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School Marm

The female teacher at a one room schoolhouse.

In rural communities of the past, particularly on the frontier, there would often not be enough children of different ages in the area to justify a school separated by grades, and insufficiently fast transportation to bring children from a wide area together every schoolday. So there would be a one-room schoolhouse, with a grand total of one teacher (usually female) presiding over a class of children of all ages and scholastic ability.

Generally, a child would attend the one-room schoolhouse from early elementary age through the minimum dropout age required by law; those seeking further education would have to go to a larger community's boarding school.

In fiction, a schoolmarm will tend to be portrayed as rather prim and proper, and will have the best diction in town. This tended to be true in Real Life as well, since most communities had strict moral and behavioral requirements in the contracts for their teachers. In many school districts, teachers had to be single and any "courtship" would raise fears that the town would lose its schoolmarm. Nevertheless, the Schoolmarm is a frequent choice for female love interest in a Western as she'll be the only single woman around who isn't in the entertainment industry. As an instructor in the arts of civilization, she also made a good Foil to a wild and footloose hero.

In male viewer-oriented stories, the schoolmarm tends to be young and pretty—sometimes suspiciously so. In stories from the schoolmarm's point of view, she may be a bit older and somewhat plain-looking, to make her eventual romantic involvement that much sweeter. If the story is from the children's point of view, the schoolmarm will often be a hatchet-faced spinster, who's not afraid of using a switch on misbehaving youths, for loose values of "misbehaving."

Since schoolteachers were usually from out of town, they would often board with the different families of their students in turn over the course of the school year. In fiction, this might be an awkward situation, the beginning of a romance with an adult member of the family, the discovery of a Big Sister Mentor for a younger member, or otherwise played for drama.

This is still Truth in Television today in many regions of the world, where single-room schools still exist. For example, this is a Truth in Television in Japan today. A combination of urbanization and declining birth rate means children are rare sight in rural areas. Since there are few children, schools are merged or just plain shut down, and those that remain are often run by a handful of teachers— in rare cases, by one or two schoolmarms. In Russia, situation is exactly the same, except the rural areas are much larger and much more sparsely settled; one-room schools, called selskaya malokomplektnaya shkola (rural small-class school) never actually went out of style during the Soviet period, and are only in more demand today.

The Spear Counterpart was a "schoolmaster" (who WAS expected to be, or become, a family man). See also Two-Teacher School.


Examples:

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    Anime and Manga 

     Comic Books 

    Film 
  • Clara Clayton in Back To The Future Part III, who of course becomes the Love Interest of Doc Brown.
  • Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid: Etta Place, Sundance's woman, is a schoolmarm who abandons her duties to go to South America with them.
  • Cat Ballou's title character is a schoolmarm turned Outlaw.
  • The Gunfighter has the schoolmarm as the secret wife of the lead.
  • Blazing Saddles had what can only be termed a subversion.
    Schoolmarm: To the honorable William J. LePetomaine, Governor...
    Crowd: Louder! We can't hear you!
    Schoolmarm: I am sorry, I'm not used to public speaking. WE THE WHITE, GODFEARING CITIZENS OF ROCK RIDGE wish to express our extreme displeasure with your choice of sheriff. Please remove him immediately! The fact that you have sent him here just goes to prove that you are the leading asshole in the state!
  • Ms.Crabtree from The Little Rascals shorts.
  • In Rustlers Rhapsody, a "pretty but somehow asexual young schoolmarm" is one of the features found in every single weatern town which hero Rex O'Herlihan has visited.
  • Michael Haneke's The White Ribbon has a Rare Male Example as one of the few sympathetic characters.
  • Stephane Audran's character in Le Boucher. she runs and lives above the village school in a remote but scenic corner of France. She is loved and respected by pupils and parents alike. Then the wife of her assistant teacher is brutally murdered, forcing her to run the school alone...
  • At the end of My Darling Clementine, Clementine decides to stay on in Tombstone as the new schoolmarm.
  • Pete's Dragon has a schoolmarm who is exceptionally quick to dish out harsh words and discipline. Unfortunately for protagonist Pete, an outsider boy fleeing from slavery, he is (understandably) disregarded when his protest that the disasters happening around him are not his own fault but due to his invisible dragon friend. When she escalates her punishment to beating him with a yardstick, the dragon roars viciously and crashes through the school wall causing much panic and bringing even more unwanted attention to Pete (although stopping the schoolmarm bullying attitude as she is rendered practically speechless).

    Literature 
  • Laura Ingalls is a schoolmarm in These Happy Golden Years. Her description of what it was like is generally conceded to be fairly accurate, although the Brewster household may be dramatic license.
  • Holes has a schoolmarm who turns outlaw after her love interest is killed.
  • Anne from Anne of Green Gables goes to a one-room schoolhouse. The first teacher is male, then Miss Stacy becomes the schoolmarm. Later on, Anne herself takes on the role, and even while attending college takes temporary schoolmarm positions in the summer.
    • Many of the characters did this while paying for college, including Gilbert Blythe. It becomes a plot point that he trades teaching positions with Anne to allow her to be closer to Green Gables.
    • L. M. Montgomery's novels Emily of New Moon also feature such characters, of both genders.
  • Mandie and the Missing Schoolmarm by Lois Gladys Leppard, has the young heroine investigating a mystery that is Exactly What It Says on the Tin.
  • The American Girl Kirsten books have Miss Winston, who's nineteen — same age as the oldest boy in the class. She stays with Kirsten's family for a while.
  • Miss Read, the pseudonymous author/narrator of the Fairacre And Thrush Green novels, both Barsetshire settings, is the schoolmistress of a tiny two-room school in the village of Fairacre, and there's a similar school in Thrush Green.
  • Jane Eyre is a village schoolmistress for a short while (quite sensible as she'd previously been a governess- one of the few jobs acceptable to women of the landowner caste at the time); a slight variation as in her town, male and female children went to separate schools (seeing as we never meet her male counterpart, presumably St John, the local cleric, teaches the boys during the week)
  • Nineteen-year-old Christy Huddleston from Christy is a city-bred young woman of an affluent Asheville family who is inspired to go teach school in an impoverished Appalachian village in 1912. Needless to say, it's nothing like she thought it would be, in both good ways and bad.

    Live Action TV 
  • Hee Haw: Minnie Pearl was the hapless schoolmarm in "The Schoolroom" segments, with her students always cracking jokes.
  • Little House on the Prairie: In order Emma Beadle (Charlotte Stewart, 1974-1978), Alice Garvey (Heresha Parady, 1978-1979), Eliza Jane Wilder (Lucy Lee Flippin, 1979-1980), Laura Ingalls Wilder (Melissa Gilbert as the series' main protagonist, 1980-1982) and Etta Plum (Leslie Landon, 1982-1984). A few times throughout the series, Caroline Ingalls (Karen Grassle) would fill in as a substitute teacher, except when the plot called for someone else.
  • Captain Gunpowder is sweet on the local school mistress in Wild Boys.
  • Seth Bullock's wife, who sets up the first schoolhouse in Deadwood, a sign of its improving circumstances.

    Tabletop Games 
  • A Munchkin set, The Good, the Bad and the Munchkin, which was Western-themed, had a Sidekick card called Schoolmarm, whose "book learning" could help you escape from a trap.

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    Video Games 

    Visual Novels 

    Web Comics 

    Western Animation 

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