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Teachers for the West

Teachers for the West


Female Teachers . In the 1840s Calvin Stowe was persuaded by his sister-in-law, the educator Catharine Beecher, to head an organization raising funds to send young women to the West to serve as missionary teachers. Trained by Beecher in Albany, New York, and Hartford, Connecticut, seventy young women traveled in 1847 to Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, Kentucky, and Tennessee to teach in local district or subscription schools, establish Sunday schools, and serve as moral influences in their new communities. Eventually this Central Committee for Promoting National Education, renamed the National Board of Popular Education in the 1850s, sent 450 teachers to the West. Educated in academies inspired by Revolutionary rhetoric, most of the young women were converted in the evangelical revivals of the Second Great Awakening. They also sought independence in the West; although some returned home, others married and raised families in their new communities. In the 1840s women outnumbered men in the East and gradually were replacing them as teachers. In the new public school systems a hierarchy developed with female teachers directed by a male principal teacher. Communities in the West, however, were slower to employ women as teachers, perhaps because men still viewed teaching as short-term employment prior to a business career. Although female teachers often were better qualified than the men who held teaching positions, women were paid half the wage men received, a situation justified by the argument that women did not support a family and were working only until they married. Although Catharine Beecher defined teaching as an extension of domestic duties and emphasized the willingness of women to work for less money, she also lobbied Congress in 1853 for free normal schools that would provide both men and women with professional education and status.

Establishment of Normal Schools . As rural capitalism developed in the Midwest and new states established public school systems, demand arose for normal schools to train teachers. Such institutions were established by Whigs who advocated school reform, a commercial economy, and a positive role for the state. For example, Isaac Funk migrated westward with his parents and eight siblings from Kentucky through Ohio to Blooming Grove in McLean County, Illinois, in 1823. After attending a local subscription school in a log cabin, by the 1830s he was driving hogs and cattle purchased in Missouri to market in Chicago. Famous locally as the beef king in the 1850s, he owned twenty-five thousand acres of land farmed by tenants and hired labor, and he possessed one million dollars worth of livestock. As a Whig county supervisor Funk arranged the selling of county swamplands that would bring a new state normal school to the thriving agricultural area. Six male and three female scholars enrolled to study Horace Manns lectures and the American Journal of Education (edited by Henry Barnard) when the Illinois State Normal University opened in 1857. Our parents were sad-faced struggling pioneers of the prairies, one of them later recalled, but we were cheery, resolute, and happy in our life and work.


Polly Welts Kaufman, Women Teachers on the Frontier (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984);

Semi-Centennial History of the Illinois State Normal University, 18571907 (Normal, Ill., 1907);

Kathryn Kish Sklar, Catherine Beecher: A Study in American Domesticity (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1973).

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