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Gender and Professionalization: An Institutional Analysis of Teacher Education and Unionism at the Turn of the Twentieth Century

by Andrew Gitlin - 1996

The central thesis of this article is that professionalization projects, such as those endorsed by normal schools and schools of education, contributed to vertical and horizontal divisions of labor by constructing differing views of professionalization, which became associated with and gave institutional support to gendered assumptions about women and teaching in general. Local unions, such as the Chicago Federation of Teachers, provided a counterforce to these divisions of labor, by skirting concerns about certification and instead working directly with practicing teachers on issues of authority and autonomy. Unfortunately, these efforts by local unions often occurred within the shadow of national associations that tried to balance the interests of educational administrators and teachers. This balance limited the influence of local proposals that challenged menís advantage relative to women in the educational community.

The central thesis of this article is that professionalization projects, such as those endorsed by normal schools and schools of education, contributed to vertical and horizontal divisions of labor by constructing differing views of professionalization, which became associated with and gave institutional support to gendered assumptions about women and teaching in general. Local unions, such as the Chicago Federation of Teachers, provided a counterforce to these divisions of labor, by skirting concerns about certification and instead working directly with practicing teachers on issues of authority and autonomy. Unfortunately, these efforts by local unions often occurred within the shadow of national associations that tried to balance the interests of educational administrators and teachers. This balance limited the influence of local proposals that challenged men’s advantage relative to women in the educational community.

Education continues to go through cycles of change with proposals for excellence, followed by decentralization initiatives, followed by attempts to establish national standards.1 What has remained consistent, however, for more than a century is the goal of professionalization.2 While it is true that at certain times this direction has not been emphasized, schools of education, teachers, and reformers generally have viewed professionalization as a good, as an important positive step in improving educational practices and relations.3 This wide-ranging endorsement of professionalization, which finds current expression in documents such as those produced by the Holmes group,4 however, has obscured some of the hidden consequences of this oft-cited educational goal, not the least of which is its impact on gender relations within the educational community.

To illuminate the relation between professionalization and gender, this article revisits historical accounts of professionalization, but puts these accounts together in a unique way. The most important accounts of professionalization look at how normal schools evolved into teachers colleges and teachers colleges into schools of education.5 Unfortunately, framing the issue in terms of the evolution of one teacher education institution into another does not adequately illustrate how in the critical years around the turn of the twentieth century conflicting professionalization projects were embodied within various institutions, such as normal schools and schools of education within universities. Furthermore, because this evolution of teacher education institutions is often separated from the professionalization literature on unions, the relationship between unions and teacher education institutions, as concerns professionalization, is often obscured. Given that this article is particularly interested in how institutions struggling over professionalization were influenced by gendered relations and in turn influenced those relations, this institutional history is framed such that the relations between normal schools, schools of education, and unions at the turn of the twentieth century can be illuminated.6

This article focuses on the years from 1880 to 1920, when normal schools, schools of education, and unions had institutionalized differing notions of professionalization. In large measure, schools of education focused on the liberal arts and the importance of scientific research, normal schools emphasized experience as a form of knowledge and practical methods, and unions, especially local unions like the Chicago Federation of Teachers (CFT), took a more explicitly political approach to professionalization that concentrated on relations and structures that would protect and enhance teacher autonomy and authority. It is surely not the case that all normal schools, schools of education, and unions adopted these positions; rather, these characterizations of professionalization projects reflect the different foci of the various institutions.7

By pointing to these contrasting views of professionalization, it is possible to scrutinize the influence of the institutionalization of professionalism on existing vertical divisions of labor where “women as a group are disadvantaged relative to men in terms of pay and the conditions under which they labor,” and horizontal divisions of labor, where “women are concentrated in particular types of work.”8 What this article offers, therefore, is not original evidence on professionalization, but rather a slightly different take, a sociological gaze if you will, on existing data that can point to the “hidden curriculum” of professionalization.

The thesis of this article is that professionalization projects, such as those endorsed by normal schools and schools of education, contributed to vertical and horizontal divisions of labor by constructing differing views of professionalization, which became associated with and gave institutional support to gendered assumptions about women and about teaching in general. Local unions, such as the CFT, provided a counterforce to these divisions of labor by working directly with practicing teachers on issues of authority and autonomy. Unfortunately, these efforts by local unions often occurred within the shadow of national associations that tried to balance the interests of educational administrators and teachers. This balance limited the influence of local proposals that challenged men’s advantage relative to women in the educational community.


Before discussing the relationship between professionalization and gendered divisions of labor, it is necessary to say a few words on professionalization. In this institutional study, unions adopted what might be called a “political” approach to professionalization that focused on enhancing the material work conditions and benefits of teachers. This political approach was carried out under two very different scenarios. In the first, the interests of administrators and secondary and grade school teachers were assumed to be complementary and in the second these interests were seen as potentially conflictual. In the first scenario, efforts were made to improve work conditions for those in the educational community; in the second, efforts were made primarily to improve the material work conditions of women grade school teachers, who were seen as marginalized within the educational community. As might be expected, these two types of political approaches to professionalization had different implications for gendered divisions of labor. In contrast to these differing political approaches, what seems to link both the efforts of normal schools and schools of education is that both institutions adopted what might be called a “functionalist” view of professionalization.

From a functionalist point of view, professionalization projects undertaken by postsecondary institutions bring together two sets of interests: those of the institution that provides the professional credential and those of the members of the occupational community who stand to benefit from the professionalization effort. When successful, functionalist attempts to professionalize a particular group enable the members of the occupation to make strong claims in terms of job opportunities, decision-making autonomy, and working conditions. Howsam and colleagues, for example, in their book Educating a Profession, state that effective professionalization efforts often result in the “profession being . . . granted autonomy in control of the actual work of the profession and the conditions which surround it.”9 The institution, on the other hand, also benefits from these sorts of professionalization efforts by acting as a gatekeeper for entrance into the profession. By doing so, the institution can gain in terms of prestige, increased student enrollments, and the resulting financial benefits.10

The seemingly win-win scenario associated with functionalist perspectives of professionalization, however, becomes somewhat murky when one considers the challenges associated with achieving professional status. One of those challenges is to convince dominant groups within society (e.g., those who would hire future members of an occupation or others in positions of power who might benefit directly or indirectly from the creation of a certain class of experts) that those entering their programs have the potential to be effective future members of the occupation and that the educational experiences offered represent a legitimate form of knowledge—knowledge that is viewed as being foundational for occupational performance. In this sense, functionalist professionalization projects cannot be separated from ideological assumptions about particular societal groups, such as men and women, and epistemological assumptions about legitimate ways of knowing, such as through scientific research, experience, and so forth. Functionalist professionalization projects must find ways to garner the trust and confidence of those in positions of power within society in terms of the legitimacy of the knowledge offered and the qualities of the applicants.11 These types of professionalization projects, as a consequence, may have unexpected results. “Women’s” professions, for example, may find functionalist professionalization projects inherently contradictory because the means to achieve professionalization require that professionalization projects reinforce ideological assumptions and stereotypes about this group, and require them to use particular ways of knowing to which they have limited access. Conversely, if ways of knowing are endorsed that do not satisfy the view of dominant groups concerning legitimate knowledge, then not only will the occupational group not attain professional “benefits” but stereotypes about the occupational group may be reinscribed.

In this institutional sketch, it will be argued that teacher education institutions adopted functionalist views of professionalization at the turn of the twentieth century that were shaped in conflictual ways because institutional survival and success encouraged particular and differing approaches to the construction of legitimate knowledge and student selection. These conflicting strategies reinforced particular gendered assumptions about teaching, women, and their relations to men in the educational community. By doing so, functionalist attempts to professionalize teachers acted to give institutional force to horizontal and vertical gendered divisions already found within the educational community. The political approach endorsed by unions that viewed the interests of the educational community as potentially conflictual, such as the Chicago Federation of Teachers, had the potential to challenge gendered divides, but these efforts were largely unsuccessful because they operated within the shadows of other political approaches, such as those endorsed by national unions, that approached their professionalization projects with an acceptance of the newly constructed educational hierarchies found within the educational community.


For the first two decades of the nineteenth century, teachers typically had little or no formal training. This lack of formal training led to some pointed attacks by prominent educational policymakers on the education offered in common schools.

The common schools for children, are, in not a few instances, conducted by individuals who do not possess, one of the qualifications of an instructor; and in many cases, there is barely knowledge enough to keep the teacher at a decent distance from his [students].12

These criticisms, in turn, encouraged proposals to professionalize teaching through the establishment of normal schools. By the third decade of the nineteenth century, normal schools provided opportunities for teachers to receive formal training. Getting teachers to enroll in these institutions was viewed as an important part of the process of improving teaching and schooling. Most universities at this time did not move in the direction of developing professional schools of education, because they viewed a liberal arts education as their primary function.13

The rapidly expanding need for teachers due to the common school movement, along with the development of a number of new service occupations at the turn of the century, however, created the demand for experts who could use their specialized knowledge to supervise and manage these new or expanding occupations. The universities viewed this demand for experts as an opportunity to increase their student population and develop better community relations, thereby softening criticism that universities had little or no interest in local affairs.14 There was still some pressure from within the university to avoid “vocational” coursework that would challenge the long-standing tradition of liberal arts education, but the pressures of the market and the need to develop somewhat better relations with the community made professional schools a viable strategy. Heading into the twentieth century, therefore, both normal schools and schools of education had developed professionalization projects. Universities were first developing their efforts while the well-established projects of normal schools were increasingly coming under attack.


By 1900 the normal school was a well-established institution with over a half century of experience in the field of teacher education. While this institution would continue to change in the coming years, it never wavered from the goal of professionalization. Deyoe, for example, argues in his book on curricular trends in the normal school that three types of nonprofessional education were offered at the normal schools he surveyed (forty-five representative institutions in thirty-three states) between the years 1902 and 1933: secondary education, collegiate education, and vocational education. In 1902–1903, secondary education was offered in 24 percent of the normal schools, in 1912–1913 in 27 percent, and in 1922–1923 in 9 percent. In 1902–1903 collegiate education was offered in 4 percent of the normal schools, in 1912–1913 in 9 percent, in 1922–1923 in 20 percent. In 1902–1903 vocational training was offered in 13 percent of normal schools, in 1912–1913 in 13 percent, and in 1922–1923 in 16 percent.15 What these percentages suggest is that while normal schools greatly expanded their collegiate orientation during the early twentieth century, their primary business was still the education of teachers. As Deyoe argues in his summary of the data, these data indicate that “for the past thirty years [1900–1930] there has not been any marked tendency for increased proportions of state normal schools to adopt functions of non-professional nature.”16

Normal school scholars such as H. J. Steer believed that “we can never hope to raise teaching to a profession until we establish professional schools to prepare teachers for such work.”17 The normal school “sought to be a peoples college tied closely to the local community and eager to serve students without any special desire for the high-brow culture of the traditional colleges.”18 The importance of close links with the community was voiced by scholars such as Homer Seerley, one of the key figures in the normal school movement from Iowa, who noted at the turn of the twentieth century that “any institution that does not recognize that its mission is not confined to its campus hardly deserves to be classified as a factor in modern educational endeavor.”19 In particular, as Charles Harper, an educational leader from State Normal University, notes, normal schools were to remain “close to the needs of public schools and the public at large.”20

In large measure, this open-access orientation to professionalism was forced on normal schools because other institutions would not admit young women.21 Harper reports that in the years between 1860 and 1900 eastern normals, because of their emphasis on elementary education, catered almost exclusively to women while the normals in the West and the South had on average a 75 percent female student population.22

To facilitate this open-access orientation to professional training, the normal school emphasized experiential methods. Deyoe, for example, notes in his accounting of normal schools that by 1912–1913 general methods courses were offered in 86 percent of the schools surveyed (forty-five institutions in thirty-three states), a course covering observation, participation, and teaching in 100 percent of the schools surveyed, and a school management class in 67 percent of the schools surveyed. In contrast, subjects like philosophy were offered in only 21 percent of the schools surveyed and a course on professional ethics in only 9 percent.23 Charles DeGarmo, an educational policymaker and a key actor in the establishment of the Illinois State Normal School, noted the importance of this experiential curriculum in a paper presented at the 1883 National Teachers Association: “The normal school should include the presentation of model teaching for observation, practice teaching for prospective teachers, experimentation to evolve new techniques, and the setting of standards for the common school.”24 Harper reinforces this point when he states that the model and practice schools became the most distinctive trait of the normal school.25 In fact, the term normal school comes from the French word “norme, ”meaning model or rule.26 Normal schools based their professionalization project on translating theory into practice through the use of “model” schools where actual results “would furnish an illustration of better methods of instruction . . . then (sic) the district school, as it is, can now provide.”27 Some of the practical topics recommended for the normal school curriculum included:

The circumstances which make a teacher happy

Causes of failure for teaching

The keeping of registers of attendance and progress

The opening and closing exercises

The use and abuse of corporal punishment

Prizes and Rewards

Modes of interesting and bringing forward dull, or backward scholars [students]

Modes of preventing whispering, and communication between scholars [students] in school28

One strong example of the normal schools’ reliance on experience came in the form of Francis Parker’s work with the Chicago Normal School, where in effect he shifted the emphasis from subject matter to the student.29 This child-centered approach was predicated on teachers’ assuming a policymaking role: “The aristocratic traditional system with the teacher as drill master was to be supplanted by the democratic classroom guided by a creative artist who motivated each child to his highest potential.”30 Further support for the argument that normal schools emphasized experience and a more applied approach to education comes from texts developed specifically for normal schools. Emerson E. White in 1901, for example, produced a manual for normal schools entitled The Art of Teaching.31 This manual, which covers such areas as methods of instruction, the test, oral instruction, and teaching pupils in classes, begins with a rationale for the practical/experiential orientation found in the normal school:

An obvious advantage in the separate treatment of the art of teaching is its practical removal from the domain of philosophy and especially the uncertain philosophy of education. Many conscientious teachers have been baffled in their earnest but vain attempts to apply some new philosophy of education in the details of actual teaching. . . . In the study of methods it has been the author’s aim to treat thoroughly and practically those that are generic and comprehensive, presenting them in the light of fundamental principals of teaching and also in the light of the best practical experience.32

Normal schools not only deemphasized subjects like educational philosophy and endorsed methods used by successful practitioners but they viewed reflection on experience as a way of knowing that would provide the practitioner with an “independence of thought” from subject matter experts. Lightner Witmer, in his 1902 manual entitled Analytical Psychology, articulates the importance of this perspective for normal school students:

The formation of correct habits of inductive reasoning, through training in psychological methods of thought, is of no small importance to any student; it is indispensable to students of pedagogy in normal schools, who require not only knowledge of the fundamental principles of psychology, but also some independence of thought and action. . . . This Manual can render no more gratifying service than that of diverting those who are destined to become teachers from an unwholesome subservience to psychological and pedagogical authorities toward a confident self-dependence upon their own powers of observation and reflection.33

Continuing this type of rationale, W. A. Clark, in his 1915 Syllabus of Psychology, argues that what is most important for normal school students is not scientific knowledge but knowledge of oneself:

The principle purpose of this course is to give the student such a knowlege of himself and of the rational control of his own experiences as will secure the integrity of character and efficiency in the affairs of his daily life. Even for normal school students . . . the essential fact sought to be realized by the instruction is a well-knit manhood and womanhood through a clear knowledge of self.34

The normal schools’ emphasis on experience contrasted dramatically with the emphasis in schools of education, as Ira Samuel Griffith notes in his manual on industrial arts:

Two methods of procedure are common in the preparation of teachers. One, most common in colleges and universities stresses theory of teaching, emphasis upon principles of generalized information. The other, most common in normal schools, emphasizes the mechanics of teaching.35

The importance of experience, in terms of knowledge production, was also evident in the normal schools’ emphasis on hiring experienced teachers as opposed to more theoretically minded, research-trained academics. To share the insights gained through experience, summer conferences, in which those teaching at the normal school could be informed by the insights of practicing teachers, also became a regular part of normal school life.36 As Harper argues, the relation between normal schools and common schools was quite close. “The normals first found out what the public schools were doing and then without attempting to speak in terms of finality, proceeded to improve upon the existing practices.”37

Normal schools added an ethical/moral dimension to their professionalization projects. They insisted that teachers be instilled with a type of commitment, a sense of being called, “a sense so strong that one would persist in service regardless of the difficulties entailed or the temptations of other activities.”38 This orientation to professionalization is evident in the admissions policy of the New Britain normal school in Connecticut, which lists one of its requirements as

the common school spirit—if need be, a martyr spirit, to live and die, for the more thorough, complete and practical education of all the children of the State in the common schools—to be made, by their exertions, in cooperation with parents and school officers, good enough for the best, and cheap enough for the poorest.39

One important aspect of the normal schools’ professionalization project, therefore, was to produce teachers who embodied this commitment and dedication to teaching.

This professionalization project, with its emphasis on experience and commitment, was roundly criticized by men and especially by male administrators.40 Those with university training, in particular, were quite pointed in their criticisms of the normal school. They argued that unless the normal schools abandoned their reliance on practical experience, “this haphazard empiricism would not be accepted as truly professional by the more traditional learned professions.”41 Because it was assumed by those within the university that practitioners could not produce quality research, it was also recommended that normal schools hire professors with a university (research) background.42

By the end of the second decade of the twentieth century, these criticisms, along with the meager support given by the state and low tuition fees, created a situation in which normal schools found themselves fighting for their survival. Institutional survival depended on attracting large numbers of students as well as better-qualified students, who would require less remedial work and therefore not dilute the curriculum offered. To increase their enrollments and attract such students, normal schools had to make changes in their hiring policies and curriculum. Normal schools did change. They hired more “academic” faculty members and moved slowly away from a practice orientation.43 These moves were taken to increase enrollments and to improve the status of the institution. Doing so meant making the institution more acceptable to men. One way normal schools responded to this perceived need to draw men to the institution was by adding courses such as “administration and supervision” to the curricula and requiring this course for the training of secondary teachers.44 Men would not only increase enrollments in this female-dominated institution45 but also bolster the professional status of the institution by challenging the perception that teaching was a women-dominated occupation. As Clifford notes:

How, it could be asked, might teaching ever aspire to the status of a profession when so many practitioners were women, especially single women on whom teaching relied because of pervasive regulations against employing married women teachers? The apparent answer was that it could not be professionalized.46

The strategy to move away from practice and to hire more research-orientated faculty failed for several reasons. First, this institution simply did not have the faculty to move beyond haphazard empiricism and conduct “scientific” research. Second, while these changes did make the institution more acceptable to some men, these men often cast doubt on the professional mission of the institution. One survey of men in normal schools conducted in 1914 indicated that 78 percent did not intend to teach and because of their lack of interest in professional training became a “disintegrating element”: “As a group the men in the normal schools seem to be a disintegrating element. Yet the efforts made to attract and retain them indicate that their presence is nevertheless preferred to a homogeneous professional group largely composed of women.”47 To further complicate the situation, the hiring of nonpractitioners split the faculty in terms of both gender and authority. The normal school of New York, for example, employed both tutors (practitioners) and professors (nonpractitioners). The professors acted as departmental chairs while the tutors taught most of the classes. The professors were all men and all tutors except one were women. When the professors did teach, it was subjects like teaching theory and philosophy, while tutors taught penmanship, bookkeeping, free-hand, and drawing. Finally, while a woman was selected on an annual basis to serve as a lady superintendent, she had no authority in terms of running the departments and instead was “responsible for the manners and morals of the students.”48 This same trend was evident in Wisconsin normal schools, where “male teachers were concentrated in math and Latin and female teachers taught courses in English, history, drawing, and model departments.”49

The professionalization project of the normal schools evolved as this institution moved forward into the twentieth century. In part, this was because of a crisis of survival that required that the institution improve its status and expand its population of students. By making the institution more acceptable to men, however, the normal school altered the content of the curriculum and allowed gendered assumptions about women to place them in a hierarchical relation to men within the faculty. Having women in a tutoring role while men held administrative positions and taught theory courses, for example, could do little but cast doubt on the legitimate authority of women and therefore teachers in general.

The project of professionalization of the normal schools was informed by gendered assumptions and had implications for gendered divisions of labor. The initial open-access policy combined with an emphasis on experience and commitment provided distinct opportunities for women both as students in the normal school and later as returning faculty who had taught in the common school for several years. Ogren, for example, argues that within normal schools in Wisconsin “women and men could function as intellectual equals” and there was “a tradition of women educating women.”50 The assumption embodied in this approach to professionalization seemed to be that teaching was a women’s profession that required certain dispositions, such as commitment, rather than exposure to distinct, specialized forms of knowledge. It is also clear, however, that dominant groups in society, such as male industrialists who viewed science as a necessary part of increasing control, production, and efficiency,51 had little confidence in the experiential emphasis embodied in the normal school or the quality of the candidates who entered this institution. Normal schools’ functional approach to professionalization, as a consequence, did not garner their trust and thus did not act to uplift the authority, status, and work conditions of teachers. Given that normal schools failed to enhance the professional status of teachers, the institution lost status, as did the women- dominated student population when compared with schools of education, which were clearly making inroads in their quest to achieve a functional view of professionalization. Furthermore, by associating professionalization with a “calling,” a commitment to persevere regardless of the circumstances, normal schools were actually paving the way for a compliant work force that could be easily administered by others—men.

As the project of professionalization changed over time by moving away from practical experience and emphasizing hiring more research-oriented faculty in an attempt to attract a larger male population, the professional mission of the normal school became fragmented, with most of the men showing little or no interest in teaching. In addition, women practitioners had fewer opportunities to return to the normal school as faculty, and when they did, they often were under the supervision of research-trained academics who for the most part were men. Finally, these strategic moves did not satisfy the requirements of a functional view of professionalization and therefore did not bring forth any particular benefits for women and teachers in general.


The rapid expansion of the high school at the turn of the twentieth century increased the need for teachers. For the normal school this was a mixed blessing because the increase in available students was accompanied by competition from the high school, which provided a way for students to bypass the normal schools’ certification programs. The normal school responded to this dilemma by making the institution acceptable to a wide variety of students. Schools of education had a different response to the expansion of the high school. In contrast to the normal schools’ professionalization projects, which provided open access and emphasized experience and methods, schools of education centered their professionalization projects on exclusiveness—training educational leaders—and the importance of subject matter expertise, and scientific knowledge. Earl Barnes reflects this view in his description of the newly developed school of education at Stanford:

Thus it will be seen that our work is not intended primarily to fit students for the grammar grade and lower high school positions in California. That work is being admirably done by the normal schools under the direction of the State. Our aim is instead to turn out a few thoughtful, well trained men and women with a scientific knowledge of children, with some experience in examining educational problems at first hand, with a good knowledge of the development of the human mind in the past, and fairly well acquainted with the best thought and practice in educational matters at present. Such men and women we expect will go out and become leaders in educational work.52

To achieve the aim of training educational leaders, Stanford’s school of education developed the following curriculum in 1893: two history of education courses, one that dealt with the development of European intellect and the other confined to American development; a seminary class that would focus on the development of the common school system in California and the development of the American university; and a course devoted to children that would center on comparative and statistical studies, reviews of studies already made and printed, and direct studies of children.53 While this curriculum did pay some attention to the activities of schoolchildren, it is clear that the focus was much more on liberal studies, policy issues, and the scientific understanding of educational problems than was the case in the normal schools.

Scientific knowledge was the linchpin of this approach because it promised to provide the specialized knowledge associated with successful professionalization projects. Charles Judd, a prominent professor at the University of Chicago, championed this approach to knowledge production by stating that

we measure the results of school work today with a precision far beyond anything that we hoped for two decades ago when the measurement movement was in its infancy. . . . I hold that teacher education institutions of this country have it as their major duty to study educational problems critically and scientifically and to make available for the whole teaching profession the best results of such study.54

At the school level, it was also argued by advocates such as Joseph Rice that science could provide the basis for a type of supervision that would divorce schools from politics and improve teachers’ intellectual and professional competence.55 Schools of education, therefore, would train the more prestigious secondary teachers based on scientific findings, and train the educational supervisors in scientific methods so they could more effectively supervise/control teachers in general.

Some prominent educators, such as Paul Hanus of Harvard, took exception to this scientific movement and initially fought these reform proposals. By the beginning of the second decade of the twentieth century, however, most university schools of education based their professional teacher education courses on the doing of scientific research. One indication of this trend is that not only did statistics replace history at Harvard in 1911, but Harvard began losing students to Teachers College, Columbia University, as Teachers College moved in the direction of scientific research.56 By 1913 even Hanus changed his view and maintained that “unless the validity of educational opinion is established by verifiable data which any technical informed person can appeal to [colleges of education] are practically helpless.”57

Even though the scientific approach gained momentum in schools of education, normal school scholars initially dug in their heels, maintaining that this method excluded not only practitioners but the world of practice itself.58 These criticisms of scientific research found a receptive voice among a few of the “old guard” such as Henry W. Holmes of Harvard, who stated that “science could take away as much as it gave.”59

For the most part, however, normal schools’ reluctance to move in the direction of scientific research at the turn of the century cast doubt on their professionalization project, with its emphasis on experience. Again, Judd was quite outspoken on this point and insisted that teaching experience was a handicap not an asset in terms of admission to a university teacher education program.60 Alexander Inglis of Harvard added to this critique of experience by saying that “an able person would be sick of kids by the time he was 35.”61 Others at Harvard also noted that a focus on practice would attract “academically weak students.”62 Outside of the objections of a few critics of scientific research, its promise of objective findings, the authority given to those who produced knowledge in this way, and its ability to distinguish schools of education from the “haphazard empiricism” of the normal schools made this type of research the overwhelming choice of professionalization projects undertaken by schools of education.

Another part of the professionalization project of schools of education that had its roots in the early nineteenth century was its emphasis on liberal arts training with particular attention paid to subject matter specialization. In part, this emphasis was based on a unique understanding of what was required to be a good teacher. The first universities in the United States, in the early nineteenth century, thought of good teachers as those who focused on the “entirety of educational and social experience” and developed “men of intelligence.”63 A liberal arts education was thought to provide the best basis for such intelligence. The importance of this liberal emphasis was apparent to those who started the school of education at Stanford:

The aim of our work in the department is, in the first place, to give a liberal training. . . . Coming to our own time we inquire how, judging from the experience of the past, we can best perpetuate and extend our own ideals. It is the history of civilization studied with special reference to the problems of education. These studies are made up in large part from the original sources.64

The professionalization project of schools of education, with its emphasis on both liberal arts and scientific research, was directed at the educational elite—those leaders who would shape the nature of educational policy and influence those working at the level of practice. Beginning in the late 1880s and continuing into the twentieth century, many schools of education tried to recruit only the best-educated teachers and thus gain an upper hand on the normal school in training future educational leaders. Normal school scholars protested this “aristocratic” tendency but influential university policymakers such as Harvard’s Charles Eliot viewed this strategy as the only way to “increase the authority and intellectual excitement of the teachers’ job.”65 In practice what this meant is that Harvard would emphasize the training of administrators at the graduate level rather than the training of undergraduate teachers. When practitioners and administrators did take similar courses, “separate sections for prospective teachers and aspiring superintendents or high school principals were formed.”66 This emphasis on the training of administrators had a direct payoff, in that these educational leaders no longer had to develop relations with the local community to gain a superintendency; instead, university training would enable them to compete successfully for educational leadership positions.67

In many ways the functionalist professionalization project of the schools of education with its exclusive selection process and focus on scientific research helped establish trust with dominant societal groups who viewed this type of training as an important part in producing what they viewed as desirable citizens and workers. Those enrolled in the university, as a consequence, made some headway in gaining professional status. As was true of the normal schools, however, gendered assumptions were embedded within the professionalization projects undertaken by schools of education. On the one hand, the move to scientific research had a dramatic influence on women because they had few opportunities to develop such expertise given their limited access to university training. (This point is discussed in detail below.) Furthermore, the one source of knowledge that women readily had available to them—teaching experience—was largely discounted. On the other hand, men had greater access to scientific knowledge through university training, and therefore were able to solidify their position as educational policymakers and supervisors of those functioning at the level of practice; in other words, they started to establish hegemony within the field of education. In this sense, professionalization projects were shaped by gendered assumptions and had implications for gendered divisions of labor.

One implication of the connection between gendered divisions of labor and professionalization is that the push to professionalize teaching resulted in the professionalization of teacher educators and those managing the educational process.68 Teaching, as a practical activity, lost status and prestige if for no other reason than that those with “professional” training were managing others who had for the most part gained practical knowledge at the normal schools. One indication of this decline in prestige is that training institutions such as normal schools and teachers colleges began to change their names and remove the word teacher or normal from the title in order to retain and recruit students.

The teachers college has never quite succeeded in developing the prestige it needs to attract outstanding students in large numbers. An institution called a state college or simply a college, always seems more highly regarded and better able to attract students, faculty and public support than does the teachers college. That this should be true is a sad commentary . . . on the importance of the teacher, but it is true.69

Schools of education embodied internal tensions. The push for teacher professionalization did help men, administrators, and teacher educators at the university gain authority. At the same time, the exclusionary nature of the professionalization project actually diminished the prestige of the most common form of teaching—elementary education. Further, the stance taken by schools of education toward professionalization, especially when looked at in relation to the professionalization project of the normal school, fragmented the educational community along gender lines. A unified project, therefore, became impossible. The projects that did develop in normal schools and schools of education were shaped more by the interests of institutional survival—especially those challenges posed by a changing and expanding educational market—than the professionalization of teachers.


During the last two decades of the nineteenth century schools of education and normal schools had established professionalization projects that were in direct competition with each other. Normal schools, with their focus on experience, practical methods, and the inculcation of teacher commitment, tried to attract enough students to survive, while education schools with their focus on liberal arts and scientific research focused on “high-caliber” students who could bring prestige to the institution. While the functionalist project endorsed by schools of education seemed to be gaining legitimacy, the normal school project was coming under increasing attack from educational leaders and, in particular, men. As Powell notes:

Whatever might have been the possibilities of Massachusetts normal schools . . . they attracted large numbers of less educated and less privileged students. Men avoided them almost entirely, and the growth of women’s colleges siphoned off from them an increasing number of ambitious and more privileged women. Male high school principals perceived a growing educational and social-class schism between their own ambitions and the reality of the normal schools, and saw no benefits to be derived from closer affiliation with them.70

The criticism of the students who attended normal schools was added to growing complaints about the normal school faculty. Flexner, who was commissioned to study the normals schools in Maryland in 1916, for example, concluded that the administrative leadership within normal schools “has at times been totally inadequate. . . . Lacking funds to employ qualified and trained teachers, the school has appointed to its staff its own recent graduates. Inbreeding has thus gone on with its usual bad effects.”71 The normal schools’ reliance on experience as a basis for knowledge was also criticized by those endorsing a more scientific research approach. What was required, according to scientific advocates such as Charles Judd from the University of Chicago, was a process of fact-gathering that was more systematic, controlled, experimental, and quantitative.72 These attacks on normal school students, faculty, and the construction of knowledge not only put normal schools on the defensive but lent support to the orientation to professionalism offered at the university, which was more selective in admitting students, clearly relied on scientific research, and had well-established faculty with “academic” credentials.

This “competitive” situation had a direct effect on women. Where the normal school had focused on “the training of female teachers for the common schools,”73 it is apparent that this institution did not offer this occupational group much in the way of prestige, especially in comparison with schools of education within universities. The development of schools of education within universities promised not only additional opportunities for women but opportunities to enter prestigious institutions that viewed their role in professionalization as primarily focused on the training of educational leaders. As Hanus, a prominent administrator who paved the way for a school of education at Harvard, noted, “school administrators seemed more important than teachers because their role was to direct education conceived as a social force.”74 Unfortunately, the establishment of professional schools did little to enhance women’s opportunities because they were denied access, limited by quotas, or segregated in a sister institution. In 1910, Stanford established quotas for women. Harvard, during this same time, limited women’s access by cutting back on coursework in elementary education, which has been and continues to be dominated by women. In addition, all married women were virtually barred from receiving fellowships, thereby limiting further women’s access to higher education.75 A study by Durbin and Kent that focused on postsecondary educational opportunities for white women in 1900 concludes that women had the greatest access to normal schools and that in general postsecondary opportunities for women “were clearly tailored toward the traditional clustering of women’s roles around children and the family.”76 In contrast, they suggest that men’s postsecondary educational opportunities emphasized leadership and occupational roles.77

Women’s limited access to schools of education at this time appears linked, in part, to gendered assumptions. Cubberley, the dean of the school of education at Stanford, for example, questioned the abilities of women by stating that “what teachers need more than anything else is a knowledge of democracies’ needs and problems and of the conditions to be met. Our teaching force is composed largely of women and women are seldom interested by nature in this point of view.”78 Judd, a professor at the University of Chicago and a leading educator at the turn of the century, used much the same argument in assessing the problems of teacher education at the end of the first decade of the twentieth century:

Many of the graduates of American schools are immature girls who have had no contact with the great industrial machinery of modern life. They are ignorant of government in all except its most formal aspects. They may know there is a president in Washington who has a cabinet but it is safe to venture the statement that not one-tenth of one percent of them know anything about the Bureau of Standards or about the markets information service of the department of agriculture.79

These doubts about women’s abilities were so deeply ingrained that in 1909 the Harper commission, which was set up to reform schooling and teacher education, introduced a proposal to differentiate salary based on sex, with men receiving higher salaries. The commission inserted this recommendation because it “believed that male teachers were more adequate authority figures than the female teachers, with greater stamina and influence over boys. Obedience not merely sugar coated willfulness, is a needed part of every child’s education for citizenship.”80

Over time, women did enter institutions of higher education in increasing numbers. This change, however, signaled not so much a lessening of gendered assumptions but rather the fact that universities had been overbuilt and women accounted for two-thirds of the high school graduates.81 Not surprisingly, therefore, increased access seemed to do little to change women’s relation to men in the field of education—in part because women were treated differently from men and at times segregated from them. At the University of Wisconsin, for example, women were segregated in a separate building called the Female College during the middle years of the nineteenth century. Even when this university became officially coeducational in the last decades of the nineteenth century, “segregation and the attitudes which had created it, continued to influence the college experience of women into the early twentieth century.”82 This segregation was endorsed by the “president of the University of Wisconsin [who] proposed that classes be separated by sex. As late as 1909–13, female students were still segregated in the back of some classrooms as noted in a student’s diary: ‘There are three times as many fellows as girls but girls get the back seats.’ ”83

Teachers College, Columbia University, provides another case in point. In 1898, Teachers College entered into a formal alliance with Columbia. Those who helped develop this institution were interested in building an institution “worthy of university status.”84 To do so, they would stress educational theory and the doing of research. In short order this approach to teacher education was so successful that several scholars commented that “the College was emerging as an institution comparable in almost every respect with the existing professional schools of Columbia University”85 and gaining recognition as “the unquestioned international center of the university study of education.”86 However, as Teachers College gained a reputation as a prestigious center of educational thought in the first decade of the twentieth century, those in power at Columbia worried that increasing numbers of women within Teachers College would create status problems for Columbia University.87 To resolve this “women problem,” the founders of Teachers College put together in 1902 a proposal to separate women from men in liberal education courses.88

This example of women’s access to higher education is suggestive of a larger trend common to teacher education institutions during the first decade of the twentieth century. This trend begins with women’s gaining limited access to prestigious teacher education institutions, specifically schools of education within universities. As women gained access, however, as was the case at the University of Wisconsin and at Teachers College, they were separated from men by formal and informal mechanisms: Either women were required to take their liberal arts coursework in different institutions, for example in Barnard as opposed to Columbia, or professional courses within schools of education separated men and women in a de facto way by creating separate sections of the same course for administrators and teachers.89 In essence, women found themselves in a situation where increased opportunities encouraged further changes that minimized the advantages they had started to accrue. As Christine Ogren suggests about the University of Wisconsin, life “inside and outside the university hinged on gender differences.”90

The fragmentation within the educational community also divided secondary and elementary teachers. This was because secondary teachers were often trained in schools of education and elementary teachers in normal schools. Furthermore, secondary teaching had many more male teachers and, importantly, the role of the secondary teacher reflected subject specialization as opposed to a focus on teaching method. This fragmentation gained institutional strength as professionalization efforts at the turn of the century resulted in differing certificates for elementary and secondary teachers, with the secondary certificate based primarily on educational attainment in various subject matter areas.91 Not surprisingly, as the institution (in this case, the secondary school) became more male, it gained in prestige. James Angell, president of the North Central Association, articulated and defended this divide by saying:

Therefore it is clear that high school teachers and administrators ought to recognize their special college predatory function and protect themselves against being diluted from below with teachers who have been trained to concern themselves with general and vocational education. High school teachers quite properly were to be on guard against being treated like elementary teachers.92

Functionalist professionalization projects undertaken by teacher education institutions were informed by and gave institutional support to gendered divisions of labor. These vertical and horizontal divisions of labor not only worked against any unified professionalization project, but constructed professionalization in ways that benefited university teacher educators, and administrators to a lesser degree, at the expense of women, teachers, and in particular women elementary teachers. The result was an increasingly fragmented educational community.


The continuing fragmentation of the educational community from the late 1890s into the second decade of the twentieth century left teachers without any significant gains in either their professional status or their work conditions. At the same time that normal schools and schools of education were competing with each other for students by putting forth contrasting professionalization projects, teacher unions were trying to enhance the professional status of teachers. In the main, professionalization from a teacher- union perspective focused on salary, tenure, benefits, and seniority.93 At first blush, this emphasis appears to reflect a labor perspective more than a professionalization strategy. A functionalist professionalization strategy, one could argue, would focus on merit, advancement, the establishment of a specialized form of knowledge, and the setting of standards—all of which supposedly would help shape novice practitioners into good teachers. On the surface, therefore, it appears that union strategies seem to have skirted the professionalization debates that were raging within the dominant teacher education institutions of the time. Such a view, however, overlooks the way gendered assumptions and policies had become embedded within professionalization projects, and the fragmentation of the educational community. When these factors are included, it is possible to see the union strategies as an attempt, often unsuccessful, to lay the groundwork for a type of political professionalism that would enable teachers to gain more control over their work and authority in policy decisions. This view of professionalization was summarized well by Catherine Goggin, one of the leaders of the Chicago Federation of Teachers, who noted that her aim was “to secure for all teachers the rights and privileges to which they are entitled.”94 By doing so, the CFT sought nothing less than the elevation of the profession’s standing. To achieve this, the “material lot had to be improved.”95 What distinguishes the union orientation to professionalization from those of both the normal school and schools of education is that the unions, especially local unions, did not adopt a functionalist perspective. They did not try to gain the trust of dominant groups (e.g., male superintendents, businessmen, and influential educational policymakers connected with the university) and appease their epistemological and ideological prejudices about what legitimate knowledge is and the abilities of women teachers.96 Instead, they took a political approach to professionalization in which they would use collective organization to fight for the basic conditions and rights deemed necessary to be an effective teacher. By providing benefits, salary increases, and in some instances tenure, unions were suggesting that professionalism could occur only in an occupation in which basic rights and benefits have been obtained. Obtaining those rights and benefits was prerequisite to obtaining professional status.

One way gendered assumptions and policies came to affect union strategies was that by the end of the second decade of the twentieth century, elementary and secondary teachers were becoming differentiated not only by sex but also by salary.97 In part, this differentiation was pushed forward by the Harrison commission in 1896. After concluding that the Chicago school system was totally inefficient, this commission recommended that

all suitable means be used to put a larger proportion of men teachers in the higher grades of the elementary schools, as positions therein may hereafter become vacant; and if it is found necessary to the securing of this end, that higher salaries be provided for men than women in these grades.98

This growing divide between secondary and elementary teachers created a dilemma for unions. If they combined divergent interests, issues such as salary were unlikely to be addressed. On the other hand, if the unions were differentiated by sex and level taught, not only would these unions at times be in competition with each other, but no one union would have the power of a large membership. To further complicate the situation, administrators were integrated into some existing teacher unions, making the interests of the members even more diverse. This division between administrators and teachers became so apparent that the New England Journal of Education printed an editorial in 1899 that disputed the sources of administrative authority and lamented the segregation between teachers and administrators:

Should the big-city administrator be a young man pedagogically trained in Harvard or Clark? Should he be a veteran . . . with extended experience? . . . Or should he possess a combination of training and experience in small communities? . . . [we] lament the growing professional segregation between teachers and administrators and the rise of class conscious superintendents.99

This integration of diverse (and often conflicting) interests made it likely that unions would take a middle-of-the-road approach, and would not overturn the hierarchical divisions between administrators and teachers as well as those between men and women in the educational community. Catherine Goggin, who succeeded Ella Flag Young as the leader of the Chicago Federation of Teachers, articulated the problem of combining teacher and administrative interests this way:

Experience has shown that where all branches of the service were represented in an organization the opinions and personalities of the supervising force dominated the rank and file, and that few teachers possessed the moral courage to give expression to any sentiment which was in any way different or opposed to the expressed will of the supervising or superintending force.100

The teacher association of New York, at the turn of the century, provides a case in point. One of the major problems facing large cities, and in particular the city of New York, at this time was that city politics controlled the hiring and retention of teachers. Nicholas Murray Butler, the president of Teachers College, wanted to change this corrupt system by putting educational management in the hands of a central board made up of school superintendents, administrators, and businessmen who would supervise teachers and control school matters.101 Teachers and teacher associations fought the plan and defended the ward system and the corrupt politics they represented. And so the question arises as to why a union would defend the ward system. The answer appears to lie in the institutional division between teachers and administrators. By endorsing a central board, teachers would not only be enhancing the hegemony of a citywide superintendency, which would have control over hiring practices, teacher merit, and tenure, but they would be giving this power almost exclusively to men, men who were trained in a teacher education institution that devalued experience and questioned, at a fundamental level, the expertise and training of teachers. At least within the current ward system, teachers largely controlled classroom practice, and could gain a principalship based on experience and seniority. Superintendents, given that they did not need teaching experience, were unlikely to support seniority as a path for advancement. In this sense, university-trained administrators were seen by teachers as having oppositional interests—interests likely to discount the one area that teachers had open access to: experience.

What this example suggests is that while teacher associations appeared to act in “conservative” ways, these actions also reflect good sense.102 They indicate that the conservatism of teacher associations is related to the playing field on which they had to operate—a field already structured to serve the interests of men and administrators over those of women and teachers.

The internalization of conflicting interests also limited teacher union attempts to challenge existing gendered divisions of labor. When teacher unions combined the interests of administrators and teachers, not only was internal strife common but gendered assumptions and relations often went unchallenged. The difficulty of combining administrative and teacher interests becomes clear if one compares two teacher unions that were beginning to gain quite a bit of notoriety in the first decade of the twentieth century.

The Atlanta Public School Teachers Association (APSTA) was “firmly controlled by its senior members—principals, those who aspired to be principals, and high status high school teachers.”103 Not surprisingly, this association tended to “cooperate with school administrators and board members and thus . . . was not interested in challenging established ideas.”104 In fact, of the thirty-four individuals elected to office between 1909 and 1919, only two were elementary teachers.105 Given that elementary teachers were often paid less than secondary teachers and administrators, had limited opportunities to gain leadership positions, and were closely monitored by the increasing number of administrators graduating from schools of education, “not challenging established ideas” in practice meant leaving the inequities between men and women within the educational community largely unchanged. For example, while increasing salaries was one of the chief goals of the APSTA, when the “city council proposed a raise for elementary teachers only, the association objected and asked the council to include principals.”106 While women surely played important roles in the APSTA and gained valuable experience in political activism, the association itself stopped short of directly challenging gendered divisions of labor within the educational community.

The Chicago Federation of Teachers presents quite a different story. Margaret Haley, a longtime elementary teacher and a normal school instructor, took over the leadership of the CFT in 1897. With Catherine Goggin, Haley focused the union activities around teacher pensions. But pensions quickly became controversial because “of objections from high school teachers who, thought they contributed more to the fund than the lower paid elementary-school colleagues, and yet would receive the same retirement benefit.”107 Seeing that challenges were being posed by secondary teachers, who were mostly men (and administrators, who felt little connection with the cause of elementary teachers), Haley created a union leadership team that was made up entirely of elementary school teachers and women. As a result, the CFT was able to move quickly and challenge differential pay between elementary and secondary teachers and administrators.108 While it is certainly true that having women and elementary teachers play a leadership role does not assure progressive actions, in this instance it did allow the interests of elementary teachers and women to have a direct influence on the union’s agenda. In contrast, the APSTA agenda was a compromise between conflicting interests that made it difficult to act decisively on the inequities found in the educational community.

Unfortunately, unions such as the CFT had only limited success in overturning gendered assumptions and the divisions of labor that divided the educational community and benefited secondary teachers and administrators in disproportionate ways. In part this was because almost thirty years before the CFT was established a new national teacher union, the National Educational Association (NEA), was formed. During these initial years the NEA was a small organization of some 2,332 members made up mostly of superintendents, principals, and the heads of institutions of higher learning. Butler, who gained leadership of the NEA during this time and was an advocate for the scientific movement, suggested that it would be difficult to find a period “when there were so many striking personalities engaged in the work of public school education as was the case from about 1875 to about 1900.”109 Absent from this rather glowing commentary was the fact that the majority of those engaged in public education—classroom teachers—had no part in the NEA. In fact, in 1901, when Haley appeared before the NEA convention and protested the views expressed in a paper presented by Dr. Harris, the U.S. Commissioner of Education, suggesting that the “educational sky was now without a cloud,” Dr. Harris pointed a finger at Haley saying, “Pay no attention to what that teacher down there has said. I take it that she is a grade teacher, just out of the classroom at the end of the school year, worn out, tired and hysterical.”110

The lack of representation of teachers in the NEA became a battle cry for the CFT. The federation fought both for their inclusion and for bottom-up relations between teachers and administrators. In 1901, for example, Ella Flag Young, who worked closely with Haley in forming the CFT, started a campaign to fight against administrative centralization. In her view this proposed and developing centralization was “un-American” and dangerous.” She was particularly concerned with how the developing centralization was linked with the need for “close supervision.” In contrast, she shared with other normal school advocates such as Francis Parker the “belief in cooperation as a guiding principle in school operation.” Decisions would be made through a system of teacher councils such that “the child, the youth and the teacher will each be an organic factor in this organization, where rights and duties are inseparable, where the free movement of thought will develop great personalities.”111 In many ways, Young’s position can be viewed as oppositional to the establishment of an administrative middle-management position in which administrators would oversee teachers and take over their responsibilities as policymakers. Not surprisingly, those representing administrative interests in the NEA were strongly opposed to such proposals and used the slogans of efficiency and science to provide a rationale for an administrative middle management that would correct the generally perceived incompetence of teachers. Professor Samuel P. Hays of Harvard referred to these slogans as the “gospel of efficiency; essentially, the rational and scientific method of making basic technological decisions through a single central authority.”112 And, as Reid notes in his accounting of these early years of the twentieth century, “this concentration of authority in the interest of efficiency would serve to elevate the status of the supervisors, while widening the gap between the teaching staff and administrative personnel.”113 Speaking at the 1895 NEA convention, one administrator laid out this position quite concisely:

Every business of large magnitude in this country recognizes the importance of placing the responsibility for any particular part of that business in the hands of one man or one woman. A railroad or bank in which each member of the board of directors was more or less a superintendent would be laughed to scorn, and its management would have but one outcome—utter failure. The same is true of schools.114

However, by 1910, after many battles launched by Haley and the CFT, there was “no attempt to keep out the Chicago school teachers or other members of the organization who did not have special admission tickets.”115 Furthermore, the by-laws were changed such that teachers could for the first time have some influence on NEA policy. As Haley notes, “we got the by-laws we wanted and licked the old guard.”116

Unfortunately, the “new guard” was led by normal school presidents such as Caroll Pearse, William Owen, and James Crabtree who were interested in transforming normal schools into teachers colleges that would put forth a professionalization project that moved away from experience toward a more research-oriented, scientific approach to teacher training. Furthermore, this new guard had a very different view of the relation of administrative and teacher interests than did Haley, who had kept administrators and men out of the CFT in its early years. They “believed in professional unity and saw the interests of administrators and teachers as complementary rather than contradictory.”117 As was true of the men who attended normal schools, who were seen as a disintegrating force, these men did not readily identify with women and grade school teachers and much of the platform endorsed by the CFT. They were interested in unifying the teaching profession under the banner of the NEA such that “superintendents could achieve their goal of recognition as professional experts while teachers could secure higher salaries and protection from arbitrary authority.”118 However, by 1915 it was not the NEA that was most strongly pushing the issue of teacher salaries, but rather the newly formed American Federation of Teachers (AFT). The impetus for the AFT came from two high school federations that were offshoots of the CFT.119 And as might be expected, this largely male organization often found that its “interests did not accord with those of grade teachers.”120 In 1916, the American Federation of Labor (AFL) awarded a national charter to the 2,969-member American Federation of Teachers. In the summer of 1916, the NEA “denounced teacher affiliation with organized labor as unethical and unprofessional.”121 By 1918, the NEA had shifted its reform drive to more directly struggle against unionism. The argument made by the NEA was that “affiliation with one special interest would cripple the advance of the profession by antagonizing the rest of the community.”122 The AFT responded by trying to portray administrators as an “alien class” while the NEA continued its theme of “unity of effort” between administrators and teachers. There seemed to be a difference, however, between the talk of unity and the practices of the NEA. For example, when the two-class membership (one for teachers and the other for administrators) was challenged with a proposal that all members pay the same dues, this measure was defeated because a “group of superintendents feared teachers would control the NEA and teachers feared that the official class represented by the superintendents and supervisors would be able to coerce and overawe the teachers.”123 Furthermore, the NEA continued to move forward with their agenda to centralize authority within the association. While the CFT and Milwaukee teachers were able to postpone the proposed centralization of the NEA as a national teacher association with its anti-unionism platform, when the meeting was moved to Salt Lake City, away from the “holy Terror” of the CFT, the reorganization of the NEA was approved. Given that the CFT had been forced out of the AFT in order to reinstate some ousted teachers and now would be able to send only a handful of representatives to the newly centralized NEA, its “powerful influence in national teacher organization had come to an end.”124

In sum, by combining administrative interests and teacher interests, the NEA acted much like the conservative APSTA. The problem for unions like the CFT was that they always had to work in the shadow of the larger associations that unified the conflicting interests of administrators, high school teachers, and elementary teachers. Haley and the CFT were successful in getting more women on the program committee of the NEA, and helping women such as Ella Flag Young gain the positions of superintendent and president of the NEA. For the most part, however, these important actions did not significantly challenge gendered divisions of labor. Men and administrators continued to have disproportionate control of the NEA and the AFT, and their influence made it difficult for these associations to challenge the administrator/teachers hierarchy as well as the divisions between high school and elementary teachers. Even when the AFT became a national union and fought for increased salaries and control, this union reflected the interests of men more than women and secondary teachers more than grade school teachers.125

Unions were forced to react to the institutional hierarchy strengthened by the professionalization projects of the normal schools and the schools of education within universities. They did make some gains in terms of salary and working conditions but the political professionalization projects of unions could not escape gendered assumptions and therefore were ineffective in contesting gendered divisions of labor within the educational community.


Through this look at professionalization as a conflict between institutions that had constructed their professionalization projects in differing ways and used alternative models (functionalist and political), three major implications can be identified. First, each professionalization project embodied tensions. For normal schools, their functionalist view of professionalization did further opportunities for women and value a form of knowledge they had ready access to: experience. Conversely, because the normal school did not gain the trust of dominant groups (e.g., male administrators, educational policymakers connected with the university, and businessmen and industrialists who held influential positions on school boards)—an important criterion of functionalist professionalization—this institution was held in low esteem, and women and elementary teachers gained little by associating themselves with this approach to professionalization. Furthermore, the normal school’s focus on viewing teaching as a calling, which required unequivocal teacher commitment and perseverance even under the worst working conditions, may, in fact, have made it easier for administrators to strengthen their supervisory role within the educational community.

The model of functional professionalization embodied in schools of education, on the other hand, did garner support and trust and seemed to bring prestige and leadership opportunities to those who entered their programs. However, because women had limited opportunities to enter these institutions, they could not fully benefit from the professionalization projects undertaken by schools of education. Further, by focusing on the importance of scientific knowledge, schools of education helped solidify the need for others (researchers) to guide or direct the action of practitioners. While this approach to professionalization may have had significant benefits for university faculty, and for administrators to a lesser degree, it did little to enhance the professional status of teachers. Finally, while some local unions such as the CFT took a political approach to professionalization, and worked directly on issues of autonomy and authority, for the most part the efforts of the national unions overwhelmed these local actions. These national unions worked within the educational hierarchy that was being established and legitimated at this time. Put simply, national unions did little to shift or significantly reconstruct secondary/elementary teacher relations, and teacher relations with administrators and/or faculty at the university who were becoming established as the leaders or even overseers of the educational process.

Second, as conflicting professionalization efforts became embodied in differing institutions, not only did efforts to professionalize teachers become fragmented but, importantly, they mapped onto gendered assumptions. University faculty and school administrators, who at this time were almost entirely men, used the certification granted by schools of education not only to separate themselves from grade school teachers and women in general, who were clustered primarily in normal schools, but also to strengthen their claim that they should provide a supervisory and leadership role within the educational community. Certification by a school of education gave these members of the educational community institutional legitimacy, in large measure because they could produce “objective” forms of knowledge. The institutionalization of professionalism did not create gendered divisions of labor; instead, it gave structural support to the divisions that were already emerging in the field of education at the turn of the century.

The third implication of this institutional analysis is that while the educational landscape has changed significantly, it still reflects many of the basic trends that emerged at the turn of the century. While it is no longer acceptable, for example, to limit or deny access to women in institutions of higher education, women are still clustered in the least prestigious institutions, and when they do gain admission to high-status institutions they are separated from men, denied opportunities (including salary increases), and constrained in terms of obtaining leadership positions within the institution. One example of this trend can be found in current statistics of public school teachers.

Census data collected in 1990 indicate that there are over four times as many women elementary teachers as men.126 However, as teaching gains in status, for example in secondary school, almost 40 percent of the teachers are male. In terms of administrative positions, including both elementary and secondary schools, there are more than twice as many male administrators as female. And as we move to higher education, which has the most status within the field of education, only 27 percent of the faculty are women. Furthermore, if we consider salaries, secondary teachers make on average $4,000 more than elementary teachers and men on average make almost $6,000 more than women if we consider both elementary and secondary public school teaching.127

Women’s access to higher education also reflects the historic trend in which access is followed by informal segregation within an institution. There are still wide disparities between male and female professors in terms of access, rank, salary, and advancement. Even in the field of education, where women make up the vast number of practitioners, only 38 percent of educational faculty are women. In terms of rank in doctoral institutions, only 14 percent of women are full professors, and where 68 percent of men are tenured, only 38 percent of women obtain the same commitment from the university. Across all higher education institutions, men earned an average basic salary of $42,322 and an average total salary of $53,318; women faculty, in contrast, earned an average basic salary of $31,755 and an average total salary of $36,398. In professional programs, including business, education, engineering, and the health sciences, the gap in salaries is even greater with the total average income for men being $81,702 and that of women faculty $49,016.128 More recent comparative data indicate much the same disparities. A survey conducted for the Utah State Office of Equal Opportunity, for example, shows that women assistant professors in Utah on average made $4,000 less than men, women associate professors $2,500 less than men, and women full professors, $11,500 less than men.129 These disparities are linked to gendered opportunity structures that lead to the uneven distribution of men and women across types of institutions of higher education and within particular fields in an institution, and gendered assumptions that help legitimate differential rewards for similar work.

The historical relation between schools of education and normal schools has also changed. No longer is there an ongoing tension between normal school models of professionalization and schools of education if for no other reason than that normal schools have for the most part disappeared from the educational landscape. Instead, it appears that there are currently two alternative teacher education models housed within schools of education. One model focuses on research, high standards, and a liberal arts orientation, while the other, feeling the pressure of the market, has taken an open- access approach that emphasizes methods and experience. The first model is usually housed in what is often referred to as a “research” institution. Not surprisingly, the teacher education programs that operate within these institutions emphasize theory, research, and a strong liberal arts foundation. The second model of teacher education is typically housed in what might be referred to as an open-access institution, which tries to provide educational training for individuals preparing to teach in the local community and the state. Open-access institutions usually have strong field-based programs that include theory and research but focus on teaching methods. These current alternative models suggest that the historical split between normal schools and schools of education has changed but has not disappeared. Open-access institutions, like the normal schools, tend to emphasize experience and have large teacher education programs that train the majority of teachers, while schools of education within research institutions, much like their historical counterparts, focus more directly on educational leaders and small elite training programs where research and theory are a priority. One indication that these types of postsecondary institutions are viewed differently is evident in a current survey that ranks schools of education. This survey was developed by asking the deans of research institutions associated with the Holmes Group to nominate two informants from each department within their school of education. Questionnaires were then sent to these informants and they were asked to rank the twenty-five top U.S. schools of education. Using this information and a number of other criteria, such as citation numbers and editorships of prestigious journals, a final ranking was determined. Clearly, the underlying assumption of the survey design was that the best schools of education were housed at so-called research institutions. It is not surprising, therefore, that the research-oriented schools are ranked in the top twenty-five while open-access institutions educating large numbers of future teachers appear nowhere on the list.130

Given that we have long-standing vertical and horizontal divisions of labor that reflect gendered assumptions, and competing teacher education models that continue to fragment the educational community, what do these contextual factors suggest about current and future professionalization efforts? First, they suggest that functionalist professionalization projects undertaken by teacher education institutions on the behalf of teachers will have inherent tensions. If they uphold dominant views of what counts as legitimate knowledge, such as the doing of scientific research, and raise standards to assure that only the most “competent” enter into the specialized professional training, given gendered assumptions, women are likely to have limited access to this specialized training, therefore affording the male-dominated sectors of the occupation the greatest opportunities for professional advancement. On the other hand, if professionalization strategies foster broader notions of legitimate knowledge, by looking to both experience and research, for example, as important sources of knowledge production, and provide for open access to teacher training, these projects are unlikely to win the trust of dominant groups and doubts about women will place a further burden of proof on these professionalization projects. In contrast to these two strategies, what may make sense for teachers is to try to revive the type of local union efforts that do not begin with the legitimacy of a “middle management” (supervisors and researchers) and instead focus on laying the foundation—the work conditions—for professional autonomy and authority. Put simply, it may be time to revive the political orientation to professionalization endorsed by local unions such as the CFT. Second, if functionalist professionalization efforts are to be attempted, teachers need to utilize a dual approach in which professionalization efforts go hand in hand with attempts to challenge gendered divisions of labor. This is not to say that any challenge to these divisions can be entirely successful but rather than concrete challenges to the hierarchical nature of the educational community must be made; otherwise it is likely that functionalist professionalization projects—even those geared toward female-dominated occupations—may simply map onto gendered assumptions and lend institutional support to gendered divisions of labor.

In many ways, the Holmes Group reports provide a current example of the limits of struggling for professionalization within a functionalist orientation.131 The earlier reports argued for professionalization efforts based on the utilization of scientific knowledge generated within the university. This approach mapped onto dominant views of the specialized training teachers supposedly need to obtain professional status. Within the educational community, however, these earlier reports were heavily criticized in some circles for being elitist in terms of student recruitment and the role of the research university in setting standards for public school education.132 The analysis developed in this article adds to this critique by suggesting that this approach would do little to professionalize teaching (it probably would help teacher educators) and would reinforce gendered divisions of labor. The latest report, Tomorrow’s School of Education, in many ways reverses the position taken in the earlier reports and largely turns its back on the university, grounding professionalization efforts within the experiential domain of schools. While this switch in orientation is troubling in a number of regards, it does attempt to reinvent the relation between teachers and teacher educators and provides a larger role for experience as a form of legitimate knowledge.133 However, because this approach still falls within the purview of a functionalist view of professionalization, it is unlikely to satisfy dominant groups and their doubts about the gendered nature of teaching, and importantly is apt to place further demands and responsibilities on teachers without providing corresponding changes in the structure of their work. Teachers, as a consequence, are likely to view this attempt at professionalization as a guise that will further intensify their work and do little to increase their autonomy given that there is no concrete attempt to alter the administrative (supervisory) structure of schools.134 Finally, because the Holmes Group does not carefully attend to the constructed gendered divisions of labor within public schools and the educational community, their functional approach may further legitimate those divides under the umbrella of helping to professionalize teaching.

One way to directly challenge these divisions of labor is to act on disparities between the salaries of men and women teachers, the clustering of women in the least prestigious institutions, the dominance of men in administrative positions, and even one of the primary gendered assumptions that teachers need others—usually male administrators—to oversee the aims and goals to which education is directed. Actions such as these must go hand in hand with other professionalization efforts if these functionalist professionalization projects are to do more than advance the interests of those on the upper rungs of the educational hierarchy and challenge even in modest ways gendered division of labor.

This project would not have been possible without the helpful feedback of a number of colleagues including Harvey Kantor, David Labaree, Mary Ann Dzuback, and Bill Reese. Of course the responsibility for the ideas presented in this paper is entirely my own.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 97 Number 4, 1996, p. 588-624
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 1404, Date Accessed: 5/28/2022 9:33:34 AM

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