Are school teachers paid well enough in the US? (1893)

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Miss Blanche Lamont with her school at Hecla, Montana, Oct. 1893-001

The market value of American teachers

by Joan S White

It is not astonishing that the profession of teaching does not in America attract men of such talents, training and executive ability as it does in England, when it is known that the “market value” of a teacher of the first class is hardly $3,000 per annum.

Until two years ago, you could have counted upon the fingers of your two hands the salaried educators of the United States whose annual income was greater than $4,000, and in that number were the presidents of three or four of the leading colleges, and the principals of a few largely-endowed schools; while in England, for almost a century, the head-masters of the great public schools have been paid from three to six times as much.

The city of Boston, which probably affords the best methods and secures the best results of our admirable public school system, demands the talent, the experience, the patience, the tact and the executive ability necessary to manage its great English High School, with seven or eight hundred students, for a salary of $3,850; while the average insurance company, or bank, in the same city, does not hesitate to pay a salary of from $10,000 to $20,000 a year to its president, who need possess no higher or more varied abilities, though of a different order.

school 1893 Blanch Abbey - Teacher

When Mr John D Rockefeller established the Chicago university, he unwittingly conferred a greater benefit upon the profession of teaching than any other man who has ever lived in America, by fixing the salaries of the leading professors at the rate of $7,000 a year.

I say unwittingly, because I do not suppose that these salaries were set for the purpose of dignifying the profession of teaching, but only to secure for that institution the best talent that could be found in the country. The result, however, is precisely the same, and in that respect surely he built better than he knew. This circumstance will make it difficult hereafter for the great cities and the great universities to secure the men needed for positions of trust and influence, as they have hitherto been able to do, without the payment of an adequate compensation; and more and better men will be attracted to the profession of teaching.

In England, while the average salary of inferior teachers is lower than that in America, the prizes of the profession are very great. The headmaster of Rugby school has an income of $18,000 per annum. Harrow and Winchester, Charter House and Clifton, afford nearly as large a return, and in one instance a still greater one, while the headmaster of Eton receives from $25,000 to $28,000 per annum, without counting his home and certain other perquisites, and is considered a dignitary in Windsor, second only in influence and importance to her majesty on the hill, with whom he frequently lunches on a Saturday.

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Furthermore, the headmasterships of the great English schools are the stepping stones to the bishoprics, and it is not generally known here what tremendous incomes are received by the highest officers of the English Church, amounting in the case of the Archbishop of Canterbury to almost $135,000 a year. In all professions and in all ages, it is the prizes that draw.

If there are no great positions in America for teachers, it cannot be expected that men of rare abilities will enter the profession. A few prizes, like those in England, would serve the purpose, and a profession numbering four hundred thousand ought to have them.

Buckland Center School students and teachers, Buckland, Mass., 1893

Photo 1: Miss Blanche Lamont with her school at Hecla, Montana (October 1893) Photo 2: Frewsburg School with teacher Blanch Abbey (1893), thanks to Peggy Karuza. Photo 3: Buckland Center School students and teachers, Buckland, Mass., 1893

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