Wednesday, November 19, 2014

No face-painted, beer-drinking, brightly-garbed teachers around here!

Hal and I are just finishing up a two week research trip in Southern California that has taken us from university and yearly meeting archives to the cultural center of the Kumeyaay Indian tribe and the historical museum of the small town of Ramona. As usually happens on these excursions, the serendipitous finds (those having nothing to do with our actual research project) fascinate me.
During a break from searching through newspapers from the 1880s for information on Quaker Indian William Abel, I came across a contract for public school teachers in 1923. The contract was framed on the wall of the one-room school house. It pertained only to single lady teachers. These women were required to be examples of virtue and decorum. Here’s the text of the contract:

“This is an agreement between Miss Lottie…, teacher, and the Board of Education of the ….School, whereby Miss Lottie …agrees to teach in the …School for the period of eight months beginning September 1, 1923. The Board of Education agrees to pay Miss Lottie… the sum of seventy-five ($75.00) per month.

“Miss Lottie…agrees:
1.   Not to get married. This contract becomes null and void immediately if the teacher marries.
2.   Not to keep company with men.
3.   To be home between the hours of 8:00 PM and 6:00 AM unless she is in attendance at a school function.
4.   Not to loiter downtown in ice cream parlors.
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 whiskey. This contract becomes null and void immediately if the teacher is found drinking beer, wine, or whiskey.
8.   Not to ride in a carriage or automobile with any man except her brothers or father.
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; to sweep the classroom floor at least once daily; to scrub the classroom floor once a week with hot water and soap; to clean the blackboards at least once daily; to start the fire at 7:00 AM so the room will be warm at 8:00 AM when the children arrive; to carry out the ashes at least once daily.
14. Not to use face powder, mascara, or paint the lips.”

It’s interesting to note there’s not one thing said about how or what this exemplary female is to teach the children. In fact, it gives no hint whatsoever there might be children in the vicinity.
Ramona is actually my hometown. I went to Ramona Elementary School in the 1940s and 50s, and I guess standards were more relaxed by then. My mom taught fourth grade, but she was married, so I guess it didn’t matter than she occasionally wore red. She kept company with my father. I don’t even know how many petticoats she wore.  
I wonder what the contracts for men were like.
Research is such fun.


  1. This is hilariously crazy. Just what I needed once again. Love your excellence as a sleuth.

  2. This makes sense of something that has puzzled me for years. The terms of the John Sarrin scholarship, for women in ministry, administered by USFW, included language forbidding drinking and painting the lips, or the body - I forget - and a whole lot more detailed proscriptions. Harold Smuck told me that John Sarrin's original requirements were even more detailed. Your discovery suggests that this thinking was widespread in the culture at the time, at least in some communities.