Women's Welfare Activist Records Inequalities Faced by Female Teachers
During a visit to America, women's welfare activist, Emily Faithfull examined the vast inequality that existed between men and women teachers and concluded that the situation was unfortunately no better for English women. The "feminization of teaching" had just begun to evolve around the time of her visit (1862);the majority of teaching positions in America, from the colonial period to the middle of the 19th century, were occupied by young, white men. She noted, that "thanks to tradition and prejudice" female teachers continued to be underpaid. In her writing, she detailed the salaries of male and female teachers who underwent the same training and exams, performed the same tasks, and devoted as much energy and devotion as male teachers, but received less compensation. At that time, the average salary for women teachers in Vermont ranged from eight dollars per month (with board) to $750 a year, while men received around twenty dollars a month to $1600 a year. Faithfull also argued that while women also bore additional responsibilities of taking care of the home and child rearing, they fulfilled expectations that demanded they "work with alacrity, give up [their] time, be well posted in every subject, dress like ladies, and accept a salary which a French cook would scorn." She also refuted the commonly held opinion that married individuals received a higher salary by pointing out that men always received a larger salary regardless of their marital status. While men often had access to greater educational opportunities, the unfortunate reality was that many equally deserving and competent women were widows with families to support. Even the public, she argued, was well aware of this fact and admitted their preference for female teachers due to "the score of their cheapness, as well as on the ground of their general efficiency."
Reknowned for her work as a women's welfare activist, Faithfull's brief descriptions reflected the difficult struggle of equality for women, specifically the obstacles they experienced as teachers. Though legislation did eventually grant greater rights to women, the wage gap between men and women working in the same fields remained. Authors Pulliam and Patten explain that until the advent of "common schools" in the 1830's (similar to modern day public schools), men dominated the field of education and usually used education as a starting point to move other areas of work, such as ministry and law. Prior to this, women predominantly taught basic lessons (alphabet, numbers, Bible studies) in "dame schools" run in their own homes for meager wages. Despite the low wages, however, women still longed for the opportunity to impart their knowledge, as it provided them independence and a sense of fulfillment. Initially, schools were reluctant to employ women as teachers, but with the efforts of reformers and activists like Emily Faithfull, who helped to broaden opportunities for women, monumental strides were made in education as well as other fields of work.
- Faithfull, Emily, Three Visits to America. (Edinburg, England: David Douglas, 1884).
- Pulliam, John D., and Patten James J. Van., History of Education in America. (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Merrill, 1994), p. 15-83.
- Sonia Harris & David Neiman., "Only A Teacher", PBS Online, http://www.pbs.org/onlyateacher/ (accessed Oct. 8-12, 2010).