Rules for Teachers, 1905 and 1872

During my recent visit to the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum in Walnut Grove, I had a good laugh reading two lists of rules on the walls of the little schoolhouse.

(I should note that the 1872 rules are considered by many to be a hoax, even though the list appears in several museums.)

Rules for Teachers (1915)

1. You will not marry during the term of your contract.

2. You are not to keep company with men.

3. You must be home between the hours of 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. unless at a school function.

4. You may not loiter downtown in any of the ice cream stores.

5. You may not travel beyond the city limits unless you have permission of the chairman of the school board.

6. You may not ride in carriages or automobiles with any man except your father or brother.

7. You may not smoke cigarettes.

8. You may not dress in bright colors.

9. You may under no circumstances dye your hair.

10. You must wear at least two petticoats.

11. Your dresses may not be any shorter than two inches above the ankles.

12. To keep the classroom neat and clean you must sweep the floor once a day, scrub the floor with hot soapy water once a week, clean the blackboards once a day and start the fire at 7 a.m. to have the school warm by 8 a.m. when the scholars arrive.

School Rules (1872)

1. Will fill lamps, trim wicks and clean chimneys.

2. Each morning teacher will bring bucket of water and a scuttle of coal for the day’s session.

3. Make your pens carefully. You may whittle nibs to the individual taste of the pupils.

4. Men teachers may take one evening each week for courting purposes or two evenings a week if they attend church regularly.

5. After 10 hours in school the teachers may spend the remaining time reading the Bible or any other good book.

6. Women teachers who marry or engage in unseemly conduct will be dismissed.

7. Every teacher should lay aside for each pay day a godly sum of his earnings for his benefit during his declining years so that he will not become a burden on society.

8. Any teacher who smokes, uses liquor in any form, frequents pool or public halls, or gets shaved in a barber shop will give good reason to suspect his worth, intention, integrity, and honesty.

9. The teacher who performs his labor faithfully and without fault for five years will be given an increase of $.25 per week in his pay providing the Board of Education approves.


Barrett Chase

about 12 years ago

These may seem comical, but these laws -- well, the spirit of them anyway -- lived on well into modern times. Even in the 1960s, married teachers could be fired for getting pregnant. These days, some private schools will still fire teachers for getting pregnant out of wedlock or for attending a pro-choice rally. 

Public school teachers enjoy much more protection for the most part. But don't expect your university to give you a teaching degree if you've committed any truly terrible offenses, such as wearing a pirate hat and drinking from a plastic cup.

Chester Dark

about 12 years ago

Great poem, Barrett!

I like how they couldn't loiter 'downtown' in any of the ice cream many loopholes in that one. What if it's on the edge of downtown? What if they loiter outside the ice cream stores? What if they go to the ice cream store but eat their sundae r e a l....s l o w?


about 12 years ago

What's wrong with barber shops?


about 12 years ago

What percentage, exactly, is a "godly sum"?

And how does getting shaved in a barber shop relate to my "honesty"?

My new favorite all-purpose phrase: "Whittle nibs"...

"What are you up to?"
"Oh, not much. Just whittling nibs."

"Wanna go in the bedroom and whittle my nib?"

"Oh, that guy? He's a total nib whittler."


about 12 years ago

"My new favorite all-purpose phrase: "Whittle nibs"..."

I'm in.

I assume a godly sum (unless it is a typo from goodly) is referring to how much of your paycheck you are supposed to give to the church.


about 12 years ago


about 12 years ago

I'd gather a "godly" / "goodly" sum to be understood at the time as the tithe equivalent (10%).

The Big E

about 11 years ago

Having worked in a museum once upon a time, I wouldn't necessarily put great faith in the historicity of everything one finds in one.

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