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