Early Education in the Wolverine State

Nothing in this world seems as important as education. In a world where not everyone is willing to learn, it is imperative that we have some sort of educational system in place so we may be able to teach our young ones the basics in all courses and walks of life. Michigan was no exception from trying to give children an education. However, as with many early educational formats, early Michigan had a much different way of teaching than we do today.

A few things surprised me when I first began my investigation into early Michigan Education. The first and foremost thing that shocked me, was the fact that most teachers seemed to be nomadic in nature. This is a result of most of them teaching far away from their home and this would make it impossible for them to travel back and forth. They would often stay in the homes of their students while they were away. The teachers also worked in all seasons, from the freezing winter to the steaming summer, sometimes making travel arrangements even more difficult due to the icy roads, however, school would usually always be in session, they certainly did not have school closings as we know them today.

From what I could gather the teachers made a decent amount of money for their troubles. With the addition of also receiving free room and board, the teachers also made between 2 and 5 dollars a week, which estimates to about 55-133 dollars a week as of 2016. Another thing that surprises me is the fact that the teachers, so it seems, were primarily women. With the sexist views of the time, it shocks me to know that women were encouraged to teach rather than men. This is not to say that this idea wasn’t lacking in any sexism, teaching was a job done inside and men were expected to work outdoors.

Nearly everyone is aware of the one-room schoolhouses of the past, and Michigan was full of them. These rooms were often full of students and to say that they were cramped may be an understatement. According to the textbook Michigan Voices some classrooms may have had 89+ students. Imagine the process the teacher had to go through to keep those kids quiet!

Although Michigan’s education system seems faulty or at least arduous for the teachers, it was seen at the time as a model for education around the country. In the 1835 Michigan Constitution, an entire article is dedicated to education, including appointing a superintendent of public instruction, whose duty was purely to support and maintain schooling in the state. The founding fathers obviously had seen the importance of education in Michigan and in the world as a whole. They knew that education is not only the key to prosperity and happiness for the people, but also the key for a prosperous and happy state.


“$5 in 1860 → 2016 | Inflation Calculator.” FinanceRef Inflation Calculator, Alioth Finance, 4 Feb. 2018, http://www.in2013dollars.com/1860-dollars-in-2016?amount=5.

Grimm, Joe. Michigan Voices: Our State’s History in the Words of the People Who Lived It. Detroit Free Press, 1987.

17 thoughts on “Early Education in the Wolverine State

  1. I couldn’t believe it when I read in our text this week that women teachers were paid three dollars less than men teachers, it shouldn’t be that surprising (knowing the way women were looked at back then) but I was still shocked.
    Three dollars doesn’t seem like that much to us now, but as pointed out in this post the value of money is much different now versus back then.

  2. It didn’t surprise me that woman teachers were paid less than men teachers, even in todays society you still see men making more money than woman doing the same job. What did surprise me is that the teachers stayed in the home of their students.

    1. I was not surprised either at the wage gap between male and female teachers. Isn’t this sad? That is what our society has came to. The males always make more than the females, and that is just how it is. The wage gap was probably not as big of a deal back then as it is now a days.

      1. This is what I was thinking. Even when women have more qualifications than men, they sometimes get paid more and that is extremely unfair I think. Especially since later women will be known as teachers. When picturing a teacher most would picture a woman.

    2. I’m sure there are plenty of instances where the wages a man may earn are different than what a woman may earn, but there are some that I know of where that is not the case. When I was considering a teaching position with the Saginaw Township Community Schools and later the Swan Valley School district, I was referred to a chart about the salaries in each of those districts. It was a chart that reflected the number of years of experience in each column, and each of those columns was further broken down into categories, such as if you have a degree with provisional teaching license, professional teaching license, degree + 18 credits, masters degree, degree + 30 credits, etc. That applied to all teachers, male or female. A charter school I taught at had a similar schedule regarding wages, and it applied to all teachers, male or female. I guess it’s comforting to know that in those educational examples, everyone was treated equally. If only other occupations would follow that example.

      1. Knowing this history of the field I am going into and how it has changed makes me a little hopeful. While we still have many things we need to improve, we have made great strides. Our state has always thought education was important, and has worked to rally people around reform. I just hope we continue this and do not backslide. I’m greatful school systems pay based on education, and experience, and not just on who you are (man or woman).

  3. From what I understood in the readings, men were common during none working months while women were common during the working months (in the late 1800’s) This was because they needed to be able to discipline the “largest boy” they had. So many men would take the teaching job until they could find something better, and in doing so they would provide grueling punishments. Even abusing the children who were “misbehaving”.

  4. I found it shocking that they could have 89+ students crammed in a little schoolhouse. The education system seemed very unorganized in the 1800’s. The students did not attend class regularly and they could be physically punished for any trouble they caused. This is very different from today as we are required to attend school on a regular basis and we do not allow physical punishment,

    1. Eighty- nine plus students crammed in a little schoolhouse is outrageous. The education system did seem very unorganized and I feel it still is today. Look at some classrooms today, especially elementary classrooms. They pack upwards to thirty plus students in one classroom. With the standards the teachers have to teach today, that is way too many students in a classroom.

  5. When I read your blog, I recalled having some of those same thoughts as I read the text. There were so many little things that I thought were odd today, but probably weren’t in those days. Many years from now, future educators may look at some of the things that we do today and wonder about those ideas and methods, too. In addition, as I was reading the material, I was sort of noticing a pattern. When a few people championed a new change or idea, it would take a while for others to get used to that change or idea. Once it had gained acceptance, it became the impetus for further progress. For example, it took awhile to get an established university in Michigan that was successful. Today, there are “fifteen state-supported colleges and universities” and “regional universities are growing in popularity, as are the state’s twenty-eight community colleges” (Rubenstein, 168). Also, regardless of what people may think of charter schools, “in 1994, there were eight charter schools in the state, and by 2006, the number had reached 230” (Rubenstein, 168). These are some examples of how Michigan has been considered by others to be forward-thinking leaders in education.

  6. The pay gap did not surprise me, but what did was how large they made the class size. It can be hard keeping just a dozen children focused, but trying to entertain the attention of almost 90? While also making sure each child’s needs are met and trying to answer any questions a child may have. It seems nearly impossible. I think the reason perhaps more women taught than men, was because women were, and still usually are, seen as more caring(motherly). This being so, I think it helps the children connect with their teachers and maybe made learning easier if they felt a sense of love and care being put into their learning process.

    1. As everyone else is saying, the pay wage did not surprise. Men were always paid more back in the day and I do think that is the case today in some instances. The one thing that blew my mind was the classrooms sizes. I find it hard to learn in class sizes that are over 30, I could not imagine being in a class with 90 plus students. I am going into the field of education and its really hard to wrap my head around trying to teach that many students and meet all their needs. I do no think it is possible for all those students to be successful with that many students and only one teacher.

  7. Teachers had a tough job then and they still do today. I can’t imagine putting 30+ students in one room and trying to teach each class (math, reading, English) at several different levels for the range of students from ages 5 to 14. It seems like there wouldn’t be enough time in a day. I’m guessing students helped each other out (and the teacher) quite a bit.

  8. It is crazy to see how views have changed over the years as education has developed. I was shocked to hear that teachers would stay at their students house to save traveling time. If a teacher were to stay at a students home now it would definitely be considered a big no no and the teacher would most likely lose his job completely. I also can’t imagine being crammed in a single classroom with 89 other students…especially on a hot summer day! Good job on this post, I found it very interesting and learned something new about early education in Michigan.

  9. I also found the nomadic cultures of teachers very interesting. While traveling was the intentions, they would indeed often stay in the homes of their students. Seems crazy when you think about all of the excessive and standard rules that are set for all of the teachers in modern day.

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