Rules for Teachers in 1872 & 1915: No Drinking, Smoking, or Trips to Barber Shops and Ice Cream Parlors


No one would call this the golden era of teaching, not with school budgets getting slashed, state governors routinely scoring political points at teachers’ expense, and the federal government forcing schools to teach to the test. But if today’s teachers are feeling beleaguered, they can always look back to a set of historical “documents” for a little comfort. For decades, museums and publishers have showcased two lists — one from 1872 (above) and another from 1915 (below) — that highlight the rigorous rules and austere moral codes under which teachers once taught. You couldn’t drink or smoke. In women’s cases, you couldn’t date, marry, or frequent ice cream parlors. And, for men, getting a shave in a barber shop was strictly verboten.

But are these documents real?

On its web site, the New Hampshire Historical Society writes that “the sources for these ‘rules’ are unknown; thus we cannot attest to their authenticity—only to their verisimilitude and charming quaintness.” “The rules from 1872 have been variously attributed to an 1872 posting in Monroe County, Iowa; to a one-room school in a small town in Maine; and to an unspecified Arizona schoolhouse. The 1915 rules are attributed to a Sacramento teachers’ contract and elsewhere to an unspecified 1915 magazine.” According to Snopes, the fact-checking web site, the 1872 list has been “displayed in numerous museums throughout North America,” over the past 50 years, “with each exhibitor claiming that it originated with their county or school district.” Heck, the lists even appeared in the venerated Washington Post not so long ago. Here are the rules:

Rules for Teachers – 1872

1. Teachers will fill the lamps and clean the chimney each day.
2. Each teacher will bring a bucket of water and a scuttle of coal for the day’s sessions.
3. Make your pens carefully. You may whittle nibs to the individual tastes of the pupils.
4. Men teachers may take one evening each week for courting purposes, or two evenings a week if they go to church regularly.
5. After ten hours in school, the teachers may spend the remaining time reading the Bible or other good books.
6. Women teachers who marry or engage in improper conduct will be dismissed.
7. Every teacher should lay aside from each day’s pay a goodly sum of his earnings. He should use his savings during his retirement years so that he will not become a burden on society.
8. Any teacher who smokes, uses liquor in any form, visits pool halls or public halls, or gets shaved in a barber shop, will give good reasons for people to suspect his worth, intentions, and honesty.
9. The teacher who performs his labor faithfully and without fault for five years will be given an increase of twenty-five cents per week in his pay.


 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 PM and 6 AM unless attending a school function.
4. You may not loiter downtown in ice cream stores.
5. You may not travel beyond the city limits unless you have the permission of the chairman of the board.
6. You may not ride in a carriage or automobile 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 at least once a day, scrub the floor at least once a week with hot, soapy water, clean the blackboards at least once a day, and start the fire at 7 AM to have the school warm by 8 AM.

via Peter Kaufman, mastermind of the Intelligent Channel on YouTube.

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Comments (29)
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  • krisbei says:

    I dread to think what den of iniquities these ‘Ice-Cream Parlours’ were.

  • mindofsound says:

    When reading antiquated stuff like this it’s hard to figure how they could be so irrational, and how they could presume to tell their employees what not to do in their personal lives. Reading these rules, my only conclusion is that the person who wrote them was a stupid jackass. Telling your teachers not to go get ice cream is like telling some guy at the bus stop not to eat bananas. It’s just arbitrary and overstates their authority. If my boss issued a rule telling me not to eat ice cream I’ll say, “OK, and on that note I don’t want you drinking iced tea.” My authority to issue that order is equal to his.

  • Dwaelf Wanderer says:

    Unfortunately, rules such as this do not overstate the authority of the employers of the times. Personally, I think telling someone with a dark skin colour that they can’t get on the same bus as me is even more insane, but that was still the law in the US in my lifetime. So were jokes made on TV that would be found offensive and discriminatory now for gender, preference and many other reasons.nWonder what rules we think are acceptable now will be unacceptable in 50 years time?

  • Johnny says:

    Image what people in 100 years will say about our rules today.

  • Sheila Hobbs Wilcox says:

    I worked in the Pupil Records Department of a public school district for many years. In the back of an old file cabinet I found student attendance books dated around 1895 to 1905. Several pages in the front of each book contained these same rules. The books are now part of the collection of the local museum.

  • Trisha Melvern says:

    These are quite interesting rules. If only tis is still practiced now. That could be something. Thanks!

  • JBGIV says:

    Fictional rules, never sourced of course.n

  • Elizabeth Thomas says:

    You mean… we don’t have to scrub the floors now?

  • Cassan says:

    What is never mentioned in discussing these lists, real or not, is that similar ones applied to all other occupations at the time as well. All employees were filling lamps and cleaning chimneys, and everyone was judged for how they behaved in public. These lists tend to polarize around the alleged oppression of teachers, but there are and always were people far more oppressed who are left out of the conversation by virtue of the list being presented without context.

  • Mary M says:

    Cleaning the “Chimney” doesn’t mean cleaning what is part of the fireplace… The glass part of an oil lamp gets blackened from the soot the blame makes …. That’s the part that needed to be cleaned daily .

  • cisamrita says:

    That are really very interesting and good rules, if everyone follows it in..nn

  • Herbie May says:

    The article refers to the authenticity of the rules. They are remarkably similar to rules for nurses- see link below. A strange coincidence or just taken from a common template?

  • Jaytee says:

    Yeah, today these rules seem arbitrary and stifling.
    But in those days when most of the families in rural areas were working from dawn until dusk and the 8 hour work day was a dream of the future, a “professional” teacher lollygagging at the ice cream parlor in the afternoon might have made them seem a slacker in their job.

    Most of Teacher’s students ran home after school to do farm chores until supper.
    My grandmother was a teacher (1925 – 1936) and was criticized by the preacher at Sunday dinner (eating Sunday dinner at the preacher’s house was a requirement for the teachers in that small rural district) for being so bold as to get her hair bobbed. She had red hair and I don’t think he approved anyway. ;)

    Can’t ride in an auto with someone other that your dad or brother?
    She fixed that. Went in with her teacher friends and they bought their own auto. She and her teacher friends spent a month every summer traveling and camping out of that old model A, motoring to a different destination (on roads that pre dated the interstate highways) each summer: Yellowstone park, Glacier park, New York City, the Grand Canyon, Yosemite and the Redwood forest, and Washington D.C.

  • Tracy Lawson says:

    Snopes has debunked these lists and says they’ve been around, in one form or another, since the 1930s, and are likely not authentic.

    Here are 1870 Rules and Regulations for the governance of public schools, and none of the rules mentions the dating life of the teachers.

    I had seen the 1872 and 1915 “rules” and sought them out again while doing research for a nonfiction book, in which one of the subjects was a divorcee teaching school in 1880. I thought the divorce would have rendered her ineligible to shape young minds, but evidently that was not the case.

  • Telise Maquaire says:

    Actually, I am a substitute teacher and I follow all the rules above except for the length of skirt and room maintenance. I wear black as a type of uniform. I am not married nor do I travel. I am home by 8 and up by 6. I wouldn’t say a jackass wrote these rules. I think someone who had been teaching and understood the all encompassing commitment it takes, wrote these rules. During those times, of wild west type behavior with men, carrying guns, drinking etc.I’m sure many of these rules were meant to protect vulnerable women. Context is everything.

  • Bob says:

    Johnny, I wasn’t aware that the teachers had any rules today. Other than collect their paycheck.

  • Kathy Harkness says:

    I have no opinion on the authenticity of these particular rules, but my grandmother was a private kindergarten teacher in Terre Haute, Indiana in the 1930s and appearing in public without gloves and hat was grounds for dismissal.

  • Ray Jones says:

    Maybe if we had rules like these today, we wouldn’t have so many women teachers sleeping with their students.

  • Current Teacher says:

    Wow! Nice Ray, because we know that it only happens with teachers and that men NEVER do things like that! The media makes a bigger deal out of the women, the stories about the misjudgements of men just got old!

  • Brent Woods says:

    I agree with the article that the authenticity of this set of rules is in question. However, the concern about a teacher hanging around in an ice cream parlor was not with eating ice cream. Rather, it was that they would be getting too familiar with the kids outside of school time. They were expected to maintain a “professional distance”.

  • Mary says:

    Why could teachers, 1800’s, not get shaved in a barber shop?

    Thx u

  • Mark A Dierker says:

    My grandmother taught and was later an administrator in small country schools and later district school systems from the 1920’s through the 1960’s in West Central, IL. She was not allowed to marry until she retired as a teacher and became an administrator.

  • S says:

    Barbershops were riotous. Gossip and “lies” amd comedy and loose talk.Before television entertainment was found where people gathered.

  • WTryb says:

    I’m surprised with how restrictive the rules were, and they still had people who were teachers.

  • Fred Bologna says:

    Appears to be a teacher now u have to attend and participate in a BLM riot.

  • Dave Snider says:

    It seems that children were better educated, better mannered, and our public schools were much safer in those days.
    Our children were taught more about real academics and less about political indoctrination.
    The students parents were very much involved in the system as well as the community religious leaders. It was not simply a government entity .
    We can be offended and argue the way it was then governed but i believe the results it produced generally speaking justified it.

  • Herbert Sweet says:

    Let us not forget that an airline hostess, until quite recently, had to remain single.

  • Jo says:

    Is the rule list from 1915 from a credible source? If so where can I find it and what is the credible source?

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