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“What Shall I Do?”: Paid Employment for Mormon Girls, 1927 — part 2: The Teacher

By: Ardis E. Parshall - January 11, 2011

“What Shall I Do?”: Paid Employment for Mormon Girls, 1927

Agnes Lovendahl Stewart

The introduction to this series is posted here.

II. – The Teacher

Before all educational requirements for the teacher, I would place, as of first importance to her success, a deep and wonderful love of boys and girls, and that splendid unselfishness and willingness to serve humanity which is the essence of greatness.

I place these first, because the teacher’s work is one of love, whose reward comes not in worldly things, but in things of the spirit – the joy of accomplishment and of great service, and the gratitude of boys and girls as they grow older and learn to appreciate her work for them.

In the state of Utah, teachers in the elementary grades are required to have completed a high school course and in addition either two years normal course, or 90 hours of college work before they receive a certificate to teach. This certificate is good for five years. If they teach for this period of time, with two years of the five spent in teaching in Utah, they may receive a life certificate in this state.

Teachers in the high schools of the state are required to have a degree – either B.S. (Bachelor of Science) or A.B. (Bachelor of Arts) from a standard university or college before they begin to teach. It is also essential that they have some experience before obtaining a position in the city junior and senior high schools, although sometimes, in cases of very exceptional ability, the requirement of previous experience is not enforced.

The teaching profession offers an excellent opportunity for those who can meet the educational requirements, because it is a profession in which the “labor-turnover” is great. By that we mean that teachers are constantly leaving the profession to get married, to enter some line of business, to study further or for other reasons, and every spring there are plenty of vacancies to take care of the big annual crop of normal graduates. It is a profession in which a beginner with the right training can easily obtain a position if she is competent.

The beginning salary for the teacher in the elementary grades in Salt Lake City is $950 a year and it is increased at the rate of $100 each year that one serves. The maximum paid an elementary teacher in Salt Lake City at the present time is $1800. Grade school principals receive from $2000 to $3200.

The minimum for the teachers in junior and senior high schools is $1100 and the maximum $2150. The salary of high school principals ranges from $3000 to $4000.

The beginning salary for elementary teachers in the country districts varies, but it ranges from about $900 upward. The salaries in the country are always a little lower than in the city schools.

One of the advantages of the schoolteachers’ profession is the provision which is made through the teachers’ associations for pensions to take care of one in old age, and for sickness funds to help defray the expenses when one must be out of school on account of illness.

In Salt Lake City, a teacher may obtain a pension after she has taught for 30 years, 15 years of which must have been spent in the schools of Salt Lake City. She must be at least 60 years of age. Her pension provides her with $50 a month for the rest of her life.

Salaries for school teachers are not as high as they should be when one considers the amount of training which the profession requires. The person who teaches must be willing to sacrifice financial reward for the joy of unselfish service, and real love of the work. That is why real teachers are born, not made. But a teacher’s influence for good can be far reaching – greater than anyone can know. It is a profession of nobility and dignity.

One of the difficulties which the country school teacher meets, is the difficulty which she finds in obtaining a congenial place to board.

Poor soul! Nobody wants her! Everybody thinks her a necessary nuisance! If folks take boarders, they want only men. They are afraid a girl will want to wash or press something and get in their way.

She will find herself the center of interest in the community, if it is small. Everyone will know how many letters she gets and from whom, whether she powders her nose and how old she is. If she walks one block with a young man of the town the tongues have her married to him. She lives like a goldfish in a glass bowl.

A school teacher must have mountains of patience, not only with her pupils, but with their parents as well. It is a nerve racking job to keep 40 or 50 youngsters, full of life and pep, and make them keep reasonably still and learn something. And it is sometimes difficult to make parents realize that perhaps it is not partiality on the part of the teacher which makes their children’s report cards come home marked in red.

The teacher’s job is a hard one, because the gong at 3:30 doesn’t end her day. She has papers to correct, and work to plan, and reports to fill out, and a hundred and one other things to do. The conscientious teacher could work twenty-four hours of every day and still feel that many things more could be done to make her work more efficient.

But there are wonderful advantages too. The long summer vacation gives opportunity for more study, or for travel. One always has the opportunity open for advancement and self-development, and better positions lie ahead.

The association is very pleasant. You will find joy in knowing the other teachers, splendid, well-educated men and women who are interested in the same things you like. Nowhere will you find fellow-workers more likable, cultured and worth knowing.

You will like the students, too. There’s a wonderful thrill in knowing and sharing the joys and hopes of youth, and in lending a hand over the difficult places. The teacher does perhaps more than any other to determine what the fate of the nation tomorrow shall be, for in her care is entrusted the training of tomorrow’s citizens and leaders.

And, after all, what reward could be greater, in the years when gray hairs have turned white, than to hear your name spoken reverently by someone who says, “She was the one who gave me my start – my first inspiration. She was my teacher, you know.”



26 Comments »

  1. This series is fantastic. Thank you.

    Comment by kew — January 11, 2011 @ 7:03 am

  2. The author is unusually specific, isn’t she? Nuts and bolts rather than fluff.

    Glad you like it.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 11, 2011 @ 7:49 am

  3. They are afraid a girl will want to wash or press something and get in their way.

    Well, the women and girls in my family never suffered from that malady. Especially the “press something” problem. That must have been eradicated, like smallpox or polio.

    But, they have got in the way from time to time.

    Comment by Mark B. — January 11, 2011 @ 8:39 am

  4. Wow. That’s bringing back memories. I had some amazing teachers during my school days.

    One major change since this was written is that school teachers don’t have to retire when they get married. I wonder when that change happened. Also, I don’t know if it was universal, but even in the 1970s, teachers in Utah had to retire if they became pregnant. What a bother on the part of the schools to deal with that amount of turnover! It would avoid the problem of teacher burn-out, but it would also limit the amount of experience teachers could bring to the classroom.

    Comment by Researcher — January 11, 2011 @ 9:01 am

  5. With both posts in this series, I have been impressed with the author’s willingness to list advantages AND disadvantages in a no-nonsense kind of way.

    Comment by Clark — January 11, 2011 @ 9:17 am

  6. I love this post. There is a tremendous amount of this that is still true today. My wife is a junior high math teacher, and as I read this, I thought about how a lot of this applies to her. She loves her students, she puts in an average of about 12 to 14 hours a day during the school year, and really enjoys the work.

    However, when she reads this (if she can find the time), she’ll recoil at the idea of having 40 to 50 kids in a classroom. She’s found that 30 students or less is optimal, and when you get above that, classroom management gets increasingly difficult.

    She’ll also identify with the $1,100 to $2,150 per year salary.

    Comment by kevinf — January 11, 2011 @ 9:43 am

  7. I went to school in Utah and escaped from high school with a diploma in 1971, and I’m trying to remember whether any of my women teachers were ever pregnant. (I can state with certainty that none of the men ever were.) And I’ll have to confess that I’ve forgotten.

    But I know I had teachers that were mothers–my second grade teacher was in my ward, and her youngest son was just a year or two ahead of me in school. There were a lot of others by the time I got to high school. Many of them seemed really old, but most everybody seemed that way to a kid my age.

    So, Researcher, what did you mean? And what are your sources? : )

    Comment by Mark B. — January 11, 2011 @ 10:20 am

  8. My Boys Foods teacher when I was a senior in high school was pregnant the semester I took that class. She had her baby and returned the next year. However, that was Weber County, at the time a hotbed of Democratic Party Politics.

    Not that there’s anything wrong with that…

    Comment by kevinf — January 11, 2011 @ 12:00 pm

  9. I should have added that my foods teacher was pregnant in 1969, otherwise my comment # 8 makes slightly less sense than my typical post, which may or may not make any sense.

    Comment by kevinf — January 11, 2011 @ 12:03 pm

  10. Huh. I wonder what my “source” meant. It would not be easy to contact her to ask a question about which school district she taught in (somewhere in Utah County, I would guess), and what the district policy actually was.

    My “source’s” mother taught school with older children in the home, but the case that I mention was the birth of a first child.

    So I guess I can’t state anything definitively on this topic — it’s all hearsay. : )

    Comment by Researcher — January 11, 2011 @ 12:24 pm

  11. It amazes me how much hasn’t changed since then.

    To bad they didn’t have graphic designers back then. I’d be fascinated to know if my job would still be the same.

    Comment by SilverRain — January 11, 2011 @ 2:36 pm

  12. SilverRain, the series may not include a graphic designer, but stay tuned for part 8. (I’m not sayin’ more!)

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 11, 2011 @ 2:47 pm

  13. This was great, but it made me long for a time machine.

    Comment by Mina — January 11, 2011 @ 8:45 pm

  14. Not teaching once you were visibly pregnant was standard US, perhaps until the 1950s. I would be surprised if that were truly the case until the 70s in UT, but then, UT has surprised me before.

    The rationale was that a pregnancy was evidence that a woman was sexually active, and you couldn’t have students thinking about such things at school.

    Comment by ESO — January 12, 2011 @ 8:11 am

  15. I wonder, though, whether the motivation wasn’t really as much concern for protecting a woman at a critical time as it was the “example” — women were typically expected to quit work as soon as they knew they were pregnant, not just in education but in most careers. That was true of my mother when she was carrying me, when she worked in the aerospace industry in Florida in 1958.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 12, 2011 @ 8:57 am

  16. Perhaps the Utah school district in question had a mandatory maternity leave policy more akin to policies in Ohio and Virginia that were reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court in LaFleur.

    The Supreme Court discusses motivations for the policies in the third paragraph of Part II (also see footnote 9).

    Comment by Justin — January 12, 2011 @ 10:18 am

  17. When I was at BYU a few years ago, one of my professors said that BYU fired married women for getting pregnant into the 1970′s. I fully acknowledge that my heresay is not a reliable source.

    Comment by kew — January 12, 2011 @ 10:35 am

  18. Who’s going to say it first? … Hurray for Justin!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 12, 2011 @ 10:43 am

  19. Thanks, Justin, for the link to the LaFleur Case.

    I suspect that the two justifications argued by the school boards in those cases (continuity of instruction and health/physical ability of the expectant mother to continue in her duties) were what motivated most school boards in similar policies. In those days when culture was not altogether saturated in sex, it seems unlikely that a schoolteacher would have been forced out (either on leave or permanently) for the reason suggested by ESO. Especially in grade schools. Well might we ask of the children of those days: What did you know? And when did you know it?

    Speaking for the only person I can, the answers are “Not much” and “Not in grade school.”

    Comment by Mark B. — January 12, 2011 @ 10:54 am

  20. The Church used to have a rule against the employment of married women, regardless of pregnancy — I don’t have any idea whether that extended as far as BYU or not. And I know the David O. McKay diary has more explicit references than this one, but it’s all I can dredge up on the spur of the moment:

    15 June 1962:

    Among many items considered was a letter from the General Superintendency of the Sunday School relating to retaining six young women in the employ of Sunday School board since they have been married.

    I said that the policy restricting the employment of married women has not been followed as it should be. I reviewed practices which involve the office of the First Presidency as well as other departments; I referred also to special employment problems arising in the Genealogical Society. I stated that the rule is honored more in the breech than in the observance, and mentioned the change of practice over the practices of many years ago.

    The advisability of revising the regulation was carefully considered and it was decided that women will be hired and retained after marriage if they are capable and do their work well, but that it will be expected that they will not deliberately postpone responsibilities of parenthood.

    In other words, kew, although I don’t know for certain whether the rule extended as far as BYU, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find out that your professor’s claim and your memories of that claim are accurate. (To be clear, I can’t definitely say that it is so, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that it is so.)

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 12, 2011 @ 10:54 am

  21. About BYU in the 70s–I know one woman quite well who was employed as a secretary in the business school who was not fired when she became pregnant.

    She did quit on 17 June 1977, five days before our oldest child was born.

    Comment by Mark B. — January 12, 2011 @ 10:59 am

  22. Then again, maybe some school district in Utah in the early 1970s did have a policy requiring complete termination of employment. Here is one example of such a policy in Pennsylvania.

    Comment by Justin — January 12, 2011 @ 11:04 am

  23. Cool, Justin. Thanks for looking that up. Nice to know that I was not necessarily misremembering that information, since the first child of my “source” was born within a month of Mrs. LaFleur’s and within two months of Mrs. Nelson’s (the respondents in Cleveland Board of Education v. LaFleur).

    Comment by Researcher — January 12, 2011 @ 12:14 pm

  24. I am not suggesting that any school board would write explicitly of their teachers’ being sexually active in their policies. I am, however, suggesting that the reasons given are somewhat disingenuous. Women who are not working at schools are hardly going on vacation–they are working at home. And doing more physically taxing (and unpaid) work at that. The “health” of the child and mother may very well be better served by having a better income, yet the woman is not given the opportunity to make that choice–the school board does it for her.

    Also, continuity of instruction is a consideration, but certainly not reason enough for a policy like this. I would guess that the same districts that had these policies regularly promoted male teachers into administrative positions in the middle of school years. If continuity was really such a concern, there would be a policy against that too, wouldn’t there?

    Besides, if you do a cursory survey of your acquaintances who are teachers or who are the kids of teachers, you will find a statistically significant percentage were May/June/July babies, indicating that female teachers already do what they can not to interrupt instruction with reproduction.

    Comment by ESO — January 13, 2011 @ 7:14 am

  25. ESO, in case there is any question, I don’t necessarily endorse or adopt past rationale when I try to understand what they were thinking. I was surprised, though, to see “giggling” acknowledged as a reason, even in the footnote, and wasn’t surprised to see “health of the mother” cited by the school districts.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 13, 2011 @ 8:43 am

  26. Oh, no question. I just wanted to point out that all manner of “immoral” behavior was cause for dismissal: riding in automobiles, playing cards, drinking on weekends, etc etc. Historically, there was an effort to control the behavior of teachers, especially female ones.

    Comment by ESO — January 13, 2011 @ 8:48 am

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