Column: Voting for teachers in the 1800s

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Commentary by Robert Bowling 

We have all had that one teacher who left an impression on us or helped us to become a better version of ourselves. Hamilton Southeastern Schools has some of the best and most qualified teachers in Indiana. A good reason for that is the teachers’ union that works to represent their interests within the school system. Teachers enter into a contract with HSE that lays out their benefits and obligations. Grievance procedures also are laid out and in the unlikely event that a teacher must be terminated, the teacher is afforded certain rights.

Well that was a far different story prior to 1880. Teachers were not guaranteed a job year after year.  School meetings were held yearly, similar to school board meetings. Teachers were voted on by the citizens of the community. Everyone could vote even if they had no children in the schools. The only people that could not vote were minors and married women (unmarried or widowed women were allowed.) These meetings usually became very heated and on more than one occasion, it resulted in fights. Those that were defeated for a teaching position would take their aggression out on the victors and occasionally, a parent would join in the fray.

In the 1880s, a law was passed forbidding the voting of teachers. At the time, the various townships operated the schools. In 1852, a law was passed giving the township trustee power over the schools and many people equated that power to that of a dictator. Teachers were no longer voted on but instead they were given 60-day contracts. They served at the will of the trustee and could be terminated after just two months. This was the norm until the early 1900s.

In addition, a school year was just six months and in 1887, teachers were paid $240 a year and were paid monthly.

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