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The Pedagogy of Love

ISSUE:  Summer 1978

Horace Mann made the feminization of the teaching corps an indispensable element of the common school revival in Massachusetts between 1837 and 1848 and set a pattern the effects of which still pervade American education. Given the patriarchal attitude of the 19th century, feminization was practicable only so long as it carried no hint of feminism; and it implied a moral rather than an intellectual or academic emphasis in teaching. Mann and his supporters were less concerned to revive or restore the schools, which had in fact been considerably improved since about 1820 under the leadership of James G. Carter and others, than to make the schools instrumental in the spiritual revival of society. This was to be accomplished, not according to Calvinist dogma, against which Mann was in revolt, but in the service of a species of moralism believed necessary in controlling the rambunctious Democracy. At its heart was the doctrine of human goodness and perfectibility, so gratifying to the very democratic predilections it was meant to regulate. It happened that the received, anti-feminist sex-typing of woman as definitively maternal fitted with the reformist, anti-Calvinist movement in education.

From his vaguely Unitarian moralism, Mann derived his “pedagogy of love” in sharp contrast to the orthodox pedagogy based on the tried but, according to him, vicious principles of “emulation” and punishment. The old pedagogy took a corrective approach to pupils on the ground that human nature was inherently flawed, requiring for its salvation strenuous measures to bring it up to a severe and divinely ordained external standard. Corporal punishment, against which public sentiment was increasing, was the cornerstone of the old approach. It was associated with the male school teacher and founded in the authority of the (male) congregationalist minister, whose influence the reformers detested.

The pedagogy of love, however, took a nurturant approach to pupils, justified by the belief that human nature, being instinct with good, required primarily a sympathetic atmosphere in which it might grow according to natural law. The standard to be met was implicitly internal in each child. Regarded as maternal by definition, women were thought specially graced by their sex to provide a nurturant atmosphere and to teach more by moral example than by intellectual rigor. The feminization of the teaching corps could be perceived as a merely quantitative question of replacing men with women teachers involving no radical views as to the character and status of womanhood.

The spring of 1837, when Mann was debating whether or not to become the first Secretary of the newly legislated Massachusetts Board of Education, was replete with economic, political, and social disorder, Many people of his class feared that the liberties of Jacksonian Democracy were turning into anarchy. The immediate scene in Boston, which was having difficulty in assimilating large numbers of Roman Catholic immigrants, was alarming. In his journal, Mann recorded rioting and incendiarism. The building in which he kept his law office and where, in widowerhood, he slept as well, had been set on fire. Mixed with reflections on the advisability of accepting the Secretaryship is a note, dated May 30, exclaiming, “A gang of incendiaries infest the city. What a state of morals it reveals!” He was worried about the prevalence of drunkenness and full of forebodings about the increasing intransigence of the Southern states on the slavery issue. He was active in desperate causes, notably those of prisoners and the insane. And he asked himself in dismay, “When will society, like a mother, take care of all her children?”

He overcame his doubts and answered the question by accepting the appointment as Secretary, intending to see to it that through a state system of schools society should at last perform its maternal duty. Suspecting, and even relishing the idea, that he might be martyred for his pains, he nevertheless took infinite pains to be “a fluid sort of man” so as to gain his end. This he never defined as the feminization of teaching. The end was always moralization of democratic society, requiring the replacement in cultural leadership of one male group, the orthodox clergy, by another comprised of Mann and his ilk, Unitarian, phrenological, above all humanitarian men newly established as administrators of education. The question of a female teaching corps was incidental. He found, however, that on every important issue the female teacher, professionalized according to his moralistic faith—his non-sectarian “religion of Heaven”—was either most convenient or positively indispensable to his purposes. From his propaganda for woman as teacher gradually emerged a policy of replacing male with female teachers.

He began with what soon became a necessary instrument in the bureaucratization of education, the school survey. The legislative act of April 20, 1837, which created the Board of Education, required an “annual abstract of the school returns” and a report on “the condition and efficiency of our system of popular education, and the most practicable means of improving and expanding it.” The Board was made dependent, however, on the “voluntary cooperation of the people” both in collecting school data and in diffusing information about methods “of arranging studies and conducting the education of the young.”

Horace Mann needed, therefore, all the persuasiveness and tact he could muster. He knew in advance that the data he expected to gather would not be flattering to local prudential and school committees or to teachers.”In pointing out errors in our system, that they may be rectified,” he said diplomatically in his First Annual Report, “I wish at the same time, to aver my belief in the vast preponderance of its excellencies over its defects.” So he attributed such defects as he found not to delinquent individuals but to faults in the system. Nevertheless, he drew up a severe indictment that did not spare individuals.”It is obvious,” he declared, “that neglectful school committees, incompetent teachers, and an indifferent public may go on, degrading each other, until the noble system of free schools shall be abandoned by the people, so self-debased as to be unconscious of their abasement.”

Under the ominous heading “Competency of teachers,” Mann was devastating. He reminded himself of the need for tact since he acknowledged that he was unfairly criticizing teachers according to standards that had not been applied before. The best he could say for the teachers, however, was that nobody should derogate them—they were “as good as public opinion has demanded.” He asserted that “in two thirds at least of the towns of the Commonwealth” the teachers were incompetent. He estimated that outside of Boston there were only about 100 male teachers and only a slightly larger number of female teachers “who devote themselves to teaching as a regular employment or profession.” Evidently, he purposefully elided this statement of the case since the largest number of qualified professional teachers, mostly male and constituting the elite of the profession, were just those in Boston and Suffolk County. But they, male and orthodox, were anathema and reserved for attention when Mann and his backers should have established their reforms in the state at large sufficiently to take on the Boston masters, not to reform but to annihilate them. Most teachers in Massachusetts, he reported, were young persons from “mechanical and agricultural employments” or college students, well intentioned, no doubt, but unable to comprehend the first principle of the art of teaching, which must be based on understanding “that the great secret of ensuring a voluntary obedience to duty consists in a skillful preparation of motives beforehand.”

He hastened, therefore, to advocate the establishment of normal schools in which prospective teachers, who it seemed were expected to be mostly female, might be initiated into the great secret. If there were contradictions in the idea of voluntary obedience to duty, especially conceived as resulting from skillful preparation of motives beforehand—contradictions and more than a hint of manipulation—the times were not inclined to notice. The intellectual and theological issues were not drawn until the Boston masters, belatedly stung to defense of the old order by Mann’s Seventh Annual Report, engaged him in a controversy that raged through 1844 and 1845. Although he felt during the height of the controversy that the martyr’s crown he had expected was being pressed upon him, Mann had done his work thoroughly and prevailed. He had established normal schools, and the nascent army of the Normalities was on the march.


The first normal school, at Lexington, was to be exclusively for women; if others, which opened at Barre and Bridgewater, were to be open to male students, females were expected to predominate and did so. The original policy was to admit females at 16 and males at 17, to encourage them to take all of the three-year course, but to grant teaching certificates after only one year of study, The curriculum comprised review of the common school “rudiments” coupled with instruction in the all-important art of teaching, reinforced by observation and practice in a model school.

The chief difference between the normals and a typical male academy, apart from the presence and predominance of females in the former, was the substitution of study and practice of teaching methods in the normal for study of classical languages in the academy. However arid the old-line teaching of Latin and Greek may have been in some instances, it implied commitment to literacy representing impersonal, academic standards whereas the normals’ pedagogy of love gave priority to personal relationship between pupil and teacher. This was supposed, of course, to lead, once motives had been sufficiently prepared by a maternalistic teacher, to autonomous and therefore more efficient and thorough learning of the rudiments and eventually Latin, Greek, and all other subjects.

Mann’s emphasis upon moral cultivation as the primary aim of education required the practice of the new art of teaching, women were supposed to possess a sex-specific talent for it, and the feminization of education therefore seemed implicit in its moralization. Here the ambiguities in usage of the term “feminization” begin to multiply: Mann, as we shall see, dwelt upon the quantitative feminization of the teaching corps, but given 19th-century sex-typing of woman as maternal, this had profound qualitative implications which, once the Boston masters were silenced, he did not really have to face. Having sounded warning notes in his first three annual reports, carried a number of approaches to the matter in his newly founded Common School Journal, and alluded to it often in his indefatigable lecturing and corresponding in the cause, Mann argued the general case for woman as teacher boldly and at length in his Fourth Annual Report. He did so in the context of another discussion of the deficient qualifications of the incumbent teaching corps, sex and sex alike; but the remedy he had in mind was to replace the incumbents with normal-trained teachers and the more of these that should prove to be women the better. Summarizing the dissatisfactions with teachers’ work that the school committees had reported, he cited with seeming casualness in a footnote the report of one committee admitting that “we have better luck with the female teachers than with the male.” To which Mann appended the anything but casual comment—”as though it was a matter left to “luck,” what intellectual and moral guides, the rising generation should have.”

He did not mean to leave the matter to luck and moved on to an eloquent statement of the case for woman as teacher, the first paragraph of which stands as the charter of the feminized teaching profession that we inherit:

It is gratifying to observe [he wrote] that a change is rapidly taking place, both in public sentiment and action, in regard to the employment of female teachers. The number of male teachers, in all the summer and winter schools, for the last year [1840] was thirty-three less than for the year preceding, while the number of females was one hundred and three more. That females are incomparably better teachers for young children than males, cannot admit of a doubt. Their manners are more mild and gentle, and hence more in consonance with the tenderness of childhood. They are endowed by nature with stronger parental impulses, and this makes the society of children delightful, and turns duty to pleasure. Their minds are less withdrawn from their employment, by the active scenes of life; and they are less intent and scheming for future honors and emoluments. As a class, they never look forward, as young men almost invariably do, to a period of legal emancipation from parental control, when they are to break away from the domestic circle and go abroad into the world, to build up a fortune for themselves; and hence, the sphere of hope and effort is narrower, and the whole forces of the mind are more readily concentrated upon present duties. They are also of purer morals. In the most common and notorious vices of the age, profanity, intemperance, fraud, &c., there are twenty men to one woman; and although as life advances, the comparison grows more and more unfavorable to the male sex, yet the beginnings of vice are early, even when their developments are late;—on this account, therefore, females are infinitely more fit than males to be the guides and exemplars of young children.

The pleased accounting of the shifting numerical balance of the sexes in the teaching corps was continued and amplified through the subsequent annual reports. In the Sixth, he reported an excess of the number of female over male teachers of 1,782—”A fact unprecedented in any other State in the Union, and one which would be deemed hardly credible in Europe, where the services of females for this purpose seem to be held in low estimation!” But doubters were asked to understand that “in the well developed female character there is always a preponderance of affection over intellect” and that “reflective faculties,” no matter how “powerful and brilliant,” must be regarded as a deformity in a woman “unless overbalanced and tempered by womanly affections.” Happily, “this ordination of Providence” was compatible with “the dispositions of young children of both sexes,” who responded to “the sympathy of a nature kindred to their own.” Accordingly, he declared enthusiastically that the female teacher—childlike herself—”holds her commission from nature” to teach children. Time enough to worry about the intellectual training which she was not competent to conduct when pupils reached puberty, the boys (for whom intellectual training mattered) then being separated from the girls to go on to secondary education and there to come under male tutelage.

He went on in the Sixth Annual Report to hold that school government was adversely affected when administered by men teachers, for the male thinks primarily of the mischief a pupil’s offense implies for future society and “chastises it with a severity proportioned rather to the nature of the transgression, than to the moral weakness of the transgressor.” The pupil’s oifense might be overt misbehavior or merely poor academic performance, and it seemed to be a fault entailed in virility that male teachers were too objectively concerned with correcting academic deficiencies and insufficiently sympathetic with the subjective state of the young. Woman, however, credited with “a gentler, a less hasty, a more forbearing nature,” instinctively knew how “so to remove the evil as not to extirpate the good”—that good which, in the optimistic view of human nature, was certainly there, as preponderant over the evil in the child as affection was over mind in the woman teacher.

Woman’s commission from nature was of course not enough in itself to qualify her to teach, and Mann was quick to insist once more upon her duty to attend normal school. He repeated that it was “matter for congratulation that females are now so much more extensively employed than formerly, as teachers in our Public Schools.” He promptly added, however, that it was “a duty imperative upon them so to improve their minds, by study, by reading, by reflection, and by attending such a course of instruction on the subject of teaching, as the recent legislative appropriation for the continuance of the Normal Schools, has proffered to all, that they can answer the just expectations of the public, and discharge, with religious fidelity, the momentous duties to which they are called.”

The best index to the steadily increasing success of Mann’s school program was his yearly accounting of the declining number of male and the rising number of female teachers. The watershed was reached in 1845, when the relative number of male teachers continued to diminish and a pattern of slight increases in their absolute number was reversed. From 2,595 for the scholastic year 1844—45 the number of male teachers declined to 2,585 the following year. Mann pounced upon that difference of ten and when, the following year— 1846—47—the total declined to 2,437, he triumphantly proclaimed a trend. “The progressive and systematic transference of the education of the young from male to female hands,” he remarked with satisfaction, “is a most interesting fact.” His final Report, the Twelfth, tabulated “the proportion of the male to the female teachers, employed in our schools” for the period since he began his work. The interesting fact was that there were 5,510 female teachers and only 2,424 male,

Because they have proved fraught with omen for the democratic American paedeia as this has been mediated by public education since Mann’s day, I think it important to analyze further two aspects of the fundamental argument for maternal instinct that enabled Mann to promote woman, not merely as teacher, but as infinitely better qualified to teach young children, at least, than men. For convenience, these may be termed the argument from child nature and the argument from cheapness. Although only aspects of the maternal instinct argument, both were often adduced without conscious reference to the more inclusive position.

The argument from child nature holds that woman’s holy mission to teach is limited to prepubertal children, and its corollary is that woman’s nature is childlike. After the Civil War, women became acceptable as teachers of adolescents and eventually of college-age students of both sexes without any refutation of the argument from child nature. Instead, child-likeness (not to say childishness, with pejorative connotations) was attributed to ever more advanced ages. But Horace Mann probably could not have gained a hearing for his school reform if he had not consistently stipulated that woman’s gift was to be guide and exemplar of prepubertal children only. As matters stood, his great difficulty in feminizing the teaching corps was resistance to women as teachers in the winter schools, which, though only elementary, typically included pupils in their teens and often enough in their early twenties.

Mann noted in the Fourth Annual Report that while the employment of females in the winter schools was “highly commended” in some school committee reports, it was “strongly discountenanced” in others. He himself recommended “a sound discretion” and thought particular decisions should be made on the merits of each case. He said it would be imprudent “to employ a young female, for her first term, in a winter school.” And no doubt “where the quiet and harmony of the school are endangered by large and turbulent boys, the power of a sterner voice, and of a firmer hand may be necessary to overawe an insurrectionary spirit.” There was the crux of the matter, the turbulent big boys. Even so, Mann argued that while they might exhibit “disobedience and open rebellion against the authority of a master,” they might, from “a feeling of chivalry towards a female . . .respect a request from a mistress, though they would spurn a command from a master.” Nevertheless, in districts rent with dissension, he thought “it can hardly ever be safe to place a female between the contending parties.” This observation, however, he turned to his purpose: it was the responsibility of male educational administrators and town officials to provide the harmonious situation in which a female teacher could function. Given an experienced female teacher and a harmonious school district, “then a female will keep quite as good a school as a man, at two-thirds of the expense, and will transfuse into the minds of her pupils, purer elements, both of conduct and character, which will extend their refining and humanizing influences far outward into society, and far onward into futur-



Puberty and intellectuality were regarded as primarily male phenomena and felt, if not described, as infused with the quasi-magical, primitively religious, and quintessentially sinful qualities of maturing male sexuality. One need not be psychoanalytically devout to be struck by the way many people in the 19th century passionately argued that adolescent boys must come under the domination of “the rod,” that is, the (birch) rod specifically of male teachers physically able to quell the “insurrectionary spirit” of “turbulent big boys.” Intellectual development was generally held to begin at puberty as an adjunct of sexuality and thus to be of little concern to women teachers in elementary schools, either summer or winter, provided that the older boys who might be in the latter—who were increasingly felt to be anomalous as the grading of schools spread—could be governed through properly authoritative male administration and maternalistic female instruction.

From this account of the argument from child (and female) nature, it will be apparent that opposition to the feminization of teaching could be neutralized so long as no overt argument for women as teachers of postpubertal boys was advanced; but the argument from cheapness, which was much the more effectual with the school and prudential committees, contained elements that ultimately made the idea of woman as teacher in secondary schools and beyond easy to accept. Mann knew that the expansion of the public school system and the establishment of normals would be tolerated by the taxpayers only if costs could be kept down. In Jacksonian America, he was advocating an unprecedented increase in government function through the creation of a state educational bureaucracy, the training and employment of thousands of teachers, and large capital outlays. He never hesitated frankly, sometimes crassly, to advance the argument from cheapness, although at the same time he advocated raises for all teachers and improvement in the pay of female as compared with male teachers. He urged upon the school and prudential committees the “expediency” of hiring women teachers and of reforms allowing for the use of more women “assistants” under the direction of fewer men. The consolidation of schools was one such device, Where distances were not too great, he persuaded school committees to consolidate several schools, each under a male teacher, into one school conducted by a single male “principal” teacher with several female assistants, Although in the passage quoted above he pointed out the expediency of employing females at “two-thirds” the rate paid males, his figures show that the rate for females was nearer one-third, on the average, and in some instances one-fourth that for males.

His positions on pay for women from one annual report to another and sometimes within a given report were inconsistent. Perhaps he was truly ambivalent, influenced on the one hand by his knowledge of the penuriousness of school and prudential committees and, on the other, by his desire to create a professionally trained teacher corps which implied increased salaries. No doubt he was influenced, probably more than he realized for all his appreciation of the argument from cheapness, by the practices of the rising capitalists and manufacturers who were among his backers. Michael B. Katz has stressed, in his monograph The Irony of Early School Reform (1968), the “parallels between the methods of educational and industrial reorganization in the period.” Moved by scarcity and dearness of labor, industry was creating larger units of production, subdividing manufacturing processes, gathering workers engaged in making a given product under one roof, training them for greater efficiency, and increasing the proportion of female labor in the work force. The grading and consolidation of schools, normal school training, and the advocacy of women as teachers were comparable aspects of school reform.

Mann expressed regret at the insufficiency of “the pecuniary encouragement held out to females to enter this truly noble, truly feminine, and truly Christian employment”; but his very notion of teaching as noble, feminine, and Christian translated into the idea of maternalistic self-sacrifice, true love of the work transcending money considerations, and the superiority of heavenly reward over anything that could be expected from a prudential committee. He boldly, not to say wildly, proposed in his Ninth Annual Report that $500 a year would be a proper salary for female teachers. They were making at the time anything from $32 to $64 a year depending on the length of school terms. He knew of one woman teacher who made $600, another who made $400, and several female assistants in Boston schools who made $250 a year, so in recommending an average salary of $500 he was saying that all women teachers should be paid what the few highest paid ones received. That was nevertheless only a third of the $1,500 which the highest paid male teachers, almost all of them in the Boston schools, were paid.

He never considered it practicable or desirable that women teachers should receive the same pay as men for the same work. It was remarkable enough, as he said, that he had reversed the proportions of male and female teachers and established a trend that might eventually result in total replacement of men by women in the elementary schools. He had done so in spite of the fact that he had to persuade school districts “which are corporate bodies, and as independent of each other as England is of France . . . . Yet, in these separate arid independent bodies, acting with entire freedom from each other, and wholly exempt, on this point, from all legislative control or interference, a change is going forward, which, in the uniformity and steadiness of its action, resembles a law of nature.” What all those sovereign school districts were mostly concerned about was costs. A law of nature might be in operation, and Horace Mann, with his well-developed phrenological “bump of causality,” might indulge a godlike sense of responsibility for it; but this law of feminization was operating in consequence of a prior law, namely, the supposedly maternal, self-sacrificial, Christian tendency of womankind, divinely ordained subordinate to men and happy in their place—who as a consequence happened also to be cheap.


Mann’s ambivalence about the compensation of female teachers was, therefore, ultimately resolved in favor of their remaining cheap. In his Eleventh Annual Report, near the end of his Secretaryship, he noted that the towns and districts had accepted his argument for “the expediency of employing a larger portion of female teachers” with such enthusiasm “that the present number of female teachers is much more than double that of males.” Regarding the change “in an economical point of view,” he went on to calculate what teacher salaries for 1846—47 would have amounted to if the relative proportion of male and female teachers had been the same as it was when he started in 1837. The “savings” for a single year came to a sum “double,” as he was quick to point out, “the expense of the three State Normal Schools” which were steadily supplying cheap women teachers (whose average monthly wage, inclusive of board, was $13.60, compared to $32.46 for men). The geese were laying golden eggs, and he was quite persuaded “that the educational gain, —the gain to the minds and manners of the children, —has been in a far higher ratio than the pecuniary.”

Was it nothing but rationalization? To his crass exercise in arithmetic, he felt impelled to add, “I cannot leave this topic without adverting to the grossly inadequate compensation made to female teachers,” No, his regret was sincere. He did believe, in his flat reaction from Calvinist tenets, in the “treasure of unpurchased happiness in the youthful breast . . . referable alone to the benevolence of the Creator,” as he had said in the Sixth Annual Report. He believed in the pliability of child nature, in its susceptibility to perfection if affectionately nurtured. He believed that “the natural sympathy, the sagacity, the maternal instincts of the female preeminently qualify her for this sphere of noble usefulness.” He believed that women who worthily prepared themselves at normal schools for teaching “should be rewarded with social distinction and generous emoluments.” If, however, these were not forthcoming, he was very sorry but felt that fortunately “for the actors themselves in this beneficent work, the highest rewards must forever remain where God and nature have irrevocably placed them, —in the consciousness of well-doing,” as he had opined in the Eighth.

The expediency of considering the use of female teachers from an economical point of view led to settling for a proletarian wage with a hope of something a little better if teachers improved their qualifications through normal school training. Those improved qualifications guaranteed a status somewhat superior to that of the female factory operatives at Lowell. Women teachers could supplement their meager pay not only with consciousness of well-doing but with lower-middle class respectability. If the committees would increase their compensation, not to the $500 a year Mann had once giddily imagined, but enough at least to enable them to pay for normal school training, the common schools would flourish. They would flourish for the plain capitalistic reason that a better quality of labor would be employed at a rate calibrated to the market. As Mann said in the Eleventh Annual Report, the “school committees, when they go abroad in quest of fit endowments and qualifications to cultivate the immortal capacities of the young, would escape the mortification which they now sometimes suffer, of being overbid by a capitalist who wants them for his factory, and who can afford to pay them more for superintending a loom or a spinning-frame, than the people feel willing to give for weaving the infinitely precious tissue of character.”

The upshot, so far as the teaching profession was concerned, was an expedient use of women in the schoolroom and the establishment of a male corps—a sort of priesthood—of administrators in authority above them, yet of limited authority among them and in the world outside schools. There was never any question in the minds of Mann and the other male humanitarian reformers of anybody but themselves assuming cultural and moral leadership, but in instituting the pedagogy of love they gave hostages to fortune. Horace Mann’s transference of education from male to female hands meant the creation of a docile labor force for the schools, Real status and high pay remained male prerogatives within education but, as measured against those of other male groups, particularly business, disturbingly second-rate. The male educational reformers did succeed, if not in replacing altogether, then in joining the clergy as cultural leaders—but a clergy much reduced in authority by the very moralism the reformers represented. The feminization of teaching made it the example par excellence of what Amitai Etzioni has called a “semi-profession,” involving a limitation even upon its male administrative class.


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