Edward P. Weston
December 1, 1864
Edward P. Weston, of Gorham, served as the State Superintendant of Common Schools (Public Schools) throughout the Civil War. As more and more young men went off to war, Weston became increasingly concerned about the drain on the supply of teachers in grammar and high schools.
At that time, women taught only the very young children in primary schools. The prevailing sentiment was that women lacked the physical strength and commanding authority to deal with bigger boys in the grammar schools and high schools.* The older students attended school during a winter term; while classes for small children, taught by women, were held in summer.
By 1863, the lack of male teachers became acute. Schools began hiring females to teach in the upper grades. A year later, Superintendent Weston circulated a questionnaire to local school superintendants to determine what effect the experiment was having.
Weston then summarized the responses in his Annual Report to the Governor and Maine Legislature.
"Some female teachers are better than some male teachers anyhow" wrote one respondent from Chesterville.
Other responses were very favorable: "They have been quite equal to the males." "We would prefer an efficient female teacher to an ordinary male." "Three female teachers were employed in this town last winter, who were quite successful."
Occasionally, such as in Gardiner, the apprehension about female physical weakness was borne out: "In many schools we find female teachers to be quite as successful as males. In one instance a female has succeeded where male teachers had almost invariably failed. There are, however, some scholars who need to be subdued by the physical strength of a man."
Another respondent, from Jefferson, was favorable, but hedged his answer: "Good, but the schools were easy to govern."
Some local superintendents, such as Gouldsboro, ("Generally a disadvantage to the schools,") Standish, ("Not very favorable,") and Manchester, ("In some instances we think the change for the better, but not generally,") reported moderate failures.
No town suggested that the experiment be totally discontinued, or that there were no women capable of teaching in the upper grades.
After reviewing the returns, Superintendant Weston concluded that "the experiment is on the whole successful and in most cases a decided gain … well qualified ladies will necessarily come into greater demand for this work. But it is to be hoped that peace will restore to the ranks of the profession very many competent teachers and disciplinarians who have been serving their country in the armies of liberty and union."
- Why might women not been allowed to teach older students?
- What impact would this experiment have on Maine education in the future?
*Corporal punishment was legal at this time.