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A Field of Great Promise: Teachers' Migration to the Urban Far West, 1890–1930

  • Michelle M. K. Morgan (a1)


In 1901, Miss M. C. French contacted Hawai‘i's superintendent and inquired about teaching positions in the islands. “As the prospect for a principalship seems possible only upon removal by death and that at an extreme age in most of the middle west towns,” she wrote, “I look to the west as a field of great promise.” Not only, in French's estimation, did teaching positions in the West offer opportunities for career advancement, but she also observed, “the west remunerates well for modern school work.” French's letter of application indicated that she had normal school training and teaching experience totaling nine years in Chicago, Salt Lake, and Des Moines, the last under future Seattle Superintendent Frank Cooper. She highlighted skills in “geography, language, and grammar.” In closing her application, she remarked, “My strong point has seemed to be discipline, which however is a natural, not acquired, talent.”



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1 M. C. French to Superintendent of Public Instruction, 25 February 1901, File 4, Box 64, Records of the Department of Education, Series 261: General Correspondence, Hawai‘i State Archives (hereafter cited as Series 261, HSA).

2 Kaufman, Polly Welts, Women Teachers on the Frontier (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984); Herbst, Jurgen, Women Pioneers of Public Education: How Culture Came to the Wild West (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008); Weiler, Kathleen, Country School-women: Teaching in Rural California, 1850–1950 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1998).

3 Tolley, Kim and Beadie, Nancy, “Socioeconomic Incentives to Teach in New York and North Carolina: Toward a More Complex Model of Teacher Labor Markets, 1800–1850,” History of Education Quarterly 46 (Spring 2006): 3672.

4 Vapnek, Lara, Breadwinners: Working Women and Economic Independence, 1865–1920 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2010).

5 Herbst, Jurgen, And Sadly Teach: Teacher Education and Professionalization in American Culture (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1989).

6 Administrators frequently used the terms “local” and “home girl” interchangeably; both terms were used to refer to teachers trained in the state.

7 Kaufman, , Women Teachers on the Frontier; Tolley, and Beadie, , “Socioeconomic Incentives to Teach.”

8 Nugent, Walter, Into the West: The Story of Its People (New York: Knopf, Alfred A., 1999), 46; Casper, Scott E., Moving Stories: Migration and the American West, 1850–2000 (Reno: Nevada Humanities Committee, 2001); Myers, Sandra L., Westering Women and the Frontier Experience, 1800–1915 (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1982).

9 Information on Seattle's teachers comes from two collections of personnel files at the Seattle Public Schools Archives (SPSA): manuscript collection A-96–9 (cited hereafter as Personnel Records, A-96–9, SPSA) and the microfilmed personnel files (cited hereafter as Personnel Files, Microfilm, SPSA). By agreement with the Seattle Public School Archives, I have used pseudonyms to protect Seattle teachers’ identities. Seattle Public Schools Application, 18 April 1907, Personnel Files, Microfilm, SPSA.

10 Tolley and Beadie, “Socioeconomic Incentives to Teach,” 70.

11 Applicants for Positions in Public Schools,” n.d., File 11, Box 63, Series 261, HSA.

12 Seattle Public Schools Application, 10 April 1909, Personnel Files, Microfilm, SPSA; Seattle Public Schools Application, 30 January 1905, Personnel Files, Microfilm, SPSA; Seattle Public Schools Application, 12 March 1917, Personnel Files, Microfilm, SPSA.

13 Freidson, Eliot, “Are Professions Necessary?” in The Authority of Experts: Studies in History and Theory, ed. Haskell, Thomas (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1984), 327.

14 Personnel Files, Microfilm, SPSA.

15 Personnel Files, Microfilm, SPSA.

16 Seattle Public Schools Application, 24 March 1908, Personnel Files, Microfilm, SPSA; Seattle Public Schools Application, 24 March 1919, Personnel Files, Microfilm, SPSA.

17 Fuller, Wayne, “The Teacher in the Country School,” in American Teachers: Histories of a Profession at Work, ed. Warren, Donald (New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1989), 98117; Rousmaniere, Kate, City Teachers: Teaching and School Reform in Historical Perspective (New York: Teachers College Press, 1997), 38.

18 Labaree, David, “Career Ladders and the Early Public High-School Teacher: A Study of Inequality and Opportunity,” in American Teachers, 157–89.

19 Seattle Public Schools Application, 1 February 1917, Personnel Files, Microfilm, SPSA.

20 Applicants for Positions in Public Schools,” n.d., Folder 11, Box 63, Series 261, HSA.

21 Tyack, David, The One Best System: A History of American Urban Education (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1974), 97104; MacDonald, Victoria-Maria, “The Paradox of Bureaucratization: New Views on Progressive Era Teachers and the Development of a Woman's Profession,” History of Education Quarterly 39 (Winter 1999): 427–53; Tyack, David and Hansot, Elizabeth, Managers of Virtue: Public School Leadership in America, 1820–1980 (New York: Basic Books, 1982); Blount, Jackie, Destined to Rule the Schools: Women and the Superintendency, 1873–1995 (New York: State University of New York Press, 1998).

22 U. S. Department of the Interior, Census Office, Report on the Population of the United States at the Eleventh Census: 1890, Part I (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1895), 881; Kingdom of Hawaii, Bureau of Public Instruction, Report of the General Superintendent of the Census, 1890 (Honolulu: Grieve, R., 1891), n. p.; U. S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, Report on the Population at the Twelfth Census of the United States: 1900, Part I (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1901), 609–45; U. S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, Abstract of the Fifteenth Census of the United States (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1933), 105–6; U. S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, Fifteenth Census: 1930, Outlying Territories and Possessions, Number and Distribution of Inhabitants, Composition and Characteristics of the Population, Occupations, Unemployment and Agriculture (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1932), 48.

23 Los Angeles School District, Annual Report of the Board of Education and Superintendent of City Schools With Rules and Regulations of the Public Schools of the City of Los Angeles, California, 1890–91 (Los Angeles, 1891), 2–29 (hereafter cited as Los Angeles Annual Report); Portland School District, Seventeenth Annual Report, School Distria No. 1 Multnomah County, Oregon Including The City of Portland, For the School Year Ending June 30, 1890 (Portland, 1890), 8992 (hereafter cited as Portland Annual Report); San Francisco School District, Annual Report of the Public Schools of the City and County of San Francisco for the Fiscal Year Ending June 30, 1890 (San Francisco, 1890), 19 (hereafter cited as San Francisco Annual Report); Seattle School District, Annual Report of the Seattle Public Schools, 1890–91 (Seattle: 1891), 46–50 (hereafter cited as Seattle Annual Report). For comparative rates of feminization in public schools, see Perlmann, Joel and Margo, Robert A., Women's Work?: American Schoolteachers, 1650–1920 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001); Rury, “Who Became Teachers?” in Warren, American Teachers, 9–49.

24 Hawaii Biennial Report (1890), 7576; Hawaii Biennial Report (1930), 15.

25 Blount, , Destined to Rule the Schools; Rousmaniere, Kate, “Go to the Principal's Office: Toward a Social History of the School Principal in North America,” History of Education Quarterly 47 (February 2007): 122.

26 Sabin returned to her native Wisconsin in 1890 and became best known for her leadership at Milwaukee-Downer College. Although reports indicate she was a popular teacher and superintendent in Portland, later administrators, particularly Frank Rigler (1896–1913), were criticized by both contemporaries and historians as rigid and did little to encourage gender equity in administration. Susan Dorsey, who was born in New York and received her degree from Vassar College, worked her way through the ranks in Los Angeles from high school teacher to vice principal to assistant superintendent before being hired to lead the city's schools in 1920. U. S. Works Progress Administration, History of Education in Portland, ed. Powers, Alfred and Corning, Howard McKinley (Oregon: U. S. Works Progress Administration, 1937), 686–94; Tyack, David, “Bureaucracy and the Common School: The Example of Portland, Oregon, 1851–1913,” American Quarterly 19 (Autumn 1967): 493–95; Estelle Pau on Lau, Ellen C Sabin: Proponent of Higher Education for Women: A Social History (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1978); Wallis, Eileen V., Earning Power: Women and Work in Los Angeles, 1880–1930 (Reno: University of Nevada Press, 2010), 21; Raftery, Judith, Land of Fair Promise: Politics and Reform in Los Angeles Schools, 1885–1941 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1992), 48–49, 62–63; McGregor, Georgette Foster, “The Educational Career of Susan Miller Dorsey” (PhD dissertation, University of California, Los Angeles, 1949).

27 Portland Annual Report (1924), 6283; Directory of the Seattle Schools (1924), 1–45.

28 For example, see Los Angeles Annual Report (1914), 151 and 157.

29 Spears, Timothy B., Chicago Dreaming: Midwesterners and the City, 1871–1919 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005); Nugent, , Into the West; Starr, Kevin, Americans and the California Dream, 1850–1915 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1973), 686–94.

30 Beale, Howard, Are American Teachers Free?: An Analysis of Restraints Upon the Freedom of Teaching in American Schools (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1936), 686–94; Sewell, Jessica Ellen, Women and the Everyday City: Public Space in San Francisco, 1890–1915 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011); Nelson, Margaret, “The Intersection of Home and Work: Rural Vermont Schoolteachers, 1915–1950,” in The Teacher's Voice: A Social History of Teaching in Twentieth-Century America, ed. Altenbaugh, Richard J. (London: The Falmer Press, 1992), 26–39.

31 Albright, Flora N. to Gibson, T. H., 18 April 1914, File 3, Box 59, Series 261, HSA.

32 Letter to Geiger, William, 30 December 1905, Personnel Records, Microfilm, SPSA.

33 By 1915, high school positions in Portland and San Francisco required a university degree. Minutes of the Board of Directors, School District No. 1, Multnomah County, 2 April 1912, Deputy Clerk's Office, Blanchard Education Building, Portland, Oregon; San Francisco Annual Report (1908), 88101.

34 What People Are Doing,” Seattle Grade Club Magazine 7 (December 1925): 30; “Professional Service Page,” Seattle Grade Club Magazine 5 (December 1923): 21; Personnel Files, Microfilm, SPSA.

35 March Hike,” “February Walk,” and “Special Notice to Hikers,” Hitchcock, Millie E., Journal, 1899–1900, Ms Doc 151, Bishop Museum Archives, Honolulu.

36 San Francisco Classroom Teachers Bulletin 10 (March 1927): 20; Pieroth, Doris, Seattle's Women Teachers of the Interwar Years: Shapers of a Livable City (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2004), 183–85.

37 How Teachers Are Appointed,” Los Angeles School Journal 10 (20 September 1926): 34.

38 Dayton, Iwalani K. to Kinney, Henry W., 20 June 1915, File 2, Box 63, Series 261, HSA; “A Circular of Information Concerning the Schools of Hawaii, 1919–20,” File 11, Box 54, Series 261, HSA.

39 Bodnar, John, The Transplanted: A History of Immigrants in Urban America (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1985); MacDonald, John S. and MacDonald, Leatrice D., “Chain Migration, Ethnic Neighborhood Formation, and Social Networks,” in An Urban World, ed. Tilly, Charles (Boston: Little, Brown, 1974), 686–94.

40 “City Teachers’ Club Officers, 1927–28,” Los Angeles School Journal 11 (9 April 1928): 27.

41 Borden, Elvira to Department of Public Instruction, 19 August 1918, File 2, Box 60, Series 261, HSA; Kinney, Henry W. to Borden, 22 August 1918, File 2, Box 60, Series 261, HSA; Personnel Files, Microfilm, SPSA.

42 Shafer, Harry, “Mrs. Adda Wilson Hunter,” Los Angeles School Journal 10 (10 January 1927): 30.

43 Seattle Public Schools Application, 1908 4 March, Personnel Files, Microfilm, SPSA; Seattle Public Schools Application, 12 April 1910, Personnel Files, Microfilm, SPSA.

44 Cooper, Frank B. to Principals, 2 September 1921, File: “1921/22 Principal's Notices,” Box 11, Superintendents’ Files, SPSA; Babb, Caroline to Holden, J. F., 17 November 1891, Caroline, M. and Babb, George Letters, BANC MSS 2000/62 cp, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.

45 Bauknight, Pickney M. to MacCaughey, Vaughan, 12 May 1922, File 8, Box 60, Series 261, HSA.

46 Personnel Files, Microfilm, SPSA.

47 Portland Annual Report (1889–1890), 89–92.

48 Data are drawn from a random sample of 109 teachers employed in 1909–1910 (approximately 10 percent of the teaching staff) and 126 teachers employed in 1929–1930 (approximately 5 percent of the teaching staff). Personnel Records, A-96–9, SPSA; Personnel Files, Microfilm, SPSA.

49 Intervening reports do not list teachers’ training by region in such a comprehensive manner but do indicate a consistently high number of teachers trained in California. Seven hundred fifty-nine of the eight hundred seventy-one total teachers in San Francisco in 1890–1891 were graduates of California schools. San Francisco Annual Report (1891), 35; San Francisco Annual Report (1925–1926), 64–67.

50 Dorsey, Susan, “The Professional Improvement of Los Angeles Teachers,” Los Angeles School Journal 4 (6 September 1920): 6.

51 Cubberley, Ellwood P., Dresslar, Fletcher B., Elliot, Edward C., Francis, J. H., Spaulding, Frank E., Terman, Lewis M., and Tanner, William R., Report of the Survey of the Public Schools System of School Distria No. 1 Multnomah County, Oregon, City of Portland (Portland: Schwab Printing Co., 1913), 4142.

52 Cubberley, , Portland Survey, 42–45.

53 Tyack, , The One Best System, 126–27.

54 Horn, P. W., Report of Supplementary Survey of Portland Public Schools (Portland: Jefferson High School Press, 1917), 22.

55 Hawaii Biennial Report (1892), 13.

56 For discussion of child-centered reformers and their rhetoric, see the following: Tyack, , The One Best System; Cuban, Larry, How Teachers Taught: Constancy and Change in American Classrooms, 1890–1980, 2nd ed. (New York: Teachers College Press, 1993); Zilversmit, Arthur, Changing Schools: Progressive Education Theory and Practice, 1930–1960 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993); Reese, William J., America's Public Schools: From the Common School to “No Child Left Behind” (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005), chap. 3.

57 Gamson, David, “District Progressivism: Rethinking Reform in Urban School Systems, 1900–1928,” Paedagogica Historica 39 (August 2003): 433.

58 Gibson, T. H., “Americanization,” 13 February 1920, File 21, Box 64, Series 261, HSA; Tamura, Eileen, Americanization, Acculturation, and Ethnic Identity: The Nisei Generation in Hawaii (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994).

59 Fraser, Nina L. D. to Pope, W. T., 24 May 1912, File 14, Box 64, Series 261, HSA.

60 Los Angeles Report (1901–1902), 68.

61 Wright, J. C. to Will Crawford, 24 October 1927, File 19, Box 3, Records of the Department of Education, Series 315: Vocational Education Files, HSA.

62 Personnel Records, A-96–9, SPSA; Personnel Files, Microfilm, SPSA.

63 Ogren, Christine A., The American State Normal School: An Instrument of Great Good (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), 214.

64 For a discussion of the requirements for state certification, see San Francisco Annual Report (1908–1909), 88–101; Los Angeles Annual Report (1890–1891), 97.

65 Ogren, , The American State Normal School, 228–33; Cubberley, , Portland Survey, 41–44. Personnel Files, Microfilm, SPSA; Personnel Files, A96–A, SPSA.

66 For more information on teacher training in the islands, see Potter, Robert E. and Logan, Linda A., A History of Teacher Education in Hawai‘i (Honolulu: Hawaii Education Association, 1995).

67 Potter, and Logan, , Teacher Education in Hawai‘i, 88–91.

68 Cooper, Frank B. to Board of Directors, 17 April 1918, File: “Salaries,” Box 6, Superintendents’ Files, SPSA.

69 Pieroth, , Seattle's Women Teachers, 87–101.

70 Los Angeles Annual Report (1890–1891), 102.

71 San Francisco School District, Plan for the Appointment of Teachers for the City and County of San Francisco, Adopted May, 1904 (San Francisco, 1904), 1011.

72 Seattle Triennial Report (1921–1924), 12.

73 Minutes of the San Francisco School Board, 20 May 1908, 2 September 1908, 14 April, 1909, 3 August 1910, 7 March 1912, and 3 May 1927, San Francisco Unified School District, San Francisco, California; San Francisco Annual Report (1929–1930), 35.

74 Elizabeth Rouse to Kinney, Henry W., 24 July 1917, File 12, Box 71, Series 261, HSA

75 Emphasis in original. Albright, Flora N. to Gibson, T. H., 10 April 1914, File 3, Box 59, Series 261, HSA.

76 Seattle Triennial Report (1921–1924), 12.

77 Hawaii Biennial Report (1930), 89.

78 Portland Annual Report (1929–1930), 78–100.

79 Cuban, Larry, How Teachers Taught; Gamson, , “District Progressivism.”

She thanks Bill Reese, Abigail Markwyn, Tom Dicke, Kathleen Kennedy, and the anonymous HEQ reviewers for their thoughtful comments on the article. She also thanks the Spencer Foundation, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Missouri State University for funding that facilitated the research and writing of the article.

A Field of Great Promise: Teachers' Migration to the Urban Far West, 1890–1930

  • Michelle M. K. Morgan (a1)


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