How does a Wild West schoolteacher sound?

Toby Frost

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I know how a stereotypical cowboy speaks ("Howdy partner" etc), and how a stereotypical Southern lady speaks ("I do declare" etc). How would a stereotypical Wild West schoolmarm, who is comparatively educated and "proper" but not wealthy or very refined, speak? This is for a story, so it's a matter of conveying accent in writing, preferably through phrases. Thanks!
 
Interesting Question, couldn't resist having a search myself :)
There is a wealth of material if you search Education in the Wild West. It will take some sifting to to find recollections from former pupils that may include how teachers spoke to their classes
Mostly they taught in one room schools with all ages. Often the teachers would also have claims, that is be part of the pioneer community, not necessarily brought in as outsiders.
I expect school ma'ams to be educated but not too elite, life was hard there.


Can you put a voice to this fine lady?
To get how far from the dream the reality of a frontier school was, check the barefooted boys . Heartbreaking .
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Wondering what the proportion is of US accents and European accents in the wild west.
I'd've thought that whoever got the job should be reasonably grammatical.
In a similar period in the UK - end of Victorian - I remember my mother talking about her grandmother at the primary school, which was a village school in Hampshire. The headmaster and main teacher was horrible, and feared for miles around, keen with a cane and banged my great grandmother's face onto the desk on one occasion - she was 8 or 9.
Yet from what was said, he was not exactly an exception, but at the bottom end of a scale with better in it.
 
Depends on how big the settlement and how desperate they were for a teacher and how much they could pay. Large town with a decent salary they might get someone from the east who had been to a teaching college. Small settlement, any schoolgirl of sixteen who could pass the written test and was willing would have to do. Laura Ingalls Wilder in her somewhat fictionalized account of her life described what it was like to teach pupils who were older (and bigger) than she was.
 
Keep in mind that a lot of people in the west weren't from the west
Also keep in mind that depending on the period, "the west" might still be pretty far east-- for instance Ohio. Later it was anywhere west of the Mississippi. Lots of "westerns" were set in places like Kansas or Missouri. For instance the iconic Dodge City is in Kansas, and those iconic western baddies the James Gang robbed people in Missouri. Laramie is in Wyoming.
 
Also I think it's worth mentioning that teachers are and were "regular" people who likely have a better education than most. I don't think you could do it wrong with any kind of accent or phrasing. Teachers were who teachers were and they might have a Scottish accent, a New England sound, or anything else. Having the teacher from "elsewhere" might make the character more interesting.
 
Also keep in mind that depending on the period, "the west" might still be pretty far east-- for instance Ohio. Later it was anywhere west of the Mississippi. Lots of "westerns" were set in places like Kansas or Missouri. For instance the iconic Dodge City is in Kansas, and those iconic western baddies the James Gang robbed people in Missouri. Laramie is in Wyoming.

Yep! There was a time when Mississippi and Alabama were considered 'the southwest', pre-Louisiana Purchase.
 
I know how a stereotypical cowboy speaks ("Howdy partner" etc), and how a stereotypical Southern lady speaks ("I do declare" etc). How would a stereotypical Wild West schoolmarm, who is comparatively educated and "proper" but not wealthy or very refined, speak? This is for a story, so it's a matter of conveying accent in writing, preferably through phrases. Thanks!
Wasn't Doc's love interest in Back To The Future III a school teacher? You could study that. At the very least you would learn how to fix a broken telescope.

PS. That movie also has my favorite bit of dialog ever:

Engineer: Is this a hold up?
Doc: (Looks at Marty) No, it's a science experiment.
 
Depends on how big the settlement and how desperate they were for a teacher and how much they could pay. Large town with a decent salary they might get someone from the east who had been to a teaching college. Small settlement, any schoolgirl of sixteen who could pass the written test and was willing would have to do. Laura Ingalls Wilder in her somewhat fictionalized account of her life described what it was like to teach pupils who were older (and bigger) than she was.

Teachers in the “Old West” would have often been hastily trained locals like in Ingalls Wilder’s account. See this, for example on establishment of “normal school” in Nebraska:
Junior Normal Schools - History Nebraska

“Normal school” was the term for teacher’s college at that time. It is the source of the odd name of the town of Normal, Illinois.
 
But in South Dakota, Laura Ingalls merely had to pass a written test. There was no training available. She hadn't even graduated from school, and was two months shy of her sixteenth birthday (of course the superintendent wrote her age down as 16).

That might make it sound like newly settled areas in the newly settled West were unusually desperate for teachers in the 1880s, but about 20 years earlier in Wisconsin Laura's own mother has started teaching at the venerable age of sixteen-and-a-half. Whether she was given any training beforehand, I don't know

In fact because the family often moved and lived for long periods where there were no schools, much of Laura' s education came from Caroline Ingalls. In the schools where Laura taught, the students were either quite young, or where they were her age or older hadn't had much opportunity for schooling before (and hadn't the advantage of a teacher for a mother). She brought her books from town and continued to study to keep up with her class back home, and attended her school in town in between jobs, but she married before she could graduate.

So I think what we can figure is that a female school teacher might be quite young—because with many schools if she married she would lose her job, so there wasn't a large pool of mature and experienced women. (Men, of course, could go on teaching and raise a family, but the pay was poor, which is why there were so openings left for women.) She might be trained, but if she was, it might be in a course lasting only weeks, as in Nebraska. Or she might, like Laura Ingalls, just be a particularly bright young woman and one of the best students in her one-room schoolhouse, but not even a graduate because she left young to help support her family. (In Laura's case, her family needed money to send their older daughter to a college for the blind.)

As for accent, out in the West people (as someone pointed out earlier) had often come from elsewhere. In some cases, many somewheres. Before South Dakota, where she did live for several years (among other people who had all come from parts East), Laura had lived in Wisconsin, Kansas, Minnesota, and Iowa. Regional western accents, if they existed at that point, would be for people who had lived where they lived for most or all of their lives. In newly settled areas there would be no regional accent as yet, just a mixture. Choose one for your teacher character when you decide where she comes from originally.

(My great-grandfather settled in Arizona after the Civil War, and before the war he came from Germany. So figure in immigrants as well.)
 
In case it helps, I wrote an abandoned western screenplay a few years ago and I still have these sites on file that might provide some background info:


I also found this book (which I never got round to reading): Frontier Teachers: Stories Of Heroic Women Of The Old W…
 
From my old West research, I'd suggest you forget any exotic accent and stick with what we would now consider a 'midwest' accent, IOW none. Communities would not allow a 'foreign influence' to educate their children, and the townsfolk had a say and weren't afraid to say it.

Sad to say, yet in the mid to late 1800s, racism and segregation were commonplace, expected, and preferred. That also applies to national/cultural/religious bias. Immigrants from non-English speaking nations were treated as though parasites looking to capitalize upon the efforts of Americans (all from immigrant stock themselves, yet funny how folks view things after a generation or two). Each successive wave was derided by the previous once they were established. Language, color, and religion were the determining factors, otherwise, no one knew.

By the 1870s say, the Irish had been there long enough that their children spoke like other Americans, so their children were treated better than their parents experienced. The 'Dutchies,' Germans, Scandinavians, Northern Europeans didn't, however. So they were treated as second class citizens. Same-same for Slavs, Italians, etc. over their following waves. Religion made it worse--e.g., Jews in the US were still excluded from many golf courses until the 1960s, and in the 1870s were shunned if not driven out of communities. Anyone who was not like the general WASP stereotype had trouble, and communities would not let those 'lesser-people' teach their children.

It is why in the US many communities (even sections of large cities to even states) have a particular national or religious foundation.

That's something else to keep in mind. If your story is in a primarily white community (even though blacks made up a considerable number in the old West), the students will be white, no mix of races--so no Blacks, Asians, Hispanic, Mediterranean, etc. and definitely no Indigenous children. Their may have been rare exceptions, more so in larger cities, but a smaller town, no. Black communities were more flexible, yet a white teacher would have been shunned by the rest of society. Asians at the time kept to themselves and excluded others.

Terrible as it may be, the most racially, religious, and culturally diverse nation in the world at the time was the most segregated. And it was considered the right thing to do, and to buck the system meant more trouble than most people understand.

It doesn't make for a very PC/inclusive story, yet is how it was in most cases.

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To get how far from the dream the reality of a frontier school was, check the barefooted boys . Heartbreaking .
As to the barefooted children, it was more a thing of not wearing out expensive shoes when not needed, and in short order, it was tough to keep them on them (kids are kids).

Here are some photos I took of and in Bannack's school in your article.

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K2
 
Oh this is an easy one. Go read Charles Portis' True Grit.

The dialog there is a marvel. More than being accurate to some imagined specific time and place (and this varied wildly across half a continent and half a century), it *evokes* the West with cadences and phrases unforgettable.

There are other examples you can turn to. Vardis Fisher is another source (Jeremiah Johnson), but then there's Angle of Repose. Not to mention innumerable actual diaries from the time.
 
So I think what we can figure is that a female school teacher might be quite young—because with many schools if she married she would lose her job, so there wasn't a large pool of mature and experienced women.
Ah, this is so true. And it last longer than you might imagine. In some of the rural Iowa schools teachers could be married but were forced to resign if they had a child into the 1960's. And IRC the lady who told me this (who was forced to quit teaching because of pregnancy) said that she was among the first of the married woman teachers.
 

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