Making “Good Teachers into Better Ones”: U.S. Schoolteachers and Summer Tourism, 1880s-1930s

Christine Ogren, University of Iowa

From Europe in June-August 1910, Indiana schoolteachers Evangeline and Maude Lewis wrote home about tracing William Tell’s footsteps in Switzerland and seeing paintings by da Vinci and Raphael in Italy; “You imagine beautiful things but, when you see them!,” they exclaimed. From a western auto trip with friends in 1940, Milwaukee teacher Margarete Bohle wrote to her family that park rangers at Yosemite got “a big kick out of seeing girls drain the radiator and cool the motor.” Meanwhile, education professor Charles Payne observed in Midland Schools that summer travel “makes good teachers into better ones.” Based on qualitative historical data from education journals and the diaries and letters of dozens of teachers, this paper considers the social-class, gender, and professional ramifications of U.S. schoolteachers’ summer experiences as tourists. The main focus is the decades between the 1880s and 1930s, when the nine-month school calendar was new and the majority of teachers were single women. This work extends the historiography of American teachers—in which books from Rousmaniere’s City Teachers (1997) to Clifford’s Those Good Gertrudes (2014) focus on the lives of women schoolteachers only during the school year—and adds teachers to the historiography of leisure travel—in which Aron in Working at Play (1999) asserts that European tourism during this period was accessible only to the wealthy, and Shaffer in See America First (2001) pays little attention to teachers’ role in the rise of sightseeing as consumption and an expression of citizenship. This paper argues that partaking in the new middle-class pursuit of tourism enhanced teachers’ class standing, that women teachers asserted their independence through travel, and that tourism functioned as professional development for teachers. In addition, this paper highlights teachers’ diaries and letters as rich sources of “data” on the history of teaching and tourism.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 151. Knowledge, Modernity and the Good Life