In the late nineteenth, and on into the early twentieth centuries, America witnessed a change in the traditional roles played by women, this period was notable for a marked increase in the numbers of women that were entering the workforce. In factories equipped and modernized, by the advances of the industrial age, many of these ladies moved into various production and manufacturing positions in industry. There was also a strong demand, and response, for services seen from within the healthcare profession.
Perhaps the strongest, most profound and continued growth recorded in this trend though, were women who chose to walk the corridors of the institutions of education. Events of the time, including the 19th century” Appearance of the first public high schools and normal schools (Training schools for teachers”(Alsup. 2005. 27), contributed to, and at times spurred this trend of women seeking employment outside the home onward.
The resulting effects upon the women, as they tried to juggle family, home and career in the course of their daily lives, were felt at work, as well as at home, and created challenges and difficulties that needed to be overcome. The 1860’s were a time of strife and conflict within America, as the civil war raged and brother, fought against brother within the states. It was here the beginnings of the women in the workforce trend began to take shape.
With so many men off to war, women stepped up and filled the empty positions in factories, and the health care field saw a much needed and welcome increase in the ranks of women becoming nurses. Carl N. Degler points out in his book, ‘The Forces that shaped Modern America’ that “Many women even infiltrated the manly ranks of the military, serving in dangerous capacities as “Spies, couriers, guides, scouts, saboteurs, smugglers, and informers“(Degler. 1985. 209). Many more women chose to become educators.
At the start of the trend we see that “In 1860, women made up about a quarter of the nation’s teachers; in 1870 they constituted almost two thirds. The Women’s rights movements were also experiencing early birth pangs of labor, and it was an invigorating, 1 empowering time for women and a trying time as well. A hint at the reason the increase seemed to be so marked among educators may be found in reading the work of author Carl N. Degler. He points out that “Because both sides enlisted large numbers of men in the century’s biggest war, women moved into certain occupations in unprecedented numbers“ (Degler.
1985. 209). In other words, unlike many trends one may compare to, this was in no way a localized event. As Degler points out, it was the civil war; every state in America was involved, North and South. One could deduce, with a little further thought this was a major factor why education saw, by comparison, such relatively high numbers of women entering the ranks. Not all of the states were heavily involved in manufacturing and industry. Many states did not yet boast well equipped, and highly developed health care infrastructures.
Every state and every town and village did have children though, as well as schools for educating their youth. Therefore statistically it would make sense that the numbers of educators continued to steadily increase, while other fields of employment opportunity experienced fluctuations. I believe the trend may have been statistically enforced post war even further, because the war devastated many of the well developed cities. While factories were closed, and hospitals were rebuilt around shattered cities, the children continued to require an education.
“In 1860, women made up about a quarter of the nation’s teachers; in 1870 they constituted almost two thirds. Significantly, the proportions would continue to rise throughout the century”(Degler. 1984. 209). The numbers did continue to climb, and ”By the end of the century women had clearly taken over teaching, which at the beginning of the century, had been largely a male occupation. In 1890, over three quarters of all teachers in the nation were women” (Degler. 1984. 385).
Authors of the book ‘The Emergence of Man Into the 21st Century’, note the continuing rise coinciding with their estimates, stating ” In 1910 four out of every five elementary school teachers were women, an increase from three fourths in 1900, and two thirds in 1870″(Fitzsimmons, Madden, Munhall. 2002. 23). Besides the direct effects of the war, Author Ellen Silber in her book ‘Gender in the Classroom’ notes another reason the steadily increasing numbers of women teachers to continue to rise. 2
Silber says that “Many people felt that women were just naturally suited to teaching, and In the early twentieth century, the female teacher was particularly valued for her role in socializing immigrants into the white Anglo Saxon protestant (WASP) dominant culture”(Silber, 2007. 4). It was still very much a man’s world though, as author Ellen Silber, quoting from Smith and Vaughn (2000), states “Although women took over the nations classrooms, males were increasingly in charge of the ever bureaucratized schools, seen as too complex to be run by a woman, whose mission was to tend the nation’s youth” (Silber. 2007. 4).
As the civil war wound down, the women’s rights movement was ramping up. The unity and organization of the many movement organizations, the strength in numbers, may have helped fuel the increasing numbers of women seeking outside of the home employment. It was not easy for the women that lived in the period, for them it was a constant struggle to find balance, fairness, and even their own identities, as they tried to adjust to working outside the home. The women were sometimes ostracized, and frowned upon by members of their communities for choosing to work outside the home, and the rewards at times may have barely seemed worthwhile.
“It was not until the 1950’s that the taboo against married teachers, enforced both formally and informally, was lifted, and teaching instead became a career that was consistent with marriage and motherhood”(Alsop. 2005. 31). Low wages were another concern of early women teachers, Silber says that this was “Because women could be paid much less than men at this time, their hiring was an expedient measure that flaunted then current sentiments against women in the workforce”(Silber.
2007. 3) Also it was very difficult to become an established career woman at the time, as Author J Alsop, quoting Warren(1989) notes “In the 19th century and into the first part of the 20th century, the teacher workforce was basically transient in nature, underprepared, and immature; with these characteristics it was difficult to develop a strong professional identity or respected cultural presence” (Alsop. 2005. 30).
Another hardship women teachers endured, upon which many books have been written, are the well document examples of the administrative control over female teacher’s personal lives. Silber says these proofs can be found in abundant supply among records of school contracts from the early twentieth century, which placed limits upon, and directed women teachers’ personal lives. They were not allowed to date freely, or fall in love, and “All aspects of 3 women’s lives linked to their reproductive cycle became fertile ground for exploitation in school” (Silber. 2007. 5).
For the women of the late 19th century, and well into the early 20th, in the very much male dominated world there were not many career choices open to them, and “For young women who wanted to continue their education and postpone marriage and children, teaching was one of the few pathways available to them to have an independent life”(Alsop. 2005. 30). Ann Carter, ‘Everybody’s Paid but the Teacher’ author, states that, “Historians generally note that the integration of teaching was facilitated by a gender ideology that deemed women were morally superior but intellectually inferior to their male counterparts” (Carter.
2002. 26). It was more of the same old, same old. Women found themselves in what should have been considered a worthy and worthwhile career, but received lower pay than the men, and were not allowed, for a long time to feel pride and respect for themselves, their hard work, or their careers. Low wages were another concern of early women teachers, “Because women could be paid much less than men at this time, their hiring was an expedient measure that flaunted then current sentiments against women in the workforce”(Silber. 2007.
3). On a much more positive note was the cooperation that naturally came into being between the women teachers, and the leaders of the women’s rights movements. As pointed out by author Carter, quoting from Clifford (1987), the ” Early twentieth century women teachers quickly discovered that their professional skills were a valuable asset in assuming leadership positions in organizations like the Women’s National Loyal League, the National American Suffrage Association, and the Women’s Christian Temperance Union” (Carter.
2002. 22), and their contributions to battle for women’s rights no doubt helped the movement gain a secure foothold. These groups, as well as many others worked for women’s rights, and “Although domestic feminist groups took up various agendas for social, cultural, and community change, they tended to share a belief, at least in their public rhetoric, in their moral obligation to bring the special insights of women into the public sphere”(Carter. 2002. 23).
One may wonder what direction, and how successful the efforts of the women’s rights movement would have been, had it not those early women teachers entered the fray, and provided the much needed direction and organization that educators specialize in. 4
Alsop, J, 2005, ‘Teacher identity discourses: negotiating personal and professional spaces’, Edition: illustrated, Published by Routledge. Carter, PA, 2002, ‘Everybody’s Paid But the Teacher”: The Teaching Profession and the Women’s Movement’, Published by Teachers College Press.
Degler, CN 1984, ’The Forces that Shaped Modern America’, Edition 3, illustrated, Harper Collins Publishers. Silber, ES, 2007, ‘Gender in the Classroom: Foundations, Skills, Methods, and Strategies Across the Curriculum’, Edition: illustrated, Published by Routledge. Fitzsimons, VM, Madden E, Munhill PL, 2002, ‘The Emergence of Man into the 21st Century’, Edition: illustrated, Published by Jones & Bartlett Publishers.
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