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Elliott Bowen
Dr. Hacker
HIST 531
12.5.09

Analyzing the Feminization of the Teaching Profession in the United States from the Perspective of Occupational Choice

In January 1849, the Stow School Committee did something it had never done before. After debating the question of who to hire for the upcoming winter school session, this small, eastern Massachusetts town’s educational leaders settled upon a local girl named Sarah Eleveth. Though her considerable teaching experience had undoubtedly influenced the committee’s decision, there was one kind of experience that Eleveth lacked. She, like all of Stow’s female teachers, had never before taught the winter term. Eleveth was a first.[1]

Though it may not have seemed like it at the time, Eleveth’s hiring was a watershed in the history of Stow’s educational system. Before 1849, the town’s teacher hiring practices followed a gendered logic: females taught the summer term, males the winter term. The arrangement reflected an assumption common to Victorian America, namely that female teachers were incapable of managing older boys who, freed from farm labor, filled winter classrooms. Thus, in hiring Sarah Eleveth, the Stow School Committee had broken with tradition. Evidently, the board was pleased with its decision, for in subsequent years Stow would come to rely almost solely on female teachers for its winter sessions.[2]

Stow’s 1849 experiment was not an isolated case. Indeed, throughout the 1840s, New England school boards had begun to permit more and more female instructors to teach the winter term. As this development accelerated, observers noted a shift in the composition of the labor market for teaching. “It will be seen that there are now but eight Male Teachers, while there are forty-eight Female Teachers,” an 1846 report published by the Salem school committee announced, “a large portion of whom perform the services for which but a few years since Males only were deemed competent.”[3] Such words served as the harbinger of things to come: whereas in 1800 only one in ten American teachers were women, by 1920, this figure had risen to nearly ninety percent.[4]

Historians refer to the process whereby school-teaching in the United States became women’s work “the feminization of the teaching profession.”[5] Noting that the phenomenon developed unevenly across the country between the 1840s and 1920s (beginning earliest in the Northeast, latest in the South), scholars have long been interested in understanding the factors underlying this gendered transformation of the American teacher.[6] Valuable as their accounts are, existing interpretations of the feminization of teaching in the United States fail to explain adequately this phenomenon. In particular, much of the recent research suffers from one of three closely-related oversights: (1) a failure to acknowledge women's role as historical actors; (2) a failure to consider working women's motives for teaching; (3) a failure to look beyond economic incentives for teaching.

Table 1: Teachers in United States Public Schools, 1870-1930[7]

In order to understand better the role that women teachers themselves played in the feminization of the profession, this article analyzes the phenomenon from the perspective of occupational choice. Significantly, though since the 1940s social scientists have been interested in assaying the factors that cause people to enter different occupations, historians have largely ignored both their findings and their methodologies. Indeed, while historians have long been engaged in attempts to uncover past people’s motives for working, the question of why people entered particular occupations has failed to attract much interest. As such, the sociological literature on occupational choice reveals an important gap in historians’ understanding of workers' motives. The feminization of the teaching profession serves as an ideal ground for examining the limits of current knowledge regarding this process, as well as pointing to new and promising avenues for future study.

One of the earliest sociological attempts to provide an answer to the question of why people enter different occupations was Peter M. Blau et al’s “Occupational Choice: A Conceptual Framework.” A key finding of this 1956 article was that occupational choice is universal. According to its authors, all people, even those who appear to “simply drift into jobs” without careful deliberation, make choices about what kind of work to do and where to do it. Regardless of whether these choices were made consciously or unconsciously, Blau determined that “a decision must always be made.”[8]

Proceeding from the idea that all workers exercise occupational choice, Blau and his team of researchers set forth what they believed to be the key factors informing such decisions. Occupational choice, they concluded, is in part influenced by a person’s “psychological characteristics,” in part by economic constraints (including “conditions of local opportunity” and “changes in the wage structure”), and in part by societal forces, particularly parents’ social status. The effect of these three factors, they reasoned, is to create in a person a sense of “preference” and of “expectation.” In determining “preference,” individuals assess the rewards of various occupational alternatives; in deriving “expectation,” they weigh the chances of being able to realize these alternatives. Typically, the article concluded, a person’s occupational choice reflected “a compromise between his preferences and his expectations.”[9]

Most accounts of the feminization of teaching cite the various school-related reform movements of the early nineteenth-century, which both expanded women's access to education and created a demand for classroom instructors, as essential to women's dominance of the profession.[10] As an additional prerequisite, scholars point to shifts in gender conventions that cast teaching as a wholly acceptable form of female employment, one which furthered motherly impulses and existed in harmony with the domestic covenant.[11] While the feminization of the American teaching profession would doubtless not occurred absent these social and ideological developments, neither women's increased educational opportunities nor a growing acceptance of the idea of teaching as women's work in and of themselves rendered this process a fait accompli. Unfortunately, much of the research on female schoolteachers in the United States makes such a leap, utilizing a "top-down" approach which concludes that access explained outcome.

Typically, such analyses absolve female schoolteachers of any responsibility in feminizing their profession. Hence, in a 1978 volume entitled Motherteacher, Redding S. Sugg, Jr., confined his interpretation of the phenomenon to a study of how "our patriarchal forebears...consented...to the rapid feminization of the teaching corps." Throughout the work, Sugg stresses the "several factors in the history of the first fifty years of the Republic [that] predisposed Americans to accept the idea of women as teachers." Seeing the gendered transformation of the teaching profession as a matter of consent and predisposition, Motherteacher implies that once various barriers had been removed, its feminization was guaranteed.[12]

Importantly, Motherteacher was not the only interpretation of the feminization of the teaching profession to operate along these lines. "From the mid nineteenth-century on," declares one recent study on the feminization of work in the United States, "women steadily entered the teaching profession" as "teacher shortages" and budget deficits caused states "to turn increasingly to women."[13] More recently, Perlmann and Margo have argued that the answer to the question of why women schoolteachers came to dominate the classrooms of the mid-nineteenth century lies in the simple fact that school boards favored them over men. [14]

The assumption implicit in such analyses is that women's movement into teaching functioned as a result of a lack of occupational alternatives. As Sugg argued, "in taking over teaching, women" - who "had no other opportunities for gainful employment" - "won largely by default a field that men neglected."[15] Similarly, in an oft-cited article on female schoolteachers in nineteenth-century Iowa, Thomas Moraine contends that efforts to upgrade the quality of educators in that state functioned to "reduce the appeal of teaching job" for males, particularly because these entailed increased costs for prospective instructors. Increasingly, because they possessed "other occupational choices," men departed the teaching profession. The result, as Moraine concluded, was feminization by default.[16]

Adopting a similar line of reasoning, in her pioneering account on female teachers, historian Nancy Hoffman stressed how the industrial era opened "unprecedented choices for men" in terms of occupations, with the result that many left teaching for other pursuits. "Women had only a few choices of occupation," Hoffman contended, "and compared with most - laundering, sewing, cleaning, or working in a factory - teaching offered numerous attractions."[17]

The conclusions of Moraine, Hoffman, and Sugg present nineteenth-century women as passive accomplices to the feminization of the teaching profession. Contrasting the vast occupational alternatives of men with women's own scant opportunities for employment, they imply that female schoolteachers slid naturally and unproblematically into the classroom. Such explanations raise several important questions. Did these girls simply respond to a growing demand for female teachers? Did nineteenth-century women suffer from a lack of job prospects?

First, from the perspective of nineteenth-century American women, the idea that females suffered from a shortage of labor options would have been of questionable veracity: the increasingly urban, industrial profile of antebellum New England encouraged "women...to participate more broadly in society," as factory workers, teachers, domestic servants, nurses, clerical workers, and in some cases as professionals.[18] According to economic historian Claudia Goldin, the result of these expanded opportunities was that between 1820 and 1920, "the participation of young, unmarried women [in the workforce] increased considerably."[19] Moreover, the fact that most of these women labored not as teachers, but as factory workers; (according to Goldin, such industries "attract[ed] an enormous proportion of local youth"), suggests that teaching might not have offered the "numerous attractions" cited by Hoffman.[20] Finally, in an analysis of newspaper advertisements, sociologist Martin Schultz presented data demonstrating "an increase in women's economic participation" between 1800 and 1849, and concluded that "nineteenth-century women were more active in terms of economic pursuits" compared to their eighteenth-century counterparts. Each of these studies casts doubt on what Schultz calls the "long-prevailing notion that free women held unusually high economic status in colonial America."[21]

It is true that compared to men, nineteenth-century women suffered from a lack of occupational alternatives. Despite this, the findings of Goldin and other economic historians demonstrate what Thomas Dublin called the "range of possibilities" confronting women in the nineteenth-century workforce.[22] However, the idea that women had occupational alternatives did not inform much of the early scholarship on the feminization of the teaching profession. Even when acknowledged, the notion that women faced limited occupational opportunities informed a general belief that these were too few for the question of occupational choice to enter into any consideration of women's employment outcomes. Such conclusions are inaccurate; as historians have shown, most female laborers - even those at the bottom of the occupational ladder - were "active shapers of their world."[23]

These were the words of historian Judith A. McGaw, who in an article entitled “‘A Good Place to Work’: Industrial Workers and Occupational Choice” addressed the question of why nineteenth-century American workers entered different occupations. Published in 1979, McGaw’s study of some 3,000 employees of a small Massachusetts town’s cotton, wool, and paper mills concluded that nineteenth-century industrial workers "had employment alternatives,” and more importantly, that they selected jobs reflecting specific desires, needs, and motives. Although largely passed over by the historical profession, McGaw's article validated the historical study of occupational choice.[24]

Such conclusions derived from a study of the United States 1880 Manuscript Census Schedules for Berkshire County, Massachusetts. Looking at the distribution of women workers across the county’s twenty-two woolen mills, twenty-one paper mills, eighteen cotton mills, and seven mixed textile mills, McGaw first discovered that most had a wide variety of firms to choose from. Despite this, the composition of the region’s paper mill workforce differed from those of its cotton and woolen mills. Significantly, McGaw realized that female paper mill workers tended on average to be older than workers in either of the other two mills, and were also more likely to be native-born, married, and heads of household than were textile or cotton mill employees. Interpreting these patterns, she contended that “not chance…but choice determined the presence of women in particular industries in western Massachusetts.”[25] Those who worked in cotton and textile mills did so because of the superior wages such work offered (between $270 and $295 per year, compared to an annual average of $238 for paper mill employees): “the money motive loomed largest among those with the greatest financial need.”[26] By contrast, Berkshire County’s paper mill workers sought such work because of the “autonomy and security” it offered; their decisions were driven not so much out of financial need but by there “greater family responsibilities” compared to women employed in cotton and textile work.[27]

Though few scholars have followed in McGaw's footsteps, her 1979 article was indicative of the historical profession's growing recognition that people, including women, enter different occupations for different reasons.[28] Advancing from Sugg and Hoffman's unsubstantiated claims that teaching was "more genteel than the alternatives" and "paid reasonably well," in the 1980s, historical accounts of the feminization of the teaching profession began systematically to assess and evaluate the factors that may have contributed to a woman's desire to take up teaching as an occupation.[29] Explicit in such explanations is an acceptance of an idea that earlier scholars rejected or ignored: nineteenth-century working women both had occupational alternatives and exercised occupational choice. Partly because they proved easy to measure, many of these latter studies examined Hoffman's hypothesis that for women teaching "paid reasonably well." Much of the quantitative research on female schoolteachers' wages has supported such suppositions.

Thus, in their 1986 analysis of "The Feminization of Public School Teaching," Strober and Lanford concluded that women "were attracted to the higher annual salaries" attendant teaching's professionalization. Analyzing the female/male salary ration among schoolteachers employed across the United States between 1850 and 1880, Strober and Lanford uncovered evidence of a decrease in wage differentials as more and more women entered the teaching profession. Lured by the promise of higher earnings, they concluded that women to "flocked to teaching in increasing numbers."[30]

Despite its drawbacks - particularly the fact that it neglected to compare women's earnings as teachers with those of domestic servants, factory workers, clerks, or other occupations open to nineteenth-century women - Strober and Lanford's article signaled an emerging consensus among quantitatively-minded historians of the 1980s: economic incentives functioned as the dominant motive force behind women's increasing entry into the teaching profession.[31] Overcoming the restricted focus of their study, in a 1990 book entitled Ladies, Women, and Wenches, Jane and William Pease argued that as it provided "a more nearly adequate income than most other options," the promise of high wages pulled women toward schools.[32] Three years later, Jo Ann Preston's research on female teachers in antebellum New England pointed toward similar conclusions: "wage offers," she contended, "weighed heavily in [teachers'] deliberations about whether or not to accept teaching positions."[33] Thus it appeared that in assessing women's rationale for entering the teaching force, the money motive reigned supreme.

Such arguments have not gone uncontested. Responding to Strober and Lanford's claim that "higher annual salaries" lured women into the teaching profession, Mary Hurlbut Cordier contended that although female schoolteachers from mid-century onward earned higher wages, the formalization of the profession meant that both men and women had to relinquish more of their salaries to development workshops, summer training institutes, and the like. Thus, gross income improvements may not have ultimately increased the economic incentives of teaching.[34] Others have uncovered evidence that instead of providing "a more nearly adequate income than most other options," teaching's economic rewards paled in comparison to that offered by other forms of employment. In his study of New Hampshire's nineteenth-century female educators, for example, Thomas Dublin determined that women schoolteachers - most of whom worked only 11-18 weeks/yr. - brought home annual incomes well below that earned by both industrial workers and domestic servants.[35] Moreover, in her study of female clerical workers, Margery Davies points out that after 1900, many young American girls began taking up stenography instead of teaching, particularly as wages for clerks exceeded those earned by educators.[36] The fact that the clerical work force's superior growth rate after 1900 compared to teaching did not affect the continuing feminization of the latter profession - which peaked in1920 when women comprised 86% of all public school teachers - muddies the contention that money served as the prime motive for women's entry into the teaching profession.

Buttressing such claims with quantitative evidence, Margaret K. Nelson's study of female schoolteachers in Vermont concluded that the feminization of the teaching profession in that state coincided with a period of time (1840-1870) in which wages for factory work exceeded that of female educators. [37] Finally, in their study of female schoolteachers in antebellum Massachusetts, Richard M. Bernhard and Maris A. Vinovskis discovered that "school committees often lamented that many women were leaving the teaching profession in order to obtain higher wages in the textile mills."[38]

As studies like Nelson's demonstrate, though economic motives may have influenced the occupational choices of female schoolteachers in some areas of the United States, wage-centered explanations of the feminization of teaching cannot fully account for a phenomenon that encompassed the entire nation. Moreover, accounts of this process that cite money as a factor influencing women's occupational choices typically derive from a focus on atypical individuals. Thus, part of the reason Polly Welts Kaufman cited "personal economic need" as a factor informing mid-western women's decisions to teach derived from the fact that many of the educators examined in her study made a career of teaching, and thus had to be entirely self-supporting.[39] Similarly, in Woman's "True" Profession, Hoffman maintains a focus on the exceptional female educator, including those who traveled South after the Civil War and made a career of teaching. Like Kaufman, she tends to highlight the experiences of those teachers "choosing work and independence over a married life."[40] Finally, in a much more recent study on female schoolteachers in New York and North Carolina, Tolley and Beadie argue that "teacher wages compared favorably with other forms of paid work." While compelling their conclusions, like those of Kaufman, Hoffman, and others in part flow from the exceptional nature of the women surveyed in their study.[41]

If the women studied by scholars such as Hoffman, Kaufman, and Tolley and Beadie were not the norm as far as female schoolteachers were concerned, then who was? Current research suggests that the common female teacher was young and unmarried. According to Dublin, the typical New Hampshire schoolmistress worked an average of 4.5 years, after which she married and took up the job of a fulltime homemaker.[42] Agreeing with this assessment, Nelson added that the typical nineteenth-century female teacher in Vermont worked between the ages of nineteen and twenty-five. Moreover, each of these studies concluded that the typical female educator lived either with or in close proximity to her parents. Both determined that the average women instructor hailed form a relatively prosperous family.[43] Most importantly, as their wages "typically afforded a precarious living," Dublin pointed to other than economic motives as the basis for women's decisions to enter teaching.[44]

Figure 1: Weekly Wages, Vermont Schoolteachers v. Female Textile Employees, 1840-1890[45]

Thus it may be that the "money motive" applied only to the atypical female teacher, those who made a living and a career of work in the classroom. However, even women belonging to this minority of the total female teaching force had to consider more than pecuniary matters when deciding upon a line of employment. What much of the quantitative literature on the feminization of teaching has ignored are the various social dynamics - the pressures and requirements of different occupations, the status or prestige that accompanied them, etc. - operating in nineteenth-century America. Additionally, the contentions of Hoffman and others that teaching was "genteel" and offered "economic security" fail to consider the many ways in which teaching placed unique demands on those who took up the occupation.

One particularly onerous restriction was the practice of "boarding around," in which women instructors lived in the homes of the families' whose children attended their school.[46] Beyond "boarding around," school boards often regulated the behavior of female schoolteachers in a way that other employers did not. For example, one Massachusetts school department manual's "Rules for Female Teachers" levied the following restrictions on all women employees:

i. Do not get married.

ii. Do not leave town at any time without permission of the school board.

iii. Do not keep company with men.

iv. Be home between the hours of eight PM and six AM.

v. Do not loiter downtown in ice cream stores.

vi. Do not smoke.

vii. Do not get into a carriage with any man except your father or brother.

viii. Do not dress in bright colors.

ix. Do not dye your hair.

x. Do not wear any dress more than two inches above the ankle.[47]

Writing of the early twentieth century, historian Elizabeth Baker noted how after 1900, the share of women working as clerks greatly exceeded those seeking classroom employment. According to Baker, "women may have preferred clerical work to teaching because of the severe restrictions placed on the personal and social life of teachers."[48]

Wage-centered explanations of female schoolteachers' motives fail to recognize how the social realities of work in the educational sector may have impacted women's occupational choices. However, the obvious social disincentives to teaching evident in the aforementioned examples notwithstanding, much of the qualitative literature on female schoolteachers suggests that rather than being drawn to the profession by the promise of high wages, women's motives were of the social sort. Though it has not been studied in a systematic fashion, existing scholarship on female schoolteachers suggests that social incentives may have outweighed economic ones.

As several scholars have noted, teaching was a high status job. According to Thomas Dublin, New Hampshire's female educators comprised a kind of "occupational elite;" fleshing out these ideas, Nancy Hoffman contends that teaching "allowed a woman to travel, to live independently...and to attain economic security and a modest social status."[49] As these claims suggest, there is evidence that nineteenth-century Americans considered teaching an "honorable independency" for women.[50] Its prestige cemented by the writings of Catharine Beecher, who contrasted the nobility and honor of educational employment with lowly and victimizing factory work on one hand and unwomanly professional pursuits - which "belong to the other sex" - on the other, for many young American women, teaching had social cachet.[51]

For women of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, much of teaching's cachet revolved around its ability to enhance prospects for marriage. While the practice of "boarding around" placed women under the supervision of a town's families, it also afforded them a "high degree of visibility" untarnished by associations with immodesty. As Nelson points out, such visibility often resulted in the attraction of potential husbands. Additionally, some female schoolteachers saved their wages so as to enhance dowries.[52]

Even for those less concerned with finding marriage partners, teaching's compatibility with existing ideas about "woman's proper role" afforded female schoolteachers a certain independence; even if unable to find a husband, the occupation of teacher provided young women "a suitable cover for surveying other territories."[53] Indeed, the promise of independence appears to have loomed large in the minds of the tens of thousands of frontier women who headed the classrooms of the nineteenth-century West. Representative of those examined in Mary Hurlbut Cordier's study of "Prairie Schoolwomen" were women like Agnes Briggs Olmstead, an Iowa educator who in the 1870s remarked how "not the least of my pleasures was the sense of boundless freedom of being no longer shut in. Here was elbow room, breathing space." According to Cordier, what Olmstead and her colleagues saw in educational employment was "the way by which young women could leave home."[54] In his study of nineteenth-century female schoolteachers in Wyoming, Rankin concurred, explaining that "compared to such alternatives as nursing, seamstressing, and domestic service, teaching conferred greater status and independence than many young women had known before."[55]

Though women's control of the public school classroom continued in the late nineteenth-century, in the years after the Civil War the female labor market for teaching became more ethnically diverse. According to one study, by 1910 "the native-born daughters of the foreign-born were already 27 percent of all women teachers"; the 1920 census listed teaching in the top five of all occupations held by women of foreign or mixed parentage.[56] Though the wages of a factory operative or a stenographer exceeded those of a female school teacher, the promise of social mobility evident in educational employment lured many working-class girls into the classroom, notes Michael Apple.[57]

Evidence from early twentieth-century fiction suggests that first-generation American girls frequently pinned their hopes for social mobility to teaching. In a short story published in a 1907 issue of Outlook magazine, Miriam Finn Scott told the story of a Jewish immigrant couple and their native-born daughter, who saw in teaching the possibilities of "another world...where one had comfort and could grow."[58] If fiction is any indication of mentality, turn-of-the-century female schoolteachers saw in their profession the promise of status and also of independence. [59]

In a recent work on The Feminization of Work in the United States, historian Julia Kirk Blackwelder reached many of the same conclusions. According to Blackwelder, non-economic factors dominated the occupational decisions of the daughters of immigrants, who after 1900 comprised an increasing share of the female teaching force. For these working-class girls, she contends, classroom employment "conferred benefits more alluring than income, for it affirmed women's middle-class status even though teachers...often earned less than skilled factory workers."[60]

The novelty of Blackwelder's study lies in the way it weighs social incentives against economic ones, something that most investigations of worker motivation neglect. That the most recent manuscript on the feminization of the teaching profession, Perlmann and Margo's Women's Work?, downplays the importance of the money motive in explaining female schoolteachers' occupational rationale suggests that more than an inkling of truth lies in Blackwelder's argument.[61] However, for most scholars, even those who purport to examine "socioeconomic incentives to teaching," examination of female teachers' motives tend to focus either on wages or on non-pecuniary awards. Such a disconnect is indicative of the more general divide between quantitative and qualitative research.[62] Studies like Blackwelder's point to the necessity of combining the sociological and the economic, a task that might be facilitated by greater incorporation of the rich sociological literature on occupational choice. As it stands now, wage-centered explanations continue to dominate interpretations of the feminization of the teaching profession. Since the late 1970s, historians' understandings of this process have become more complete. Remedying the oversights of the "top-down" approach evident in many of the first analyses of the gendered transformation of the American teacher, scholars have gained a sense of how the decisions of female teachers themselves impacted this process. Despite these advancements, the prevalence of wage-centered examinations of the feminization of teaching has prevented historians from placing the process within the social context of nineteenth and early-twentieth century American history.[63] Thus, until scholars achieve a true welding of the social and economic, our knowledge of how working women of the past exercised occupational choice will remain incomplete. Incorporating sociological analyses of occupational choice into historical examinations of such gendered processes provides an exciting point of departure for future study.

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[1] This account of the Stow School Committee’s hiring of Sarah Eleveth comes from Madelyn Holmes, Beverly J. Weiss, Lives of Women Public Schoolteachers: Scenes from American Educational History (New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1995).

[2] In explaining their rationale, a local historian writing in 1850 noted how “the committee, elated with the improvement of the school, consented to allow the same [female] teacher to take the winter term, notwithstanding [the fact that] there were eight ‘big boys’ between sixteen and twenty years of age” in that year’s winter class. Holmes and Weiss, Lives of Women Public Schoolteachers, 136.

[3] Holmes and Weiss, Lives of Women Public Schoolteachers, 14.

[4] Nancy Hoffman, Woman’s “True” Profession: Voices from the History of Teaching (Boston: University of Massachusetts Press, 1981): xv.

[5] Using 80 percent as an "index of feminization," Jo Anne Preston determined that teaching became feminized in Massachusetts by 1861, New Hampshire in 1864, Connecticut in 1865, and Rhode Island in 1866. Feminization occurred slightly later in the Mountain West; according to Charles Rankin, "women...constituted 70 percent of the teaching force in 1870...and 82 percent in 1930." Jo Anne Preston, "Domestic Ideology, School Reformers, and Female Teachers: Schoolteaching Becomes Women's Work in Nineteenth-Century New England," The New England Quarterly 66:4 (December 1993): 531; Charles E. Rankin, "Teaching: Opportunity and Limitation for Wyoming Women," The Western Historical Quarterly 21:2 (1990): 148.

[6] “Women accounted for four out of five public teachers in every region of the country except the South by 1910,” note Joel Perlman and Robert A. Margo in a recent volume. Yet while in 1885 only thirty-six percent of the South’s public school teachers were women, by 1915 the figure had increased to seventy-three percent, much closer to the national average. Joel Perlmann and Robert A. Margo, Women’s Work? American Schoolteachers, 1650-1920 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001): 91.

[7] Michael W. Apple, "Teaching and 'Women's Work': A Comparative Historical and Ideological Analysis," Journal of Education 167:1 (Winter 1985): 460.

[8] Peter M. Blau et al, “Occupational Choice: A Conceptual Framework,” Industrial and Labor Relations Review 9, 4 (July 1956): 533. For additional early studies of occupational choice, see Eli Ginzberg, Occupational Choice: An Approach to a General Theory (New York: Columbia University Press, 1951); Basil Sherlock and Alan Cohen, “The Strategy of Occupational Choice: Recruitment to Dentistry,” Vocational Behavior: Readings in Theory and Research, ed. Donald G. Zytowski (New York: Holt, Rhinehart, and Winston, 1968): 341-353.

[9] Blau, “Occupational Choice,” 531-33.

[10] Indeed, since the late eighteenth century, educational opportunities had expanded significantly for New England girls. In 1807, the town of Pittsfield, Massachusetts became the site of the "first academy incorporated for girls alone." In subsequent years, similar establishments appeared in Byfield (1818), Boston (1823), and Saugus (1824). In the 1820s, the success of these smaller institutions spurred the creation of their larger sisters, of which Troy Female Seminary (1821), Hartford Female Seminary (1823), and Mt. Holyoke Seminary (1837) are the most well-known. As the spread of such female-only schools suggests, early nineteenth century New England demonstrated "a growing concern for [the] education [of] girls and women." Holmes and Weiss, Lives of Women Public Schoolteachers, 5. Just as academies for older students proliferated in early-nineteenth century New England, so too did common schools. Indeed, according to one study, antebellum Boston devoted "as much as a quarter of its city budget to provide an elementary education free to all." Additionally, the nation's westward expansion provided abundant opportunities for trained teachers: between 1849 and 1895, the number of enrolled students in public schools in Iowa, Kansas, and Nebraska increased from about 17,000 to over 1.2 million, as the number of schools grew from a few hundred to nearly 30,000. Because the United States' economic growth during the nineteenth century depended in large part on a "knowledgeable labor force," the educational sector expanded significantly, resulting in increased opportunities for teachers. Importantly, from the mid-nineteenth century onward these openings came increasingly to be filled by women. In the case of the three mid-western states cited above, whereas between 1849 and 1895, the number of male instructors in this region increased from 336 to 12,261, the growth of the female teaching force dwarfed this rate of expansion, increasing from a meager 245 to nearly 37,000. Jane H. Pease and William H. Pease, Ladies, Women and Wenches: Choice and Constraint in Antebellum Boston and Charleston (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1990): 87; Mary Hurlbut Cordier, "Prairie Schoolwomen, Mid-1850s to 1920s, in Iowa, Kansas, and Nebraska," Great Plains Quarterly 8:2 (1988): 102-4. See also David F. Allmendinger, Jr., "Mount Holyoke Students Encounter the Need for Life-Planning, 1837-1850," History of Education Society 19:1 (Spring 1979): 27-46; Perlmann and Margo, Women’s Work?,17-32.

[11] Beginning in the 1840s and 1850s, historian Nancy Hoffman notes, "the teacher was portrayed as a woman." A central force in this shift was Catharine Beecher, the prominent nineteenth-century pseudo-feminist writer who promoted the idea of female schoolteachers as a "high and honorable" alternative to factory work. According to Beecher, as paragons of moral virtue, women possessed a superior stock of benevolence, sacrifice, and grace, all of which were essential for teaching. Hoffman, Woman’s “True” Profession, 8, 11, 51-2. See also Preston, “Domestic Ideology,” 531-51; Katherine Kish Sklar, Catharine Beecher: A Study in American Domesticity (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1973).

[12] Redding S. Sugg, Jr., Motherteacher: The Feminization of American Education (Charlottesville: The University Press of Virginia, 1978): 3.

[13] Julia Kirk Blackwelder, Now Hiring: The Feminization of Work in the United States, 1900-1955 (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1997): 50.

[14] Perlmann and Margo, Women’s Work?, 103-5.

[15] Sugg, Jr., Motherteacher, 38.

[16] Thomas Moraine, "The Departure of Males from the Teaching Profession in Nineteenth Century Iowa," Civil War History 26:2 (1980); 166, 170. Such a conclusion also informs the narrative crafted in a more recent work on women public schoolteachers in the United States. Finding the 1860s to be the critical decade in the feminization of the teaching profession, its authors write that with young men "leaving school to enlist in the army," throughout the Civil War "young women were needed increasingly as teachers." Holmes and Weiss, Lives of Women Public Schoolteachers, 82.

[17] Hoffman, Woman’s “True” Profession,xvii.

[18] Holmes and Weiss, Lives of Women Public Schoolteachers, 14.

[19] Claudia Goldin, Understanding the Gender Gap: An Economic History of American Women (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990): 4.

[20] Goldin, Understanding the Gender Gap, 51. According to one study of female educators in Massachusetts, at no point in the antebellum period did teachers represent more than two percent of the white female labor force. Richard M. Bernard and Maris A. Vinovskis, "The Female School Teacher in Ante-Bellum Massachusetts," The Journal of Social History 10 (March 1977): 332-3.

[21] Martin Schultz, "Occupational Pursuits of Free American Women: An Analysis of Newspaper Ads," Sociological Forum 7:4 (1992): 604, 587.

[22] Thomas Dublin, Transforming Women's Work: New England Lives in the Indsutrial Revolution (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1994): 24.

[23] Judith A. McGaw, “‘A Good Place to Work’: Industrial Workers and Occupational Choice: The Case of Berkshire Women,” Journal of Interdisciplinary History X:2 (Autumn 1979): 248.

[24] McGaw, “‘A Good Place to Work,” 248. According to Google Scholar and ISI Web of Knowledge, McGaw's article has been cited a total of five times.

[25] McGaw, “‘A Good Place to Work,” 234.

[26] Ibid., 242.

[27] Ibid., 243, 246.

[28] For two well-known examples of this, see Margery W. Davies, Woman's Place Is at the Typewriter: Office Work and Office Workers, 1870-1930 (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1982): 51-78; Alice Kessler-Harris, Out to Work: A History of Wage-Earning Women in the United States (New York: Oxford, 1992): 127-38. Questions pertaining to "occupational choice" in historical societies remain the purview of non-historians; see for example, Francesca A. Florey and Avery M. Guest, "Coming of Age Among U.S. Farm Boys in the Late 1800s: Occupational and Residential Choices," Journal of Family History 13:2 (1988): 233-49.

[29] Sugg, Motherteacher, 40; Hoffman, Woman’s “True” Profession, xvii.

[30] Myra H. Strober, Audri-Gordon Lanford, "The Feminization of Public School Teaching: Cross-Sectional Analysis, 1850-1880," Signs 11:2 (Winter 1986): 218-19.

[31] Acknowledging this shortcoming, Strober and Lanford write that "The data, particularly with respect to wages in occupational alternatives to teaching, are simply not available." Strober and Lanford, "The Feminization of Public School Teaching,” 221.

[32] Looking at wage levels for working women in nineteenth-century Boston, the Peases concluded that the $250 female schoolteachers took home every year represented an annual income four times greater than that earned by domestic workers and "somewhat better than the wages generally paid skilled female workers in the city." Pease and Pease, Ladies, Women and Wenches,85.

[33] Preston, “Domestic Ideology,” 545.

[34] Cordier, “Prairie Schoolwomen,” 107.

[35] Dublin, Transforming Women’s Work,207-15.

[36] Davies looks to the advice offered in 1912 by the superintendent of schools in Council Bluffs, Iowa for evidence of the superior pay offered by clerical work. According to him, teaching salaries for women "could not have been more than fifty dollars per month for nine months, or $450 per year." By contrast, "the average pupil (female) who graduated from the business department of the high school would have received for the same year an annual salary of slightly over $840. You may judge for yourself of the economic efficiency from the standpoint of salary," he concluded. Davies, Woman’s Place, 71.

[37] "Some Vermont schoolmistresses," Nelson notes, "apparently viewed millwork as a preferable means of earning a living. The Vermont School Report in 1864 acknowledged that the mill option (especially during the Civil War) threatened the stability of the labor supply. In fact in the years before 1865, the women had good reason to choose factory work over teaching: the pay was better; one could escape the daily duties of family life; and one could live with others of the same age." Margaret K. Nelson, "Vermont Female Schoolteachers in the Nineteenth Century," Vermont History 49:1 (1981): 26.

[38] Bernhard and Vinovskis, “The Female School Teacher,” 338. According to Apple, "teaching, especially elementary-school teaching, was not all that well paid. Women teachers earned somewhat more than a factory operative but still only the equivalent of a stenographer's wages in the United States or England." Apple, “Teaching and ‘Women’s Work,’”466.

[39] "More than two-thirds" of the six-hundred New England teachers studied by Kaufman "were already on their own, self-supporting by necessity." Polly Welts Kaufman, Women Teachers on the Frontier (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984): 15.

[40] Hoffman, Woman’s “True” Profession, 92-3, xviii.

[41] Embodying their argument are women like Susan Davis Nye, a rural upstate New York teacher who traveled to North Carolina "to earn a better living." While Nye's motives were undoubtedly financial in origin, elements of her biography - especially the fact "she taught for nearly thirty-five years" - make clear the fact that she (like many of the teachers Tolley and Beadie examined) represented anything but the typical female schoolteacher. These scholars note two limitations of their study: (1) female academy teachers comprised a minority of the overall female teaching force; (2) it remains difficult to compare the wages of teachers, factory workers, and domestics. What their tables on wage rates for working women does not take into account is the fact that though teachers' monthly wages exceeded those of shoe binders, seamstresses, and hatmakers, in terms of annual incomes teachers probably faired worse than non-teachers, who "presumably could work longer." "It is no doubt true," they make clear, "that well-paid female academy teachers represented a small portion of the female teaching force." Kim Tolley and Nancy Beadie, "Socioeconomic Incentives to Teach in New York and North Carolina: Toward a More Complex Model of Teacher Labor Markets, 1800-1850," History of Education Quarterly 46:1 (2006): 70, 36, 52, 60.

[42] Dublin, Transforming Women’s Work, 220.

[43] As Nelson put it, "the common schoolmistresses...were predominately young, unmarried daughters of respectable farmers 'drawn from the bright young people of the neighborhood.'" Nelson, “Vermont Female Schoolteachers,” 16.

[44] Dublin, Transforming Women’s Work, 227.

[45] Nelson, “Vermont Female Schoolteachers,” 13.

[46] Nelson, “Vermont Female Schoolteachers,” 23-4.

[47] Barbara Mayer Wertheimer, We Were There: The Story of Working Women in America (New York: Pantheon Books, 1977): 248.

[48] Cited in Davies, Woman’s Place, 71.

[49] Dublin, Transforming Women’s Work, 218; Hoffman, Woman’s “True” Profession, xviii.

[50] The phrase comes from an 1838 in which James Petigro informed his sister that "to be the governess of a respectable female school...although not the highest prize in the lottery of life...is nevertheless after all depreciating considerations of that kind, still an honorable independency." Pease and Pease, Ladies, Women and Wenches, 87.

[51] Hoffman, Woman’s “True” Profession, 10, 51.

[52] Nelson, “Vermont Female Schoolteachers,” 20, 26.

[53] Rankin, “Teaching,” 150, Nelson, “Vermont Female Schoolteachers,” 20.

[54] Cordier, “Prairie Schoolwomen,” 109, 108.

[55] Rankin, “Teaching,” 150.

[56] Geraldine Joncich Clifford, "'Daughters into Teachers': Educational and Demographic Influences on the Transformation of Teaching into 'Women's Work,'" in Women Who Taught: Perspectives on the History of Women and Teaching, ed. Alison Prentice, Marjorie R. Theobald (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1991): 119.

[57] Apple, “Teaching and “Women’s Work,’”466-7.

[58] Davies, Woman’s Place, 66.

[59] Thus, in an 1892 short story entitled "The Schoolmarm," novelist Anna Fuller told the story of Mary William Pratt, who "reveled in the independence" her occupation afforded - especially independence from matrimony, which she considered "a state of bondage to be avoided at any cost." Hoffman, Woman’s “True” Profession, 17.

[60] Blackwelder, Now Hiring, 67.

[61] Throughout their study, Perlmann and Margo test a number of economic hypotheses concerning the feminization of the teaching profession - including the financial strains placed on the public school system by increased enrollments and regional differences in teachers' wages - only to conclude that non-economic factors like "long-established norms" and "changes in social life" more accurately explain the phenomenon. Perlmann and Margo, Women’s Work?, 84, 107.

[62] For more on this, see Robert W. Fogel, "'Scientific' History and Traditional History," in Which Road to the Past?, ed. Robert Fogel and Geoffrey Elton (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1983): 7-70.

[63] One example of the historical absent-mindedness of some economic approaches to the feminization of the teaching profession can be seen in a 1987 article on "The Changing Appeal of Teaching." Penned by Michael Sedlak and Steven Schlossman, the piece attempted to answer the question of "Who Will Teach?" from a national perspective. Comparing data on teacher's mean annual incomes to those of factory workers, government employees, and a variety of professions, Sedlak and Schlossman contend that "the desirability of teaching...has been shaped to a large degree by economic incentives." Addressing the feminization of the profession, these scholars observe that whereas male teachers have generally earned 70-90% of the salaries earned by all male professional workers, female teachers have "customarily earned from 150-200% more than the female civilian labor force in general." While compelling, these figures apply only to the period1950-1980. Entirely neglected in their analysis is the fact that since 1920, the percentage of women comprising the public schoolteaching force has declined. Though "teaching salaries have increased steadily in absolute terms since the early twentieth century," compared to males, since 1920 females have increasingly opted out of the profession. After 1930, Sedlak and Schlossman note, "the percentage of male teachers increased quickly, climbing to 25 percent by 1940, leveling off through the 1960s, and reaching nearly 30 percent in 1970." Such internal inconsistencies mar Sedlak and Schlossman's economically-grounded analysis of the feminization of teaching. Michael Sedlak and Steven Schlossman, "Who Will Teach? Historical Perspectives on the Changing Appeal of Teaching," Review of Research in Education 14 (1987): 96, 112, 107.

Last Updated: 11/19/14