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Presidential Address: Go to the Principal's Office: Toward a Social History of the School Principal in North America

  • Kate Rousmaniere (a1)


Of the many organizational changes that took place in public education in North America at the turn of the last century, few had greater impact on the school than the development of the principal. The creation of the principal's office revolutionized the internal organization of the school from a group of students supervised by one teacher to a collection of teachers managed by one administrator. In its very conception, the appointment of a school-based administrator who was authorized to supervise other teachers significantly restructured power relations in schools, realigning the source of authority from the classroom to the principal's office. Just as significant was the role that the principal played as a school based representative of the central educational office.



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1 Chandler, Alfred, The Visible Hand: The Managerial Revolution in American Business (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 1977).

2 Mills, C. Wright, White Collar: The American Middle Classes (New York: Oxford University Press, 1951), 74.

3 Lichtenstein, Nelson, “The Man in the Middle': A Social History of Automobile Industry Foreman,” in On the Line: Essays in the History of Auto Work, ed. Nelson Lichtenstein and Stephen Meyer (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1989), 161–62; Mason, Geoff, “Production Supervisors in Britain, Germany, and the United States: Back from the Dead Again?” Work, Employment, and Society 14, (2000): 626–27.

4 Cuban, Larry, The Managerial Imperative and the Practice of Leadership in Schools (Albany: SUNY Press, 1988), 61.

5 . This is not to say that the topic has been completely ignored. Recent scholarship on the history of the principalship in North America includes in addition to Larry Cuban's volume, Brown, Kathleen, “Pivotal Points: History, Development, and Promise of the Principalship,” in Sage Handbook of Educational Leadership, ed. Fenwick English, W. (University of North Carolina: Sage Publications 2005), 109141; Goodwin, Rebecca H., Michael Cunningham, L. and Teresa Eager, “The Changing Role of the Secondary Principal in the United States: An Historical Perspective,” Journal of Educational Administration and History 37, (April 2005): 1–17; Fleming, Thomas, “British Columbia Principals: Scholar-Teachers and Administrative Amateurs in Victorian and Edwardian Eras, 1872–1918,” in School Leadership: Essays on the British Columbia Experience, 1812–1995, ed. Thomas Fleming (Bendall Books, 2001), 249–85; Fleming, Thomas, “Our Boys in the Field: School Inspectors, Superintendents, and the Changing Character of School Leadership in British Columbia,” in Schools in the West: Essays in Canadian Educational History, ed. Nancy Sheehan, M., J. Donald Wilson, and David Jones, C. (Calgary: Detselig Enterprises, 1986), 285–303. Oral histories and biographical studies comprise a bulk of new scholarship on the history of the principal: Reynolds, Cecelia, “Changing Gender Scripts and Moral Dilemmas for Women and Men in Education, 1940–1970,” in Women and School Leadership: International Perspectives, ed. Cecilia Reynolds (Albany: SUNY, 2002), 29–48; Wallace, James M., The Promise of Progressivism: Angelo Patri and Urban Education (New York: Peter Lang, 2006).

6 Karpinski, Carol F., “Bearing the Burden of Desegregation: Black Principals and Brown,” Urban Education 41, (May 2006): 211216; Tillman, Linda C., “African American Principals and the Legacy of Brown,” Review of Research in Education, (2005): 101–146; Randolph, Adah Ward, “The Memories of an All-Black Northern Urban School: Good Memories of Leadership, Teachers, and the Curriculum,” Urban Education 39, (November 2004): 596–620 and “Resisting Oppression through Education: Ethel Thompson Overby, 1912–1958,” Journal of Black Studies (forthcoming); Walker, Vanessa Siddle, “Organized Resistance and Black Educators’ Quest for School Equality.” Teachers College Record 107, (March 2005): 355–388.

7 Button, H. Warren, “Doctrines of Administration: A Brief History,” Educational Administration Quarterly 2, (Autumn 1966): 216224; Hallinger, Phillip, “The Evolving Role of American Principals: From Managerial to Instructional to Transformational Leaders,” Journal of Educational Administration 30, (1992): 35–48; Beck, Lynn G. and Joseph Murphy, Understanding the Principalship: Metaphorical Themes, 1920s–1990s (New York: Teachers College Press, 1993); Glass, Thomas E., et al., The History of Educational Administration Viewed Through its Textbooks, (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 2004).

8 Bogotch, Ira E., “A History of Public School Leadership: The First Century, 1837–1942,” in Sage Handbook of Educational Leadership ed. Fenwick English, W. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, Sage Publications), 7–33.

9 The bulk of historical studies of educational administration are on district leadership: Tyack, David and Hansot, Elisabeth, Managers of Virtue: Public School Leadership in America, 1820–1980, (Boston: Basic Books 1982); Blount, Jackie, Destined to Rule the Schools: Women and the Superintendency, 1873–1995 (Albany: SUNY Press, 1998); Curtis, Bruce, True Government by Choise Men? Inspection, Education, and State Formation in Canada West (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1992); Callahan, Raymond E., Education and the Cult of Efficiency (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962).

10 Kathleen Murphey's fine study of the late nineteenth century institutional development of Fort Wayne Indiana's school system is one of the few exceptions. Murphey, Kathleen A., “Common School or “Our Best System”? Tracking School Reform in Fort Wayne, Indiana, 1853–75,” Historical Studies in Education 11, (Fall 1999): 188211. See also Murphy, Michael F., “Unmaking and Remaking the “One Best System”: London, Ontario, 1852–1860,” History of Education Quarterly 37, (Fall 1997): 291–310.

11 Blount, Destined to Rule the Schools, 153–56.

12 Barnard, “Henry on the significance of school grading,” in Education in the United States: A Documentary History, Vol. 3, ed. Sol Cohen (New York: Random House, 1974), 1322; McClusky, Frederick Dean, “Introduction of Grading into the Public Schools of New England,” The Elementary School Journal 21 (October 1920).

13 Tyack, David and Hansot, Elisabeth, Learning Together: A History of Coeducation in American Schools (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990), 8283; Prentice, Alison, The School Promoters: Education and Social Class in Mid-Nineteenth Century Upper Canada, (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart), 17; Phillips, Charles E., The Development of Education in Canada (Toronto: W.J. Gage and Co., 1957), 8.

14 Lewy, Rafael Alexander, “The Secondary School Principal in Theory: An Examination of Major Theoretical Trends of the Principalship in the United States Between 1917 and the Early Thirties,” (Ph.D. diss., University of Illinois, 1965), 18.

15 Pierce, Paul Revere, The Origin and Development of the Public School Principalship, (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1935), 1112, 26–27.

16 Fleming, “British Columbia Principals,” 251–52.

17 Pierce, Origin and Development of the Public School Principalship, 40–46, 50–51, 89–99; Lewy, “The Secondary School Principal,” 23.

18 Guillet, Edwin C., In the Cause of Education: Centennial History of the Ontario Educational Association, 1861–1960 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1960), 237.

19 Guillet, In the Cause of Education, 135.

20 Pierce, Origin and Development of the Public School Principalship, 52–53.

21 See for example, “The Brantford ‘School Difficulty'” and “An Inspector Investigates a Local Conflict,” in Prentice, Alison L. and Susan Houston, E., Family School and Society in Nineteenth Century Canada, 107–115, 122–27 (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1975).

22 Lawr, D.A. and Gidney, R.D., “Who Ran the Schools? Local Influence on Education Policy in Nineteenth Century Ontario,” Ontario History 72, (September 1980): 131143.

23 Rice, Joseph Mayer, The Public-School System of the United States (New York: Arno Press, 1969), 113, 149.

24 Cubberley, Ellwood P., “The Principal and the Principalship,” The Elementary School Journal 23, (January, 1923): 342.

25 Quoted in Koos, Leonard V., James Hughes, M., and Percival Huston, W., Administering the Secondary School (New York: American Book Company, 1940), 455.

26 Quoted in Krug, Edward A., The Shaping of the American High School, 1920–1941 (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1972), 160.

27 McClure, Worth, “The Organizing and Administrative Work of the School Principal,” in Modern School Administration: It's Problems and Progress, ed. John Almack, C. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1933), 119.

28 Elsbree, Willard S. and E. Edmund Reutter, Jr., Principles of Staff Personnel Administration in Public Schools (New York: Teachers College, 1954), 231.

29 Quoted in Tyack, David, The One Best System: A History of American Urban Education (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1974), 185.

30 Goodykoontz, Bess and Jessie Lane, A., The Elementary School Principalship (U.S. Department of the Interior Bulletin, 1938, no. 8), 9.

31 Pierce, , Origin and Development of the Public School Principalship, 47–48. See also Vinao, Antonio, “The School Head's Office as Territory and Place: Location and Physical Layout in the First Spanish Graded School,” in Materialities of Schooling: Design, Technology, Objects, Routines, ed. Martin Lawn and Ian Grosvenor (Oxford, Symposium Books, 2005), 56.

32 Krug, The Shaping of the American High School, 162.

33 As cited in Campbell, Roald F., Thomas Fleming, L. Jackson Newell, and John Bennion, W., A History of Thought and Practice in Educational Administration (New York: Teachers College Press, 1987), 175.

34 Glass, The History of Educational Administration Viewed through its Textbooks, 62; Toombs, W.N., “Administrative Requirements of Principals and Superintendents,” Canadian Education and Research Digest, 2 (March 1962): 64.

35 Goldhammer, Keith, “Evolution in the Profession,” Educational Administration Quarterly 19, (Summer 1983): 249272; Hart, Frank W., “Special Certification as a Means of Professionalizing Educational Leadership,” Teachers College Record 27, (1925): 121; Peterson, B.H., “Certification of School Administrators in the United States,” School and Society 45, (1937): 784–86.

36 Toombs, “Administrative Requirements of Principals and Superintendents,” 64.

37 As quoted in Cuban, The Managerial Imperative, 61.

38 As quoted in Pierce, Origin and Development of the Public School Principalship, 82.

39 As quoted in Cuban, The Managerial Imperative, 58–59.

40 As quoted in Krug, Shaping of the American High School, 33.

41 Cuban, The Managerial Imperative, 56.

42 Group Council 29, Bryn Mawr School, Chicago, October 21, 1921, Box 48, Folder August-October 1921, Chicago Teachers’ Federation General Files, Chicago Historical Society.

43 Llewellyn, Kristina R., “Gendered Democracy: Women Teachers in Post-War Toronto,” Historical Studies in Education 18, (Spring 2006): 21.

44 Nelson, Margaret K., “From the One-Room School House to the Graded School: Teaching in Vermont, 1910–1950,” Frontiers: A Journal of Women's Studies 7, (1983): 1420.

45 Quantz, Richard, “The Complex Visions of Female Teachers and the Failure of Unionization in the 1930s: an Oral History,” History of Education Quarterly 25, (Winter, 1985): 439458.

46 Lyons, John E., “Ten Forgotten Years: The Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation and the Legacy of the Depression” in Schools in the West, ed. Sheehan et al., 113–129.

47 Fleming, “Our Boys in the Field,” 290.

48 Urban, Wayne, Why Teachers Organized (Detroit: Wayne University Press, 1982), 30.

49 Margaret Haley's Bulletin, 31 January 1928, 107.

50 As quoted in Callahan, Education and the Cult of Efficiency, 250–51.

51 Pierce, Origin and Development of the Public School Principalship, 175–76.

52 Goodykoontz, and Lane, , The Elementary School Principalship, 4, 7; Hosic, James F., “College Course for Elementary School Principals,” Teachers College Record 27, (1926): 792.

53 Danylewycz, Marta and Prentice, Alison, “Teachers, Gender, and Bureaucratizing School Systems in Nineteenth Century Montreal and Toronto,” History of Education Quarterly 24, (Spring 1984): 75100.

54 As quoted in Weiler, Kathleen, County Schoolwomen: Teaching in Rural California, 1850–1950 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998), 21.

55 Tyack, and Hansot, , Managers of Virtue, 183; Goodykoontz, and Lane, , The Elementary School Principalship, 12; Pierce, , Origin and Development of the Public School Principalship, 172.

56 Fleming, “British Columbia Principals,” 258–59; Kinnear, Mary, “Mostly for the Male Members': Teaching in Winnepeg 1933–1966,” Historical Studies in Education 6, (Spring 1994): 5, 13.

57 Kinnear, “Mostly for the Male Members,” 5; Gelman, Susan, “Women Secondary School Teachers: Ontario, 1871–1930,” (Ph.D. diss., University of Toronto 1994), 8891; Eikenberry, Dan Harrison, “Status of the High School Principal” (Department of the Interior, Bureau of Education. Bulletin 1925, no. 24), 43; Foster, Frank Kale, “Status of the Junior High School Principal,” (Department of the Interior, Bureau of Education. Bulletin 1930, no. 18), 15, 46; Fishel, Andrew and Pottker, Janice, “Women in Educational Governance: A Statistical Portrait.” Educational Researcher 3, (July-August 1974): 4–7; Reynolds, Cecelia, “Naming the Experience: Women, Men and Their Changing Work Lives as Teachers and Principals,” (Ph.D. diss., University of Toronto, 1987), 98–99.

58 Goodykoontz, and Lane, , The Elementary School Principalship, 12; Ayer, Fred C., “The Duties of the Public School Administrator, III,” American School Board Journal 78, (April 1929): 40.

59 Peterson, , “Certification of School Administrators,” 785; Ontario Department of Education, A History of Professional Certificates (Ontario Department of Education: Toronto, 1935), 68.

60 Ayer, “The Duties of the Public School Administrator,” 40.

61 Pierce, , Origin and Development of the Public School Principalship, 188; salary estimates from the annual “Blue Books:” Schools and Teachers of the Province of Ontario (Toronto: Legislative Assembly of Ontario).

62 Pierce, , Origin and Development of the Public School Principalship, 163.

63 Hosic, “College Courses for the Elementary Principal,” 792; Goodykoontz, and Lane, , The Elementary School Principalship, 6.

64 Hart, “Special Certification as a Means of Professionalizing Educational Leadership,” 121; Goodykoontz, and Lane, , The Elementary School Principalship, 17–30.

65 Ontario Department of Education, History of Professional Certificates, 50; Blount, “Manliness and the Gendered Construction of School Administration,” 64.

66 Blount, Jackie M., Fit to Teach: Same-Sex Desire, Gender, and School Work in the Twentieth Century (Albany: SUNY, 2005), 84. See also Lugg, Catherine A., “Sissies, Faggots, Lezzies, and Dykes: Gender, Sexual Orientation, and the New Politics of Education?” Educational Administration Quarterly 39, (February 2003): 95–134.

67 Pierce, , Origin and Development of the Public School Principalship, 175–76. There was also an “age penalty” that subtracted points for any principal applicant over the age of 54, thereby flatly denying experienced teachers credit for their years of work.

68 For one unique exception to the exclusion of women through certification, see Drummond, Anne, “Gender, Profession, and Principals: The Teachers of Quebec Protestant Academies, 1875–1900,” Historical Studies in Education 2, (Spring 1990): 5971.

69 Cited in Blount, Destined to Rule the Schools, 123.

70 Weiler, , Country Schoolwomen, 240.

71 Stamp, Robert M., The Schools of Ontario 1876–1976 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1982), 208.

72 Stokes, Shirley, “The Career Patterns of Women Elementary School Principals in Ontario,” (master's thesis, University of Toronto, 1974), 1.

73 Schools and Teachers of the Province of Ontario.

74 Kanter, Rosabeth Moss, Men and Women of the Corporation (New York: Basic Books, 1977); Kwolek-Folland, Angel, Engendering Business: Men and Women in the Corporate Office, 1810–1930 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994).

75 Shakeshaft, Charol, Women in Educational Administration (Newbury Park, CA: Sage, 1989), 20; Porat, Karin L., “The Woman in the Principal's Chair in Canada,” Phi Delta Kappan 67, (December 1985): 297–98; McDonough, Bernice, “Women Haven't a Chance in Our School System,” The B.C. Teacher 46, (May-June 1967): 354–56; Kinnear, “Mostly for the Male Members,” 3–5.

76 Department of Elementary School Principals, National Education Association, The Elementary School Principalship in 1968 (Washington, DC: Department of Elementary School Principals, 1968).

77 Walker, Vanessa Siddle, Their Highest Potential: An African American School Community in the Segregated South (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996); Rodgers, Frederick A., The Black High School and its Community, (Lexington, MA: Lexington Books, 1975); Morris, Vivan Gunn, The Price They Paid: Desegregation in an African American Community (New York: Teachers College Press, 2002).

78 Tillman, “African American Principals and the Legacy of Brown,” 102; Irvine, Jacqueline Jordan, “An Analysis of the Problem of Disappearing Black Educators,” The Elementary School Journal 88, (May 1988): 509.

79 Tillman, “African American Principals,” 109.

80 Irving, J. and Scott, E., “The Professional Functions of Negro Principals in the Public Schools of Florida in Relation to Status,” The Journal of Negro Education 13, (Spring 1944): 171, 73.

81 Ibid.

82 Butler, Johnny S., “Black Educators in Louisiana: A Question of Survival,” The Journal of Negro Education 43, (Winter 1974): 22.

83 Cited in Tillman, “African American Principals,” 112.

84 Karpinksi, “Bearing the Burden of Desegregation,” 251. Hooker., RobertDisplacement of Black Teachers in the Eleven Southern States,“ Afro-American Studies 2, (December 1971): 165180; Johnson, Simon O., “A Study of the Perceptions of Black Administrators Concerning the Roles of the Black Principal in Florida During the Period 1973–78,” The Journal of Negro Education 46, (Winter 1977): 53; Abney, Everett E., “The Status of Florida's Black School Principals,” The Journal of Negro Education 43, (Winter 1974): 3–8.

85 Tillman, “African American Principals,” 112–13.

86 Education Writers Association, “Searching for a Superhero: Can Principals Do it All?” Washington, DC: Educational Writers Association, 2002.

87 Tillman, “African American Principals,” 112–13.

This essay was the History of Education Society Presidential Address delivered at the joint annual meeting of the History of Education Society and the Canadian History of Education Association, Ottawa, October 2006.

The author thanks the following for their help with the essay's conception and construction: Catherine Lugg, Jim Burchyett, Bob Hampel, Wayne Urban, Richard Quantz, Harry Smaller, Kim Underwood, Kathleen Knight Abowitz, Adah Ward Randolph, and Cecelia Reynolds.


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