schools. If a town or community had one it was generally a one-room kind with all grades thrown together. First of all, can you imagine the chaos the teacher had to deal with having teenagers and first graders learning in the same room? Good Lord! That was recipe for disaster right there. But they didn’t have a choice. It took a strong teacher and a whole lot of patience.

Because most communities didn’t have money to build a house for the teacher, they were required to stay in homes with their students. They’d move from place to place at two-week intervals. Nope, not me. I couldn’t do that. No telling how uncomfortable that must’ve been, especially if the child’s parents disagreed with her teaching method.

Now, what proof did a teacher have to show that they were qualified? None beyond being able to read and write. That’s it. In the larger cities they had to pass a test but not out in the countryside.

So, you could show up and SAY you were a teacher and if they needed one, you were hired. It was the same with doctors, lawyers and every other profession. No one cared and furthermore they had no time to check you out. They were in such great need of people to fill those roles. My thoughts are whirling here. I might need to put a teacher in another story.

But most of the time, the teachers were students who’d gone to the eighth grade (which they considered the equivalent of 12th now.)

The teacher would arrive before daylight because they were required to put in a full day before the pupils arrived at 8:00.

Okay, so here is the list of rules for 1872 schoolmarms.

  1. Light a fire, fill the lamps, clean the chimney, clean the blackboard.
  2. They will bring a bucket of water and a one of coal.
  3. Sharpen the pencils.
  4. Male teachers were allowed to take one evening a week for courting purposes. They got two evenings a week if they were regular churchgoers.
  5. Schoolmarms were not allowed to court and were dismissed if they did or got married. (See what I mean? Such double-standards even back then.)
  6. Once school let out, the teacher would go clean the schoolhouse and go to their assigned home. They were then required to help the family with their chores. Before bed, they were supposed to read an hour from the Bible.
  7. Each teacher was required to put aside a good portion of their salary for lean times so they wouldn’t be a burden on society.
  8. Reasons for dismissal were: smoking, drinking, gambling or (get this) getting a shave in a barber shop. I assume that pertains to men. But why? Makes no sense to me.
  9. If they perform their duties and have no marks against them for five years, they got a .25 raise…if the school board approved. Wow!
  10. Schoolmarms had to wear at least two petticoats and wear no bright-colored clothing. The dresses could not show her ankles.

By the way, the salary for male teachers was around $25 a month. For women, $20 even though the school boards agreed women had the best temperament for the job.

Still, for women it must’ve seemed a pretty good deal. Jobs were extremely scarce for them. Teaching was a lot better than prostitution.

What do you consider the worst part of being a teacher back then? What was the best? I’m giving away another $10 Amazon gift card to one person.


Schoolmarms and Schoolmasters — 28 Comments

  1. Worst: discipline with all the different ages, siblings and social class differences.
    Best: watching children grow confident and independent with knowledge that let them travel beyond their farms and ranches.
    My mother and father came from one room schools. I am living in the area where her school was located. The school house is no longer here.
    Yeah, school teacher character is in your and our future.

    • Hi Jerri Lynn…..How wonderful about living near the one room where your parents went. I’m sure both then and now there are drawbacks. I actually wrote a little bit of a school teacher in To Love a Texas Ranger. Sierra taught for a little bit there on the ranch and she had a struggle trying to teach both the whites and the Mexican children how to communicate and learn. I think I’m going to have to write a whole story though about a schoolteacher. 🙂

      Much love and hugs!

  2. Good morning Linda- wow, you certainly shed a new light on this subject. Women were and still are treated differently in society. I have always wondered how a school teacher could teach so many different aged children at one time in a single classroom. Like you said a recipe for disaster. To me that would be total chaos . The other thing that I never understood was why the women weren’t allowed to court or marry if she was a school teacher. To me it would of made more sense for her to find someone special in her personal life so she would be more apt to stay on in these little one horse towns.
    I think the best thing for all children is an education, especially in their very young years. I commend all teachers for their hard work, I loved school and I know many of my teachers from elementary had a huge influence in me back then that has carried through my entire life.
    Wonderful article, Happy Labor Day, love you sister friend.

    • Hi Miss Tonya…..The idea behind the not marrying or courting rule for women was that they’d set a bad example for the children when they got pregnant. The kids might learn TOO much to their way of thinking. Just so backward and unfair. But then men made the rules and ran the world. Because you know, they’re much smarter. 🙂 I loved school too. I still remember my 4th grade teacher Mrs. Smith. I thought she was just so nice. She took an extra interest in me because I was so shy. But I think she saw my potential.

      Much love and hugs, sister friend!

  3. Well color me Shocked! (Red) As always I just learned a lot from you Linda! Seems to me if a woman took on the role of teacher if they aspired to be a nun. I can’t even picture a man living by these standards either. I had always thought how crazy it would have been to have all grades in the same school room. I can not imagine and especially if you didn’t have a higher education. This is why it was amazing to me when farm children actually did go on to a higher education. That would have been quite remarkable. I also can’t imagine seeing a doctor that wasn’t a person that was actually trained to be one. I would have preferred sleeping in the school house myself and doing chores on a two week basis for food and a place to bathe but I see how that wouldn’t work out. I really just can’t imagine living that way and females couldn’t date. Wow! Thanks for reaching me things I did not know! Love it and love you!!

    • I forgot, the pay would be the best for the time. There are so many worst things it’s hard to pick but I guess the fact that female teachers couldn’t be courted. What kind of future does that hold?!?!

      • The pay probably wasn’t that bad. And they got a whole .25 raise after five years. They probably went plumb crazy shopping! Yeah, the future was pretty bleak for schoolmarms. I don’t know the statistics but I think there were a lot of old maid teachers because of that very reason.

    • Hi Stephanie…..I’m so glad I could bring yet another subject that interested you. That was really unfair to the women. They weren’t allowed to hardly breathe. And the schoolmasters could date and marry and whatever else they wanted to do. But then, men set the rules and they ran the world. Thank goodness we’ve started equalizing a bit.

      Much love and hugs!

  4. well I would say the worst have to be the raise, .25 after 5 years, that is basically a .05 raise each year if you look at it like that, which im sure to most back than was a whole lot.
    the best would be they didn’t have to travel far to do the schooling since it says they did it in the children’s home.

    • Hi Elaine…….I’m glad you enjoyed my post. Yeah, to work five years for a quarter raise would have to had been a disgrace. Especially in light of the long list of duties. In most cases, the school was within a five mile radius so the most they’d have to travel would be five miles. But they had to get there before dawn to do all the things they were supposed to do before school started. To me, it’s all pretty bad.

      Much love and hugs!

  5. Wow, really makes you think hard about what women went through back then… Many were orphans, and the sad thing not many opportunities for them. So they turned to, or were forced into prostitution. Double standards were the norm. Teaching all of those different aged children would of been very hard. And I like the stories where they give the schoolmarm a small cabin of her own…

    • Hi Tonya Cherry……Thanks for coming. I’m glad you enjoyed my post. The limited opportunities for women was the bad thing back then. A lot did turn to prostitution because of no jobs. I’m sure there were lots of cases where the school board was better off financially and they built a small house for the teacher. That would’ve been ideal. I wouldn’t have done very good staying with strangers. I read accounts where some families treated the teacher very badly and refused to warm any water for her to wash with. Nope. Not for me.

      Much love and hugs!

  6. The salary still bothers me. No wonder woman revolted. I am sure that the job it’s self was rewarding as to shape a young person life.

    • Hi Charlene…….That salary was horrible, especially all that asked her to do. But yes, I’m sure she loved being a positive influence in a child’s life and teaching things they didn’t know.

      Much love and hugs!

  7. Very interesting subject matter. The worse would be the constant moving from place to place. Never having your own space, or choice. You would soon know who kept a clean home and who didnt. And sleeping arrangements, who knew what you would get.
    It was one of the few acceptable jobs outside of the home a woman could have, so if chosen it was always an honor. My question how old did one have to be to teach?
    Both of my parents went to a one room school for elementary, then they had both moved, so they went into town for junior high and Hugh school. My dad, if they had stayed on the first farm would have continued his education in the one room school house as it went through 12th grade.

    • Hi Veda…….I’m so glad you enjoyed my post. I agree about always having to move from one home to the other. I’ve read accounts where the teacher often had to sleep with one of the kids and didn’t even get her own bed. Horrible. I think I read where a teacher had to be eighteen but I don’t know where I saw it. How nice for your parents to have gone to a one-room school. I’m sure they loved it. It would’ve been a lot more informal.

      Hugs and love!

  8. I cannot even begin to imagine how hard all of this was for teachers. But, for the time, pay was good. I guess that was the motivation and the upside to the job. At best, living conditions were not good back then, at best, and to be shuffled around from house to house must have been a nightmare. The only reason I can think of that the school master would not be allowed to pay for a shave at the barber shop was that it would make him appear frivolous with his money and he was supposed to be a role model for the kids.Thank goodness we moved forward.

    • Hi Jan……Yes, it was very hard for them. I’m sure you’re right about the reason for not letting the men get a shave in a barber shop. Just crazy. So many eyes watching you and reporting on your every move. Yes, thank God we have things better now.

      Love you, sister!

  9. I just love your questions Linda! Since I won last time, I’m just adding my two-sense, or nonsense. 😉 Just speaking from a woman teacher’s perspective – I think that wearing two petticoats in an non-air conditioned one room schoolhouse, say when it was humid and raining and the windows were mostly closed- that would be the worst! (without even considering hose, high-top shoes, corset, slip, long sleeves and underclothes) 😮 Of course all of the other women wore the same clothes but they weren’t stuck in a small building all day with lots of other bodies who were giving off heat. Winters would be cozy though.
    The best would be that the salary I earned would not have to be used on housing. Yes it might be rough moving every 2 weeks but no doubt that there were also some very kind and generous parents who would help the teacher with whatever was a difficulty- rides to town, meals were provided, repairs on the schoolhouse (even collectively with other townspeople) and supplies that might not otherwise be provided-wood for the fire. Lots of (primer) prose and cons-(constantly busy!)
    I love visiting museum villages and touring those one-room schoolhouses. I have a small collection of primers that are very interesting. The nice thing about them was that a student might be promoted bases on their mastery of the lessons in one grade. They could advance without losing their friends. My uncle did this twice in his one room school.
    <B your blog! Hugs, Meg

    • Hi Meg…….Yes, the two petticoat rule would’ve been torture in the summer in addition to all the other clothes she had to wear. I’m hot just thinking about it. I don’t think I would’ve liked living with other people though. However it saved her having to use her own money. I love those frontier villages and places that show what those old towns used to be like. I can spend hours on hours looking at everything. I’m glad you enjoyed my post.

      Love and hugs!

  10. Linda, that was extremely informative. We are lucky to have a one room schoolhouse in our little town as a museum. When you see how small it is, it makes you wonder how they could even get all the kids in it much less desks, books, heater, teacher’s desk, etc. As for the teachers, of course men had it better. We are still fighting this discrepancy to this day. When are we going to learn that women are equal to or smarter and more capable than men. To me, this was the worst part of being a teacher. All those rules and both doing the same job, but the lady teacher gets less. The best part would be the giving students the knowledge they so desperately needed. Many girls were not allowed to go to school because it was thought that all girls should do would be marry and have babies. Thank goodness they did not use recipes like we do today. They would not have known how to adjust them. This is just one example. But thank goodness that there were women who were willing to put up with all those rules to educate the youngsters. To this day, I admire school teachers for their dedication and knowledge. I do say thank you that I was not one in frontier times. I would have been fired the first day.

    • Hi Cricket…..Great to see you. Thanks for coming. I agree with you about being fired the first day if I was teaching school back then. It was very unfair how they discriminated against women. Thank goodness we’ve come a long way. The world needs more dedicated schoolteachers. I had some very good ones when I went to school and I still remember them fondly.

      Love and hugs!

  11. I don’t know…. I always thought being a school teacher back then would be so fun! I used to want to be a teacher till I saw how the teenagers acted. So I’d say, that’s probably the worst would ne dealing with the teenagers who didn’t really want to be there and the bullies. Oh and I greatly dislike the idea of having to move in with someone new every two weeks. Get me married fast!!

    The best thing? Seeing the joy as kids learn and play.

    • Hi Michelle…..You know, I can see you as a schoolmarm! I would not like living with the various families and expected to help them with their chores after a long day. You’d have no privacy. That’s when I’d be quitting.

      Much love and hugs!

  12. Linda, Thanks for the info. The worse part for a teacher back then would be the salary and having to chop the wood to heat the school. The rewards would be helping those young minds advance their learning to live in such a hard times. Enjoyed reading your blogs.

    • Hi Lois…..I’m glad you enjoyed my post. It’s always fun bringing them to you. Those teachers had to work extremely hard. They sure had a lot to do. I’d have been exhausted before I ever got to ring the bell for class.

      Love and hugs!

  13. As a retired teacher myself, I find the history of my profession absolutely fascinating. The toughest part of being a teacher back then was the wide range of ages and abilities you had to deal with. The most unfair part was not being allowed to marry.

  14. Hi Cheryl…..Then you can appreciate my post. Teaching has seen tremendous changes since frontier times. I’m sure you were a very dedicated teacher who cared for your students’ minds.

    Love and hugs!