• How has public elementary schooling in California changed throughout history? (Beginning in 1848)

  • How have women, and their roles, in California public elementary schools been perceived throughout history?

  • How has policy/ funding changes within the last 10 years affected public elementary schools in California?


Schooling has been an essential part of California history since the founding of the state in 1848. Since then, trends, topics, and demographics have changed dramatically in all schools throughout the state. In the beginning, men were the most prominent voices in schools as students, teachers, and superintendents. However, throughout history, there has been a change. Now, women are beginning to have a more prominent influence, as they become faculty, staff, teachers, and superintendents. It has taken a lot to get to his point, and the journey has not been easy. Facing challenges such as the unequal pay gap, the overwhelming number of male superintendents, and the need to fight stereotypes, women have not always been included in the education system. To gain a full understanding of California, and have a comprehensive view of its history, it is essential to consider how the public school system, specifically elementary schools, have changed because of women’s influences.




A variety of artifacts were collected, which further explain women’s role in the California public school system. The main focus of this project is public elementary schools; however, some of the artifacts mention general public schooling and do not specify grade level. Artifacts range in topics. Many explain different challenges women have endured while working in the California public school system. Despite the difficulties, women currently make up 73% of teachers in California (Artifact 5).

Journal of Education, Volumes 79-80 - The Fisk Teachers’ Agencies

Written by Unknown

Media Type: Journal

Date: October 8, 1914


“elementary school men teachers, $1,022; elementary school women teachers, $732”



The Journal of Education was first published in 1875 and focuses on topics regarding K-12 education (Journal of Education). This paragraph was published in the journal in 1914. It gives statistics regarding the average teaching salaries based on gender in California public elementary schools. There was a $290 difference in male and female salaries in 1914. This was six years before women earned the right to vote in California; however, issues surrounding women’s rights and equality had been around for many years prior.

Women Educators: Employees of Schools in Western World Countries

Edited by Patricia A. Schmuck

Media Type: Books

Date: 1987


“In 1908 [Los Angeles, California, Public Schools] had 84 schools, and more than half had female principals; presumably, most of these were elementary schools. By 1974 only 31 percent of the district’s 591 principals were women, and by 1976 the figure remained at about 30 percent (Barnes, 1976; Los Angeles, 1976-77)”



This book is about more than California public schools, but it has a brief section about this topic on pages 84-86. In this section, it talks about the number of principals who were women in the Los Angeles school district from 1908 to the late 1970’s. During this time, there was a decrease of 20-30 percent of women in principal positions. There were many factors that lead to this change in statistics, including World War II. After this time, men were given the role of principal because leading was a stereotypical “man’s job.” (Schmuck, 1987, p. 86).

Country Schoolwomen: Teaching in Rural California 1850-1950

Chapter 2: Gender and the Educational State

Written by: Kathleen Weiler

Media Type: Book

Date: 1998


“Ideas of gender underlie both the conflicting representations of women teachers in the discourse of educational experts and feminist reformers and struggles over material resources. An analysis of material life reveals the different access men and women enjoy to positions of power and authority, conflicts over equal pay for equal work, and struggles to maintain or challenge gender privilege for men in education. An analysis of discourse reveals tensions between the framing of images of women teachers in patriarchal authoritative discourse and the claims of counter discourses, often fragmentary and partial, that suggest new meanings of ‘woman’ and ‘the woman teacher’” (p. 35). 


“Whereas in the early days of statehood most teachers were men- which was to be expected, since the population of California in 1850 was 92 percent male- by 1900 the ration of men to women teachers increasingly matched national figures, with women in the great majority, particularly in the case of elementary school teachers… thus by 1916, approximately 90 percent of California teachers were women, matching national figures, and by 1930 almost 97 percent of elementary school teachers in the state were women” (p. 36)


“Teaching in California, as elsewhere, was shaped by the assumptions about the essential natures of men and women, which were used to justify male authority and women’s limited roles as classroom teachers. Also as elsewhere, the growth of feminism and shifting patterns of work related tensions and conflicts within California education as men and women spoke and acted not only on the basis of different interests but from different assumptions as well. Both the vision of teaching as woman’s ‘true’ profession, expressed by Catherine Beecher and the common school reformers, and the later national panic over ‘woman peril’ were echoed in the rhetoric of California officials and university educators” (p. 37-8)


“In California for example, between 1899 and 1906 the number of men teaching in elementary schools declined from 1,137 to 887, while the number of women increased from 5,806 to 7,195” (p. 43)



This is an informational text written about the roles women have had in California public schools throughout history. Chapter 2: Gender and the Educational State illustrates many of the challenges women have had to face throughout history, such as pay inequality, stereotyping, and the belief of women’s peril. In addition, it mentions multiple protests women have been part of to advocate for their rights as teachers. The protests began in 1870 and continued well into the early 1900’s. Still, to this day, equal pay is a trending topic in society, and there are many movements that focus on rights of equality for all groups of people.


There were many advocates for the women’s role in the classroom, such as John Swett, Horace Mann, Catherine Beecher, Jeanne Carr, Kate Kennedy, and Kate Ames. These are only some of the names mentioned in the chapter, which goes more in depth about these individuals’ roles in the fight for women’s rights as teachers in the classroom.

Ethnic Distribution of Public School Teachers: 2014-15

Written by: California Department of Education

Media Type: Article, picture

Date: 2016


Title III, Article XII, Section 1702

Approved March 30, 1874

This section of Article XII is a direct result of Kate Kennedy’s efforts in 1872. Kennedy was an elementary school teacher in San Francisco and was a strong advocate of pay equality for teachers, regardless of gender. In 1872, she and other female educators met to discuss the issue of equal pay. These protests influenced the legislation to be passed in 1874 (Weiler, 1998, p. 39). Above is a picture of the legislation. However, as seen in Artifact 1, pay inequality was still an issue.

The Codes and Statutes of California: Political Code

Written by: F.P. Deering

Media Type: Book

Date: 1886


This report was published by the California Department of Education for the 2014-2015 school year. In that year, there was a total of 79,214 male teachers and 215,811 female teachers in the school system. Overall, 73% of the teachers were female. There was a majority more female than male in every ethnic category. 48% of the teachers, 144,073, teach in elementary schools.

California’s Public Schools are First in Nation to Include LGBTQ History in Curriculum

Video by: VICE News

Media Type: Video

Date: 2016 / 2017


“…They [the students] realize that we are all just kind of humans, figuring out how to navigate the issues that come up around us.”



In 2016, California was the first state to introduce education standards regarding the history of LGBTQAI+ groups. It is required by state law to teach about this topic in public schools. This is a progressive reform that affects women teaching in California public schools. Although some people may be against the progressive new standards, many will benefit from it. Female teachers now have opportunities to become allies with LGBTQAI+ groups. Throughout history, these groups have often been advocates for one another, understanding the importance of allowing minority voices to be heard.


An example of this can be seen in the 2017 Women’s March. As a response to the recent presidential election, over 2 million people worldwide gathered in various locations to advocate for the rights of women and all humans. In this, LGBTQAI+ rights were on the forefront of issues being protested (Przybyla & Schouten, 2017).


Barbara Murrieta has dedicated a lifetime to schooling. She has held many roles, both in public and private schools, ranging from teacher to aid to a career counselor. Her extensive background and history with the California public school system made her a perfect candidate for the California History Project oral interview. In addition, she is my Nana and my role model. I interviewed her in hopes to learn more about her experiences while working in schools.


From 1977-1996, Barbara was a classified staff member for the Tustin Unified School District. First, she worked as a Title 1 and ESL aide in elementary, middle, and high schools. Then, she became a high school career guidance counselor and ROP career specialist at Foothill High School and Tustin High School. Throughout her time as a classified employee, she was able to work alongside faculty, while providing students with specialized services.


I interviewed Barbara on Sunday, April 29th, 2017. Unfortunately, she now lives in Arizona, and the only way to conduct the interview was over the phone. The interview began at 9:45 am and ran for the length of an hour. Below are excerpts from the interview accompanied by headings describing the content.


Excerpt #1: Teacher by birth


“The whole thing about being a teacher, and decorating your own classrooms, and having your own learning environment, and making all your own decisions is very, very appealing to me because as a child, I used to teach my younger brothers and sisters during the summer, make a little schoolroom in our house with a blackboard and chalk. You know, and I used to give them assignment, so that was in my DNA. And I think most good teachers they have that. They have those skills, those yearnings, to make a difference in a child’s life by really being patient and trying different methods of teaching, so that you can get your point across to them [the students]. I think you have to have that in your make-up to be a good teacher.” 


Excerpt #2: Stereotypes and movements


Why do you believe women are often stereotyped as “good” teachers in an elementary classroom rather than men?


“Well, from way back when, the one room schoolhouse, always have seen, I don’t think there were any men teachers in the one-room schoolhouse, you know, ‘House on the Prairie’ type of thing. It was always a women because the women was always supposed to be the stay-at-home mom who took care of the children, who were very nurturing just by their very nature, and the men were the breadwinners. I think it all goes to that. And then eventually, during the 80’s when there was the movement for non-traditional jobs, and the women’s lib movement and women became firemen and policemen, I think then men started doing some women, got interested in women kinds of things, like teaching and home decorating and cosmetology and things like that, got into professions that were primarily women’s professions. The whole gender idea was kind of switched around and got to be more acceptable. It had to do with the suffrage movement first, giving women the right to vote, and then they wanted to have more of a voice. Once they had more of a voice to vote, then it extended into the workplace, and they wanted to do things that were traditionally men occupations, or some liked to. Particularly that was not my goal at all. I was never part of the women’s ‘lib thing,’ I never wanted to be part of that women’s ‘lib thing,’ but some women that was really important to.”


Excerpt #3: Roles


What was the gender make-up of the staff, faculty, principal, and teachers at the elementary school you were at?


“I was at, let me see, 1…2…3…4…actually all the schools when I was in the public school system, every principal was male, and I really was at quite a few because I worked at two elementary schools and two junior highs and two high schools, and they were all male principals as well as a male superintendent.


What was the make-up of the teachers?


“Teachers, primarily female. There were some male teachers, but the male teachers were usually associated with the athletics department, and they were also coaches, so they had dual-jobs and that kind of fit because their pay checks probably needed to be supplemented because men were always considered the breadwinners of the family, and when I was teaching, for most of the time, they didn’t have both husband and wife working in the family, so the man had to make more money. So, as a coach, which they would get stipends for, and he had a teaching paycheck. So, most of the men on the staff had an auxiliary job, extra-curricular auxiliary job as well… So, they would get more money.


Were women ever offered those roles?


“Yes, sometimes, but not primarily. Sometimes they were, especially as you got into the 80’s. In the 60’s and 70’s I would say no, but when you got into the 80’s and 90’s women got, well if there was a female baseball team then yes, and maybe activities director, yes, but all-in-all, most of the extra-curricular jobs because they had to do with boys sports, which were much more prevalent than girls sports offered, it was usually the men that got the jobs… It really all started changing because I remember when I was just about to leave the public school system one of the vice principals at the high school I was at, she applied for a superintendent job outside our district and she won, she got it, and that was the first female superintendent I had ever known. Up until then, it just wasn’t happening, and that was in the 90’s I would say. The mid-90’s…. This was in Tustin Unified… Then there started to be many more female principals. I remember specifically at that time, and over where your grandma lived I think that school had a female principal at one time during that time. [Benson Elementary School]…It would be at the elementary level though. There were no high school principals that, or junior high at that time, but then, a little bit later, after I was out into the private schools, I remember there was, in maybe the late-90’s, a junior high that had a female principal. But it was just starting to allowing females to be in administrative in Tustin Unified.”


When you say ‘allowing’ was there a rule against it?


“No. No. There wasn’t a rule against it. I mean that it began happening.”


Excerpt #4: Subjects


“My kids have had some great male teachers, especially science and math teachers, and that’s another thing which has to do with subject matter. Usually, math and science teachers have been male. And then with this movement you had this big push to have girls in science and math, such more so. Then you got teachers that were, women, who started to apply for those roles once they got into the classrooms and enjoyed them… There was a push in the 80’s to have more women, more girls, peruse that, those classes, and then they started teaching in those classes too. It is funny how men gravitated to history; you know men are usually history teachers. I had a great English teacher that taught at the high school when I was working at the high school and the career center. One of the most popular English teachers was a man, and that was very unusual to have somebody in the English department that was a man.”


So you’re saying you think it all goes off of stereotypes, like this is the way it has been for a long time?


“Ya. I think so. Perception. Ya. Public perception…”


Excerpt #5: Pay Gap and Treatment of Staff


Do you know if there was a pay gap between genders in the schools that you worked?


“I don’t know that there was. I wouldn’t think that there would be, but I don’t have any evidence on that. I don’t think there was a pay gap. You know with the public school system everything is pretty set in stone as far as their pay scale go. I don’t think it had anything to do at all, the only thing I would say is the men probably had an advantage to getting extra-curricular, supplemental pay due to these jobs that were available to them. That would be the only thing I would think that might have been an advantage, but as far pay scales, no. I think that, I don’t think they can get away with that. I really don’t.”


Do you think the staff was treated differently based on gender at all?


“No. Not based on gender. No. Staff was probably treated differently if they, by their performance, by their job performance. You had to earn the respect of people and if you did, I don’t think the staff was treated differently based on gender at all.”


Excerpt #6: The Profession and Self-Satisfaction


“I don’t think society gives the teaching profession much respect. It’s not a profession that gets its respect, and it’s not a profession that gets the just pay that it should get. I mean both of those go hand-in-hand I think… It basically is a profession of service, and it is more self-satisfying. You need to get that self-satisfaction because you’re not going to get, probably, the respect that you, worthy recognition, or kudos, that you would get in other jobs.”


Although an interview is most likely only one person's perspective, an interviewer can gain a lot of insight from his or her story. This interview provides a people's history from a somewhat marginalized perspective. I use the term “somewhat” because women are prominent in the California public schooling system; however, their voices are not always heard. Before the interview, I had found many artifacts about my topic. To me, these were 100% accurate, and I thought everything Barbara said would align with the perspectives the artifacts presented. From the interview, I now see that Barbara both agrees and disagrees with the artifacts. She has one perspective, but this shows there are always multiple perspectives to every story. Artifacts are similar to an interview because, at times, they are only one perspective, and one perspective is not always a comprehensive analysis of a situation or topic. My interview also gives a marginalized perspective because Barbara is female. Although throughout history, many California public school teachers were majority female, the principals and superintendents were, and still are, often male. Interviewing her allowed me to see her perspective on the situation and hear her opinion as to why this is. In addition, the interview is people's history because she put stories behind her reasoning. It was not merely facts on a page, but it had personality and an individual voice giving it meaning.


This interview goes against the dominant version of history. Barbara was unique because she both agreed and disagreed with some of the dominant views. I believe this was a result as to how she was raised. However, I cannot justify any of her reasoning because they are not my own. Regardless, Barbara gave a new perspective to history. With every opinion she had, she also had a story to give it concrete evidence as to why she felt the way she did. I respect her for her opinions, and I learned a lot about California public schools from her, much of which I would not be able to find in artifacts.


This interview is a living testimonial because it came from a person who has had experience in and with the topic of my project. Barbara is more than capable of speaking about the California public school system because of her experience working for it. Her experiences and stories are valid artifacts and pieces of history. No one is going to have the same experiences as she is, that is why this interview is so valuable. Her story has never been told in a setting similar to this one. Overall, her opinions were unlike those I have read about or explored in artifacts. My interview with Barbara has given my project more depth and a different perspective. In a project such as this one, it is essential to get as much information, perspectives, and viewpoints as possible.


The oldest person I have known was my grandma. Born in 1928, she lived to be 86-years-old. Now, the youngest person I know is my friend’s baby, who was born in 2017. In the course of my 20-year-old life, I have already known people who were born within a 90-year range of each other. This pattern will continue. In 70 years I may pass away at the age of 90. It will be 2086, and hopefully, my great-grandchild will have been born. By this time, I would have impacted people born within a 158-year range of each other. Being 90-years-old, this is a much greater range of time than my actual life. Going further, say my great-grandchildren live to be 100-years-old (thanks to technology). I will have had an impact on people ranging over 250 years. The pattern will continue on.


My actions will determine whether my impact is positive or negative. Not only do I currently affect those around me, but my decisions may also contribute to the lives of others 100-years from now. This is why I want to become a teacher and teach with a social justice approach, specifically in California. I see my life as more than a 90 to 100-year span where I am on this Earth and leave without a trace. As a teacher, I will be given the opportunity to influence people every day. From my engagements with others, they will go and affect those around them. It is similar to a drop of water in a still pool. The drop only touches the water closest to it, but a wave is soon created that moves the entire pool. I will be the drop, which touches my students. From there, they will ripple outward to their families and communities, then to greater California, and finally, to the rest of the country and world.


I want to teach with a social justice approach because I do not want my impact to hurt others. I imagine the world where diversity is not segregating and damaging, but needed and encouraged. My students and those I have an impact on throughout these 250-years will be diverse. The people my students will ripple out to will also be diverse. Teaching is my opportunity to spread this message to more people and for many more years. Because of this, I see the necessity of creating a positive impact and teaching for inclusivity. Everyone has a voice and should receive the opportunity to create a ripple. In the end, our lives and our time on this Earth may be limited, but our impact will continue on for long after we are gone, just like a drop of water ripples a pool, even after it has disappeared into the water.

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