Public school teachers today view rules imposed on them todayas restrictive, but in 1872, some women teachers could be dismissed for getting married, and men who were shaved in a barber shop were seen as engaging in suspect behavior. Teachers had to clean chimneys and bring “a scuttle of coal” to class every day.

And things weren’t a whole lot better in 1915, when it was forbidden for teachers to loiter in ice cream shops.

These and other rules are found in books housed in the Blackwell Museumof Northern Illinois University’s College of Education, which tell the history of country schools in that region and beyond.

The museum is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting interest in the history of American education and are sponsored by the Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations. The Blackwell is the headquarters of the Country School Association of America. There’s more, too, on the museum website.

Each school district, the website says, set up rules for the teacher to follow. Some of them were very strict, but they were important to the farmers in the district and made sense to them. Following is a list of rules for a teacher in 1872:

*Teachers each day will fill lamps, clean chimneys.

*Each teacher will bring a bucket of water and a scuttle of coal for the day’s session.

*Make your pens carefully. You may whittle nibs to the individual taste of the pupils.

*Men teachers may take one evening each week for courting purposes, or two evenings a week if they go to church.

*After ten hours in school, the teachers may spend the remaining time reading the Bible or other good books.

*Women teachers who marry or engage in unseemly conduct will be dismissed.

*Every good teacher should lay aside from each pay a goodly sum of his earnings for his benefit during his declining years so that he will not be a burden on society.

*Any teacher who smokes, uses liquor in any form, frequents pool or public halls, or gets shaved in a barber shop will give good reason to suspect his worth, intention, integrity, and honesty.

*The teacher who performs his labor faithfully and without fault for five years will be given an increase of twenty-five cents per week in his pay, providing the Board of Education approves.

Obviously there was a double standard for male teachers and women teachers.

(This list of teacher rules can be found on page 29 of Raymond Bial’s One-Room School (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1999).


Following is a list of rules for a teacher in 1915:

*You will not marry during the term of your contract. You are not to keep company with men.

*You must be home between the hours of 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. unless attending a school function.

*You may not loiter downtown in any ice cream stores.

*You may not travel beyond the city limits unless you have permission of the chairmen of the board.

*You may not smoke cigarettes.

*You may not under any circumstances dye your hair.

*You may not dress in bright colors.

*You may not ride in a carriage or automobile with any man unless he be your father or brother.

*You must wear at least two petticoats.

*Your dresses must not be any shorter than 2 inches above the ankles.

(This list of teacher rules can be found on page 29 of Jerry Apps’ One-Room Country Schools: History and Recollections from Wisconsin (U.S.: Palmer Publications, 1996). The rest of this information can be found on pages 28-30.)

The website also says:

These rules were to be followed very strictly. If a teacher broke any one of these rules, she/he was dismissed immediately.

The reason for the rule against marriage is that it would normally be followed by pregnancy, and the farmers did not want a pregnant woman teaching their children. Also, the teacher would most likely be unable to finish the term if she were to become pregnant and it would be difficult to replace her. As for the other rules, the farmers felt it was improper for a teacher to behave that way, so they made rules prohibiting that type of conduct.

The farmers expected teachers to be models to hold up for their children. If they did not want their children to do certain activities, they would forbid these activities for the teacher.

For example, the farmers did not want their children smoking, so they did not allow the teacher to smoke. They were also very careful to ensure that the teacher was respected. They did this by forbidding any actions that could call the teacher’s honor into question. For example, a female teacher spending too much time in the company of a man alone would call her honor into question and so was forbidden unless the man happened to be a male relative. The farmers wanted to avoid controversy, and they did so by instituting these rules.


Follow The Answer Sheet every day by bookmarking And for admissions advice, college news and links to campus papers, please check out our Higher Education page. Bookmark it!