Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 March 2010
Through a comparative historical analysis of the American states, I show how public education was the original policy field through which white American women became empowered as voters and political officials. Women's changing status within the education profession and “school suffrage” rights are an important and overlooked aspect of women's political history, and the rural orientation of state governments and women's increasing administrative authority as county superintendents and rural supervisors of education was pivotal to women's political empowerment. Women's authority, however, varied across regions and across states, with women's authority especially strong in Western states. I find that women in the field of public education were most empowered where there was a history of school suffrage rights, where administrative offices were elective rather than appointed, and where the power of the state superintendent of public instruction was weak. These findings suggest that democratic institutions, more than economic development or state capacity, were fundamental to women's increasing authority in the policy domain that commanded the largest share of state and local resources at the time.
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16. The best contemporary account of women's office holding in the 1920s is Breckinridge, Women in the Twentieth Century, chap. XVIII. At the state level, prior to 1920, women held appointed positions on library boards, on state boards for charities or corrections, and as heads or assistants of schools for the blind and deaf and children's bureaus. However, prior to 1920, elective office holding at the state level seems to have been unique to the field of public education. The only exception noted by Breckinridge was Kate Barnard, who was elected Commissioner of Board of Charities in Oklahoma around 1906, a position she helped to create at the state constitutional convention. After 1920, women's hold on other elective offices increased. At the county level in Texas in 1929, 109 women were county treasurers, whereas only 47 county superintendents were women. Breckinridge noted, “The schools have long been considered the special responsibility of women. Their concern with fiscal responsibilities is more surprising,” (ibid., 335). At the state level in the legislatures, women's presence increased as well: in 1921, there were 37 women state legislators; by 1929, there were 149. Most were from Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Vermont, which had very large legislative memberships. At the national level, elected women were quite rare. Janette Rankin from Montana was the first female member of Congress. By 1930, 12 other women had been sent to Congress. I expect that many of them had strong careers in public education in their states. In the executive branch, the most common route to office holding was through the civil service, opened to women in 1919. By 1931, women held 16 percent of about 600,000 positions. There were women office holders in the post office as well: From 1919 to 1929, female postal workers increased from 255 to 940, or about 10 percent to 17 percent of the total (ibid., 311). Finally, presidents appointed women to be heads and assistant heads of the Federal Children's Bureau, created in 1912, and the Women's Bureau in the Department of Labor, created in 1918. Many lower-level positions in those bureaus were staffed by women as well. Notably, the only other assistant head to be appointed by a president prior to 1930 was Dr. Bess Goodykoontz, who became Assistant Commissioner of Education. Finally, women received non-presidential appointments, too, among them heads of the Army and Navy Nursing Corps.
17. For a very recent exception on antebellum United States, see Bonica, Joseph, “The Motherly Office of the State: Cultural Struggle and Comprehensive Administration before the Civil War,” Studies in American Political Development 22 (Spring 2008)Google Scholar. The ties between education and state development have been more deeply researched by educational historians outside of political science, especially David Tyack and associates. See Tyack, David B. and Cuban, Larry, Tinkering toward Utopia: A Century of Public School Reform (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1995)Google Scholar; Tyack and Hansot, Managers of Virtue; Tyack, David B., James, Thomas, and Benavot, Aaron, Law and the Shaping of Public Education, 1785–1954 (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1987)Google Scholar. In social science scholarship, two books stand out: Katznelson and Weir, Schooling for All; Peterson, Paul E., The Politics of School Reform, 1870–1940 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985)Google Scholar.
18. Skocpol, Protecting Soldiers and Mothers, 88–92; Peterson, The Politics of School Reform, 1870–1940.
19. Katznelson and Weir, Schooling for All.
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21. The consensus in public policy circles is that local control is the foundational, genuine political tradition in American public education. For example, see Howell, William G., ed., Besieged: School Boards and the Future of Education Politics (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2005)Google Scholar; Peterson, Paul E., “The New Politics of Choice,” in Learning from the Past: What History Teaches Us About School Reform, ed. Ravitch, Diane and Vinovskis, Maris (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995)Google Scholar.
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23. The dollar amounts in Figure 2 are aggregates of local and state resources. To look only at revenues from state taxes would be hugely misleading because local funds typically originated in state-legislated mandates and incentives.
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35. Unfortunately, occupational data from the 1930 census is unavailable.
36. Typing positions sometimes paid more than teaching, which helps to explain the rise in number of typists relative to teachers. See Kessler-Harris, Alice, Out to Work: A History of Wage-Earning Women in the United States (New York: Oxford University Press, 1982), 147–149Google Scholar.
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44. For a fuller account of such discourses that focuses on Massachusetts and the national influence of Horace Mann, see Joseph Bonica, “The Motherly Office of the State”.
45. Quoted in Lyman Draper, Wisconsin State Superintendent of Public Instruction, “Tenth Annual Report on the Condition and Improvement of the Common Schools and Educational Interests of the State of Wisconsin,” (Madison, WI: Atwood & Rublee, Printers,1858): 121–22.
47. On the role of Whig political ideology, see Kaestle, Pillars of the Republic, 45–48. On the history of Normal schools, see Fraser, Preparing America's Teachers, chap. 3; Ogren, Christine A., The American State Normal School: An Instrument of Great Good (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005)CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Although most Normal schools were the creatures of state governments and funded by them, they were not universally state institutions. Many large cities had their own public Normal schools. In the South, private Normal schools were common. Although some Normals were open for women only, most were coeducational, and none were exclusively open for men.
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53. Originally, the most outspoken actors were John Donnelly (R-MN) and James Garfield (the later president; R-OH). Donnelly first proposed a bill for the establishment of a Department of Education on 14 December 1865, but the bill was tabled immediately. Several months later on 5 June 1866 with a shift in rhetoric, Garfield proposed HR 276 to establish a National Bureau (rather than Department) of Education. See U.S. House, Congressional Globe. 39th Congress, 1st and 2nd Sessions (1865–67).
54. There were other sex-integrated civic organizations, and the NEA was not the most egalitarian. That distinction would go the Granges, which specified that key offices would be held by women, in addition to whatever office they might hold also open to men. However, the NEA appears to be the first professional sex-integrated organization. See Underwood, June O., “Civilizing Kansas: Women's Organizations, 1880–1920,” in History of Women in the United States, Volume 16: Women Together: Organizational Life, ed. Cott, Nancy F. (1992 [originally published 1984])Google Scholar; Skocpol, Theda, Ganz, Marshall, and Munson, Ziad, “A Nation of Organizers: The Institutional Origins of Civic Volunteerism in the United States,” American Political Science Review 94, no. 3 (2000): 534Google Scholar.
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63. The minutes are documented in “Comments in Business Meeting” (Annual Proceedings of the National Education Association, Boston, 1910).
64. West, The National Education Association, 6.
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67. Though it is beyond the period of this paper, it should be noted that by 1942, these bans reached their peak, with 87 percent of respondent towns reporting marriage bans and 70 percent reporting retain bans. By 1950, they were rapidly disappearing, with 18 percent reporting marriage bans and 10 percent reporting retain bans. See Goldin, Understanding the Gender Gap: An Economic History of American Women, Table 6.1.
68. Claudia Goldin persuasively argues that the Great Depression was not alone responsible for the emergence of marriage bars in teaching (they were also common in clerical work) and that it is “inconceivable that marriage bars could have gained such wide acceptance during the Depression had previous policies not existed and had social consensus not been built around them.” See ibid., 166.
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72. Goldin, Understanding the Gender Gap: An Economic History of American Women, 170.
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85. Colorado also granted full suffrage in 1893, but unlike Wyoming, Utah and Idaho, the territory of Colorado had passed a distinct school suffrage law in 1876, prior to a full suffrage law.
86. On marital status as an obstacle to citizenship, see Ritter, Gretchen, “Gender and Citizenship after the Nineteenth Amendment,” Polity 32, no. 3 (2000)Google Scholar; Ritter, Gretchen, “Jury Service and Women's Citizenship before and after the Nineteenth Amendment,” Law and History Review 20, no. 3 (2002)Google Scholar.
87. As discussed above, martial status did matter consequentially in the right of women to teach in the schools because that right would undermine the male breadwinner model of family life. However, such laws limiting the right of women to teach were very rarely the outcome of state legislatures. Rather, locales made such decisions. Where local districts did prohibit single women from teaching, the main reason seems to have been a sanctioned economic affirmative action for men. This was especially true in the 1930s when jobs were fewer. See Keesecker, “The Legal Status of Married Women Teachers,” 346–49.
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93. State politics, for example, are inconspicuous in Katznelson and Weir, Schooling for All; Peterson, The Politics of School Reform, 1870–1940.
94. See also Michael B. Katz, Class, Bureaucracy, and Schools: The Illusion of Educational Change in America, Expanded ed., Praeger University Series (New York: Praeger, 1975); Katz, Michael B., “The Origins of Public Education: A Reassessment,” History of Education Quarterly 16, no. 4 (1976)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
95. Committee of Twelve on Rural Schools, “Report on Rural Schools,” U.S. Department of the Interior, Report of the Commissioner of Education for the Year 1896–97, Vol. 1 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1898)Google Scholar, Chapter XVII, 846.
96. Blount, Destined to Rule the Schools, 42.
97. Committee of Twelve on Rural Schools, “Report on Rural Schools,” 815.
99. The verbal distinction between the rural or county superintendent and the rural supervisor was first made by Katherine Cook in her 1922 report for the U.S. Bureau of Education. Prior to that report, it was common to use these terms interchangeably, as was done by the NEA Committee of Twelve in 1895. See Katherine M. Cook, “Supervision of Rural Schools,” U.S. Department of Interior, U.S. Bureau of Education, Bulletin No. 10 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1922): 2.
100. Blount, Destined to Rule the Schools, 43.
101. Committee of Twelve on Rural Schools, “Report on Rural Schools,” 859–60.
102. Quoted in Blount, Destined to Rule the Schools, 172.
103. Angenette J. Peavey, “Tenth Biennial Report,” Colorado Superintendent of Public Instruction, (Denver, C.O.: The Smith-Brooks Printing Co., 1896): 7.
104. This exchange of professional expertise for moral purity occurred in other policy fields as well. For example, Elisabeth Clemens argued that once women won the suffrage, they tried to “reinvent the relationship between voting and citizenship through the elevation of a standard of nonpartisanship” that “promised to create is own hierarchy of voting citizens, which distinguished the educated and disinterested voter (many of them elite women) from the obedient, uneducated person (thought to include working class men, racial minorities, and immigrants). See Clemens, Elisabeth Stephanie, The People's Lobby: Organizational Innovation and the Rise of Interest Group Politics in the United States, 1890–1925 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997), 349Google Scholar.
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106. In the North, these offices were usually established by law so the state could guarantee that rural schools met the conditions specified by law before sending them state aid. In the South, state supervisors of rural schools were appointed to assist the General Education Board and the Southern Education Board. See Katherine M. Cook and A.C. Monahan, “Rural School Supervision,” U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Bureau of Education, Bulletin No. 48 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1916): 8–9.
108. Comments from Burkes are from her report to Katherine M. Cook and A.C. Monahan at the U.S. Bureau of Education. See ibid., 54–56.
109. Julian Butterworth, “The County Superintendent in the United States,” U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Bureau of Education, Bulletin No. 6 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1932); Walter H. Gaumnitz, “Status of Teachers and Principals Employed in the Rural Schools of the United States,” U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Bureau of Education, Bulletin No. 3 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1932); A.C. Monahan and C.H. Dye, “A Comparison of the Salaries of Rural and Urban Superintendents of Schools,” U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Bureau of Education, Bulletin No. 33 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1917).
110. Monahan and Dye, “A Comparison of the Salaries of Rural and Urban Superintendents of Schools.”
111. On the relation between professional, expertise, and the state, see Rueschemeyer, Dietrich, “Professional Autonomy and the Social Control of Expertise,” in The Sociology of the Professions: Lawyers, Doctors, and Others, ed. Dingwall, Robert and Philip Simon Coleman Lewis, (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1983)Google Scholar; Carpenter, Daniel P., The Forging of Bureaucratic Autonomy: Reputations, Networks, and Policy Innovation in Executive Agencies, 1862–1928 (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2001)Google Scholar, chap. 1; Weber, Max, From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology, trans. Mills, C. Wright and Gerth, Hans Heinrich (New York: Oxford University press, 1958)Google Scholar, chap. VIII, sections 1, 7, and 13.
114. Blount, Destined to Rule the Schools, 180–83.
115. In 1910, all states had developed county-level governments in public education administration except for some of the Northeastern states: Maine, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Delaware, and Ohio.
116. I used random effects instead of fixed effects because one of the major factors of interest, the woman suffrage rights regime, does not vary over time.
117. Support for woman's suffrage laws was not found to be related to the passage of mother's pension laws in a study by Skocpol, Abend-Wein, and Goodrich Lehman. They used a dichotomous indicator for the states, depending on women possessing full suffrage in the state prior to the Nineteenth Amendment. The suffrage index here reflects more variation in the context of the woman's suffrage and it is centered on the passage of school suffrage laws. The logic of the typology is similar to that constructed by Skocpol et al. for the timing of mother's pensions laws. See Skocpol et al., “Women's Associations and the Enactment of Mothers' Pensions in the United States,” 687, 90.
118. See Beeton, Beverly, Women Vote in the West: The Woman Suffrage Movement, 1869–1896 (New York: Garland Publications, 1986)Google Scholar; Cole, “A Wide Field for Usefulness.” For a specific study on attitudes towards the woman educator in the West, the best study remains Kaufman, Polly Welts, Women Teachers on the Frontier (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984)Google Scholar.
119. This classic political culture argument is from Elazar, Daniel Judah, American Federalism: A View from the States, 2nd ed. (New York: Crowell, 1972)Google Scholar. State specific studies remain the best guide to assessing political culture, however. Separate studies of New Jersey and Connecticut for example each found, not surprisingly, that women had considerable in school politics despite the low levels of superintendent office holding. See Crocco, Margaret Smith, “Women of New Jersey: Charting a Path to Full Citizenship, 1870–1920,” New Jersey History 115, no. 3 (1997)Google Scholar; Nichols, “Votes and More for Women: Suffrage and after in Connecticut.” In addition, in the South, there certainly differences in women's roles across the states. Although women in North Carolina held almost no county superintendencies, their influence in matters of public education was still considerable. See Leloudis, James T. II, “School Reform in the New South: The Woman's Association for the Betterment of Public School Houses in North Carolina, 1902–1919,” Journal Of American History 69, no. 4 (1983)Google Scholar.
120. Cnudde, Charles F. and McCrone, David J., “Party Competition and Welfare Policies in the American States,” American Political Science Review 63 (1969)Google Scholar; Ranney, Austin, “Parties in State Politics,” in Politics in the American States: A Comparative Analysis, ed. Jacob, Herbert and Vines, Kenneth Nelson (Boston: Little, Brown, 1976)Google Scholar; Brown, Robert D., “Party Cleavages and Welfare Effort in the American States,” The American Political Science Review 89, no. 1 (1995)Google Scholar.
121. For studies of women's direct involvement with political parties, see Dinkin, Robert J., Before Equal Suffrage: Women in Partisan Politics from Colonial Times to 1920 (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1995)Google Scholar; Edwards, Rebecca, Angels in the Machinery: Gender in American Party Politics from the Civil War to the Progressive Era (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997)Google Scholar. See Berman, David, “Male Support for Woman Suffrage: An Analysis of Voting Patterns in the Mountain West,” Social Science History 11 (1987)Google Scholar. For a more general account that also includes a study of Southern Populists who showed little support for woman suffrage, see Marilley, Suzanne M., Woman Suffrage and the Origins of Liberal Feminism in the United States, 1820–1920 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1996)Google Scholar.
122. I also estimated ordinary least squares (OLS) regression models for 1910 and 1930 using more detailed information about club activity and membership in those years. In 1910 the GFWC collected information about the involvement of its affiliates in educational activity. In the 1910 model alone, this activity was insignificant. Reports from the U.S. Bureau of Education on MCPTA compiled membership information by state for those organizations. In OLS models for 1930, the membership strength of the associations was not found to be a significant predictor of women's office holding.
123. Urban, Gender, Race and the National Education Association, 20–27.
124. Kessler-Harris, Out to Work, 147–49.
125. The best study on women's surprisingly high rates of college attendance during this time period is Gordon, Lynn D., Gender and Higher Education in the Progressive Era (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990)Google Scholar.
126. I also estimated OLS models for each year that included partisanship. In none of the models was the measure of partisanship found to be statistically significant.
127. On the great controversy on what effects woman suffrage actually had on empowering women, see Harvey, Votes without Leverage, 4074–08; Dinkin, Before Equal Suffrage, 101–103; Kraditor, The Ideas of the Woman Suffrage Movement, 1890–1920, 49, 218; Nichols, “Votes and More for Women”; Degler, Carl N., At Odds: Women and the Family in America from the Revolution to the Present (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980)Google Scholar. However, several studies of particular states, as mentioned above, found that school suffrage rights were associated with meaningful gains in women's office holding, as the present study also indicates.
128. Blount, Destined to Rule the Schools.
129. Prior to the Civil War, this was certainly the case. See Bonica, “The Motherly Office of the State.”
130. Reid, “‘A Career to Build, a People to Serve, a Purpose to Accomplish,’” 73.
131. Koven and Michel, “Womanly Duties.”
132. This disjuncture faced women in other domains of social policy as well. See McDonagh, “The ‘Welfare Rights State’ and the ‘Civil Rights State.’”