Teaching in an Iowa One-room Schoolhouse

An Iowa Historian and former one-room school educators explain what a day-in-the life would be like for a teacher teaching in a one-room schoolhouse.  


Narrator: Iowa's first one-room schoolhouse in Lee County had a male teacher. Men dominated the profession until the civil war when the shortage of males who left for the army created openings for young women. It was an interesting life. 

Dr. Sue Grosboll, Historian and Director, University of Northern Iowa Museums: “Being a school teacher must have been quite a challenge. Imagine you're young -- and most of these teachers were probably between 15 and 20 years of age, maybe 25 years of age. They're single. They had to live close by because you couldn't go and find an apartment in town the way most young women would think of now. What they did was they boarded with local farm families. Sometimes they would live with a family and be given their own room. Sometimes, though, they might have to share a room with the kids, because if this was one of the local farm families, they probably had children in that school, so the teacher might have to come home to children that she had faced all day long.”

Narrator: Not only were these young women sometimes restricted in their living space, it was generally understood they could not be married while employed as a teacher. Sometimes this was written into their contracts, and sometimes it was just a social convention. 

Dr. Sue Grosboll, Historian and Director, University of Northern Iowa Museums: At times, certainly during the depression, it was a case of one paycheck per family. In other words, it was so hard to find work and to get income at that time, they felt if someone in the family already had a job, they wouldn't give one to the spouse. So if you were a school teacher and on your own and you were single, you could keep your job, but once you got married, they assumed that your husband had a job and so you would not be allowed to teach.

Narrator: It's not surprising that now and then a teacher would hide her nuptials from curious parents and farmers. 

Elizabeth Dahlhauser, Former One-room Schoolhouse Teacher: My one friend who lived 15 or 20 miles from me kept her wedding a secret for I think it was three years because she had started teaching before she married and she wanted to continue, but she had to keep it a secret.

Narrator: It's no secret that the rural teachers worked hard and until the early 20th century, usually had only an 8th grade education themselves. A formal mechanism for training future rural, school teachers called normal training, was put in place in 1911. Forty years later teachers were required to have a two-year teaching certificate beyond their high school diploma. In 1960 a Bachelor of Arts degree was needed.


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