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Landaff Teacher 1941Hawaii Public Schools start today, so it seems appropriate to look at how school days have changed over the past one hundred years or so. For example, there is a popular list of Rules for Teachers dated 1915 that makes me wonder why anyone took up the profession. Note the assumption that teaching was a woman’s occupation.

Marchido_school_desks1. You will not marry during the term of your contract.

2. You are not to keep company with men.

3. You must be home between the hours of 8 PM and 6 AM unless attending a school function.

4. You may not loiter downtown in ice cream stores.

5. You may not travel beyond the city limits unless you have the permission of the chairman of the board.

6. You may not ride in a carriage or automobile with any man except your father or brother.


7. You may not smoke cigarettes.

8. You may not dress in bright colors.

9. You may under no circumstances dye your hair.

10. You must wear at least two petticoats.

11. Your dresses may not be any shorter than two inches above the ankles.

12. To keep the classroom neat and clean you must sweep the floor at least once a day, 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 AM to have the school warm by 8 AM.

You may wonder if such rules really existed. I don’t know. But I knew a woman who taught in a country school before the second world war. She kept her engagement a secret because she would have lost her job.

Given cultural standards, I understand why teachers weren’t allowed to smoke, but I’ve no clue what was racy about the ice cream store.

The teacher photographed as she supervised a boy at the chalk board taught at the Landaff Blue School in New Hampshire in 1941. She boarded with the Chandler family for $7.50 per week, and received an annual salary of $800. By 1941 hemlines were shorter, and sensible shoes seem to be the norm.

Sewing ClassGirls were expected to conclude their education with marriage, and so trained in the new classes of home economics. I remember sewing class when I was in middle school. I never succeeded in making a proper bound button hole, nor in understanding why anyone would want one.

Typing ClassTyping classes gave girls a skill in case they had to be self-supporting. Now we call the skill keyboarding.

Lunchbox with ThermosPeople who went to school in the 1950s and 60s probably remember several items that now show up in cultural museums, among them the tin (later plastic) lunchboxes, each with a thermos. These came out every year with new Multiplication Slide Rulethemes. Slide rules were also common in the pre-calculator age. And when calculators first came out, it was considered cheating to use one.

Today, students still need pens and paper, backpacks and lunch bags. Teachers no longer have to stoke the fire, though they still sometimes clean the floor. And everyone can go to the ice cream store.



Landaff teacher. 1941. Public Domain.

Marchido School Desks by Doug Coldwell. Creative Commons Attribution.

Woman Smoking Cigarette by Raphael Kirchner. Public Domain.

Sewing Class. No Known Restriction.

Typing Class. No Known Restriction.

Lunchbox and Thermos by Davidmerkoski. Creative Commons Attribution.

Slide Rule by Jean-Jacques Milan. Creative Commons Attribution.

“15 Forgotten School Supplies.” Mental Floss.

“1872 Rules for Teachers.” Snopes. Dec 26, 2011.

“Rules for Teachers in 1872 and 1915.” Open Culture. Sept. 16, 2013.


Author Sandra Wagner Wright

Sandra Wagner-Wright holds the doctoral degree in history and taught women’s and global history at the University of Hawai`i. Sandra travels for her research, most recently to Salem, Massachusetts, the setting of her new Salem Stories series. She also enjoys traveling for new experiences. Recent trips include Antarctica and a river cruise on the Rhine from Amsterdam to Basel.

 Sandra particularly likes writing about strong women who make a difference. She lives in Hilo, Hawai`i with her family and writes a blog relating to history, travel, and the idiosyncrasies of life.

3 thoughts on “Back to School

  1. Comical should be read over the radio so that the youth of today could ponder such restrictions!

    OX, K

  2. Wow Sandra,

    A fun piece! Yes, was in 5th grade in Australia, the heater, many of us had to walk through huge puddles from the train station (unavoidable, giant puddles across the entire road) our socks would hang to get next to the heater on each of those days, whether the teachers had to be there early to light the big furnace, unknown, but probably so. We did have male teachers at the other school we went to, hmm, makes one wonder what rules they had. In high school, being a math person, slide rulers were just great!! Found one as of late, from an old friend, it was another wow.

    The ice-cream store bit was probably so the teachers did not see students there. The no socialization bit, and there were no frigderators then, at all. Not sure in 1915, if there were the ice boxes yet, buy ice and keep stuff so long, that was happening in the 1930’sand 40’s. So for the rules, it is a wonder we had teachers, but there were always single women, as there were single men. It is all a wow. I do agree, it would be great if the young people could read this, doing a questionnaire over the radio would be good! Just remember, it was only 100 years ago.


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