Rules for Schoolteachers - 1915, A Vintage Vignette

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Rules for Schoolteachers - 1915
A Vintage Vignette by John P. Rankin
May 2, 2010

Before Percy Keel passed away in January of this year, he gave me many of his historical collection items for safekeeping. Among them is a large three-ring binder of clippings about the history of Madison schools with notes of their pupils and staff in the early 1900s. Within that notebook is a page entitled “Rules for 1915 Schoolteachers” attributed to Buckeye Farm News, which in turn quoted from an unnamed teachers’ magazine of the day. Whether or not any of these rules were ever applied here is not known to me, but they certainly would have fit 1915 life in the town of Madison, judging from other items of the time that I have found. The rules are repeated here to perhaps illustrate to some degree how much times have changed.

  • You will not marry during the time 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 of the ice cream stores.
  • You may not travel beyond the city limits unless you have the permission of the chairman of the board.
  • You may not ride in a carriage or automobile with any man unless he is your father or brother.
  • You may not smoke cigarettes.
  • You may not dress in bright colors.
  • You may under no circumstances dye your hair.
  • You must wear at least two petticoats.
  • Your dresses must not be any shorter than two inches above the ankle.
  • To keep the schoolroom neat and clean, you must: sweep the floor at least once daily; scrub the floor at least once a week with hot, soapy water; clean the blackboards at least once a day; and start the fire at 7 a.m. so the room will be warm by 8 a.m.

Obviously, these rules were developed with the assumption that only unmarried women were to be teachers. It is not clear today why loitering in an ice cream store would be disallowed, but probably that would be taken back then as an indication of a young lady of loose morals being available for approach by a lecherous male. Apparently, schools of the day were extremely careful to maintain a strict image of absolute propriety by those who were shaping the lives of young students. It was also “good for business”, as schools in those days were generally attended on a voluntary and personal cost basis. Accordingly, parents had to be constantly convinced of the proper conduct of those associated with any school where they would pay to send their children.

The December 17, 1913, special “Madison Booster” issue of THE WEEKLY MERCURY (a newspaper of Huntsville) stated that “More good and less bad can be truly said of Madison than of any other town and community of same population anywhere on earth… where the health conditions are unexcelled and where the best of schools are to be had, a high moral place of pure society, and where the effect of a wholesome religious influence is manifest on every hand….”

The articles in this eight-page historical newspaper issue were compiled by J. Willis Cargile. He concluded his coverage with “Visit the attractive little city of Madison; it’s well worth your while…. We cannot ring off without adding a little post-script, commending the noble young people of that model little city for their sterling qualities and refined daring. It is noticeable that the young men of the community love their homes and are entering into pursuits in their own town, and there are many merry Madison maids, who prefer home and mother in preference to parading the streets and gathering at the (railroad) Depot to flirt with the blue coats and brass buttons who may have daughters at home older than they are. All Madison is proud of the elevated society among her most worthy and highly refined young gentlemen and young ladies. There are many, many more good things to be said about Madison.”

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