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.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

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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?‑list-of-rules-for-nurses-from-1887/

  • 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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