1850's Educators


Jean-Jacques Rousseau

It is not sufficient merely to say to the citizen, be good; they must be instructed to do so, and even example, which is in this respect the first lesson is not the only means to be employed; love one's country is the most efficacious; for, as I have already observed, every man is virtuous when his particular will is conformable to the general will of the community, and we are naturally led to have the same inclinations as those we love.

Miscellaneous works of J. J. Rousseau, Volume II, p. 12.

Ultimately, Rousseau’s quote embodies the vision of teachers – instruct and inspire the children to be good, to love the country, and to love the community. Proper role models will teach children citizenship and responsibility, as well as the traditional educational subjects. Rousseau also believed that it was the instructor’s responsibility to protect the child from the evils of the world.

Over the course of the 19th century, the authority for teacher licensure passed from religious sources to civil authorities. Given the former licensing body, it is no surprise that the chief requirement for teachers was a good moral character. Later requirements were knowledge of subject matter taught and knowledge of instructional pedagogy. These criteria were assessed through examinations – an oral examination by the licensing body during the earlier part of the century, and a longer, written examination as the century went on. Passing the short examination was the only requirement for the teaching license, and once the educator was certified, he/she was certified for life. Many teachers in the 19th century became teachers because they were unable to do the work they had done for many years.

Teacher Training Curriculum

Teacher training differed vastly in rural and urban environments. Many institutions were founded for the purpose of training teachers, including state normal schools, teacher institutes, and normal classes incorporated into advanced level studies. Not all areas had each type of institution, and the powers governing each school had many different responsibilities and views of the institution’s administration.

Urban teachers attended state and private normal schools for pedagogy training after the normal school’s founding in 1839. The marked growth of cities led to normal courses being offered at the high school level to help fill the need for elementary educators. The high school normal courses were controlled by the city’s board of education, which could change admission requirements appropriately to supply the needed numbers of teachers. They were also more exacting in their local requirements, which enabled them to make the periodic changes in admission policy without jeopardizing pupil’s licensure. However, the state normal schools offered more potential for observation and practical experience than the normal courses in a high school curriculum.

Rural teachers generally attended teacher’s institutes, where potential teachers received reviews of subjects taught in country schools. To supplement, tutoring opportunities were available in advanced subjects, and successful teachers gave lectures on principles and methods of education. The institute would end with a preparation course for the licensure examination.

Amount of Education

Early in the century, people described their education in terms of progress made through a few subjects they formally studied. Even in urban schools, with graded classes, the student completed, on average, 3 years of schooling. Given that so few had anything but an elementary level education, licensing requirements were changed after the 1860’s to increase the specificity of subjects the candidates would be examined on, and to increase the difficulty of the licensing exam. Around 1870, 98% of students enrolled in school were still classified under a high school level.

Knowledge Examined

Before 1840, many states asked that the “literary qualifications” of potential teachers be examined. Pennsylvania was the first state to name subject competency as a requirement for educators, in 1834. 1841 brought legislation that teachers should also be tested on spelling, arithmetic, geography, history, and English grammar. This edict was duplicated by many states. Some states, like Michigan, required only knowledge of elementary subjects, the ability to teach school, and good moral character. They adopted the above requirements in 1867.