Early 20th Century Teachers Contract Proves We Have Come A Long Way, Baby

The early 20th Century was a tumultuous time for women. American women finally gained the right to vote in 1920, but even though women had come a long way baby, there were miles to go.

This teacher’s contract from 1923 is today more reminiscent of Saudi Arabia than of the country of Dorothy Parker and Gertrude Stein. During that time, teachers were treated more like young teen girls than like adult women. The rules would have pretty much excluded the possibility that they would ever get married, hence the stereotype of the old school marm.

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Teachers Contract, Term 1923

1. Not to get married. This contract becomes null and void immediately if the teacher marries.
2. Not to keep company with men (no risk of getting married, at least not in 1923).
3. To be at home between the hours of 8 pm and 6 am unless in attendance at school functions (no movies for teachers).
4. Not to loiter in downtown ice-cream stores (well, there are a lot of temptations).
5. Not to leave town at any time without the permission of the Chairman of the Board of Trustees.
6. Not to smoke cigarettes. This contract becomes null and void immediately if the teacher is found smoking.
7. Not to drink beer, wine or whisky (perhaps the gin lobby put this one in, although this was during prohibition). This contract becomes null and void immediately if the teacher is found drinking beer, wine or whisky.
8. Not to ride in a carriage or automobile with any man except her brother or father (cousins are too tempting).
9. Not to dress in bright colors.
10. Not to dye her hair.
11. To wear at least two petticoats.
12. Not to wear dresses more than two inches above the ankle.
13. To keep the schoolroom clean.


The only thing missing from this contract is a virginity test, although I wouldn’t rule that out.

The takeaway from this is that things do change and we can look at this as either a warning or with hope. Even most Republicans would balk at these restrictions, although I’m sure there are many who would be happy to make several into law.

When we see countries like Saudi Arabia and the other less progressive Muslim cultures, it’s difficult to imagine that they will ever treat women as full citizens. I would imagine that in 1923, it was tough for many American women to imagine full rights as well. Our challenge now is to not let Republicans erode them.

NOTE: There are some questions regarding the validity of this particular contract, but this PBS timeline does show that until teachers unionized, female teachers were kept in repressive and deplorable situations. The wording might not be exact, but circumstances were really like this in the early 19th century.

Featured image via Flickr.

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