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. That's the Schoolmarm.
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 isn't unheard of 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, the situation is similar, 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.
- Yoko Littner from Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann takes this as a job after the Time Skip.
- To a degree, Mari Nikaido from Kinnikuman.
- Kazuho from Non Non Biyori, who's always portrayed sleeping (sometimes to the point of not showing up at all), chilling with the students... or exploiting her students to work on her rice fields. She's also the elder sister of Renge, who is the youngest student in school.
- Miss Deer from Maple Town. She was the sole teacher in Maple Town, teaching students of various ages (including Patty's older sister, implied to be older than everyone else) and located in a small schoolhouse.
- The teacher in the Chuck Billy stories.
- One issue of the Archie comics put Jughead and Reggie in the Wild West, with Jughead as the town sheriff and Reggie as a card hustler. Reggie agrees to Jughead's challenge that whichever of them draws the low card in the pile will leave town, and when Jughead draws a three, Reggie is pleased to think he's all but won - until he learns that the winner gets the town schoolmarm, Miss Ethel. Much to his relief, Reggie draws a deuce and flees, while Jughead locks himself in jail to keep himself away from Ethel.
- 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 western 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.
- Stéphane 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 (1977) 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).
- Miss Birdwood in the 1989 film Georges Island is a prime example given her classroom and the way she dresses/talks. She even is a Sadist Teacher, mainly to poor George's Cassandra Truth.
- Goodbye, Miss Turlock is a 1947 short film made as a tribute to the one-room schoolhouse, focusing on Miss Turlock, the teacher in one particular school. She's the Old Maid variant, strict but fair, beloved by students.
- A male schoolmaster is the protagonist in The Otherwoods film Benkiya Bale. He is a good teacher and is popular with his students. But the local politicians son wants his job, so he has to be sent to a different poverty stricken disease ridden village.
- In Tombstone, Virgil Earp encounters one of these when he rescues one of her students from being run over by one of the Cowboys' horses. She doesn't say anything, but she's got a bloody nose; it's this scene, which makes him realize just what a menace the Cowboys have become to the people of Tombstone, that cements his decision to become the new sheriff.
- A Brother's Price has Miss Skinner, a very typical schoolmarm, who taught Jerin's sisters, and occasionally came to the Whistler farm to give lessons to Jerin and his younger brothers. She's very prim and proper, telling Jerin to wear his veil when she meets him on a ship, and not to talk to strange women. (Jerin protest's that she's not a stranger, she's his dear old teacher). She is also unmarried, but not due to any restrictions, it's just very hard to find a husband. When she meets Jerin, she tells him that she's going home to get married, having amassed enough wealth to be able to afford a husband - her motivation to become a teacher in the first place. To complete the stereotype, Jerin recalls having had a crush on her when he was younger.
- Little House on the Prairie: 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: There's 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.
- 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. (This was Truth in Television; many teachers, both male and female, were not able to afford their own homes, so they often stayed with their students' families, or other families in town, on a temporary basis.)
- 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.
- In Patience And Sarah, it's mentioned that one of the few jobs unmarried woman can have is being a school teacher. 28-year old Patience teaches in the summer.
- 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 Eva 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.
- Horatio Hornblower: Mariette, Hornblower's love interest in "The Frogs and the Lobsters", is a French peasant girl who became a schoolteacher in Muzillac, her home village, after the revolution. She's the only teacher there.
- Miss Minerva in The Golden Apple.
- Raine Sage of Tales of Symphonia is fairly grumpy as one of these. Of course, when one of your students is Lloyd Irving, this may be justified.
- Freddy Pharkas: Frontier Pharmacist had one of those whose last name even was Primm. However, she turns out to be the villain in the end.
- In the second generation of Rune Factory 2, Mana becomes one of the only two teachers in the school built at the end of the first generation. How true she is to this trope depends on whether or not the first generation's player character married her.
- Keine Kamishirasawa of Touhou is generally portrayed like this in fanworks, usually to the younger youkai characters (though this goes against canon, where she says that she's only willing to teach humans). However, Forbidden Scrollery josses this portrayal since she's shown to teach at an elementary school with several other teachers.
- Rumiko Chie in Higurashi: When They Cry, being the only teacher at the school the main characters attend. Since the series takes place in the rural village of Hinamizawa, this isn't surprising.
- Homestar Runner: Marzipan is shown as a teacher at a "montessodium school" in the Strong Bad Email "coloring"; given that her only students are Homestar, Strong Mad, and Homsar and that the main cast are generally implied to be the entire population of Free Country USA, it's likely that she's not just the only teacher but the founder as well.
- They occasionally turn up in classic animated shorts with a school setting.
- Ms. Leading from The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack.
- Cheerilee from My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic is the teacher at Ponyville's only schoolhouse.
- Over the Garden Wall: In "Schooltown Follies," Wirt and Greg meet Miss Langtree, the teacher at a school for Civilized Animals, who is heartbroken over her fiancee Jimmy Brown leaving her.