News Flash “Big Majority Opposes Married Women in Industry: Nation Overwhelmingly Is Against Faire Sex in Jobs If Husband Is Employed” – Billings Gazette
The discriminatory practice, known as the “Marriage Bar”, was instituted to avoid depriving “single girls of opportunities.” In Anaconda, Montana, the school superintendent ruled in 1899, that since “Mrs. Foley [who had been employed as a teacher] is married,” [she must not be] “in need of the salary which she draws from the schools.” She lost the position.
In 1913, Mrs. W. J. Christie of Butte argued that “the test of employment should be efficiency and nothing else.” Mrs. James Floyd Denison agreed: “When a married woman has the desire to go from home and to enter the school room . . .it must be because her heart and soul are in the teaching work. Under those circumstances, if she is allowed to teach, the community will be getting her very best service.”
Country schools were desperate for teachers and that was to the benefit of Lilian Peterson, a widow with six children. The school boards of Missoula and Kalispell would not hire her because the marriage bars extended to widows with children. Married homesteader, Maggie Gorman Davis in Choteau County, in 1913 found a position at the Carter School.
The editor of the Helena Independent argued in 1927, “Married women whose husbands are invalids or insane and unable, therefore, to provide a living for the family, should be exempted from the marriage bars.” This was in response to the Billings School Board’s decision to institute the marriage bar. He added, however, that “men should take care of their wives. Single women with their living to make should not be penalized by having positions open to them otherwise taken by women who have married failures.”
That didn’t stop Jennie Bell Maynard in 1913, a teacher from Plains, from marrying [failed] banker Bradley Ernsberger. They just kept their wedding a secret, and she continued to use her maiden name and teach until they moved to Lewistown. or Jennie Bell Maynard, a teacher from Plains, from marrying [failed] banker Bradley Ernsberger. They just kept their wedding a secret, and she continued to use her maiden name and teach until they moved to Lewistown.
Many women teachers married secretly, or didn’t get married in order to keep their jobs! In 1913, the law didn’t stop Jennie Bell Maynard, a teacher from Plains from marrying banker Bradley Ernsberger. They just kept their wedding a secret, and she continued to use her maiden name and teach until they moved to Lewistown. In 1914, teacher Adelaide Rowe from Butte eloped with Theodore Pilger to Fort Benton. They hid their marriage for three years.
During World War II, married women were invited back into the classroom. But it was meant to be a short-term solution. M.P. Moe, the Secretary of the Montana Education Association said in 1942, “1,500 married teachers are in the schools ‘for the duration only.’” The National Education Association, however, advocated for married women teachers, arguing that if they “were good enough . . . in wartime . . . they’re good enough in peace time.” In 1953, the Billings School Board lifted the marriage bar due to the teacher shortage and because of the postwar baby boom, However, this was not true for declining enrollment school districts,
Also, in 1953, the Bigfork School Board adopted two salary schedules. Single teachers were paid on a higher scale than married teachers whose husbands worked. “Ideally,” Superintendent C. E. Naugle explained, “everyone would be treated in the same manner. However, we are not dealing with an ideal situation, we are dealing with reality,” and cuts should be made “where it will hurt the least.”
In 1955, Montana attorney general Arnold Olsen declared that “Marriage is not a ground for dismissal” and that “teacher contracts could not discriminate against married teachers.” Yet, as late as 1964 the Anaconda school district supported hiring single women and married men over married women. Women who were married were offered contracts ONLY if there were no single or male teachers available.
The 1964 Civil Rights Act was responsible for the end to the discrimination. Local school districts were required by law to treat married female teachers as they treated married male teachers. This occurred fifty years after education reformers, Mrs. Christie and Mrs. Denison, advocated for teachers to teach based on their ability and not their marital status.
Source – Montana Historical Society from Women’s History Matters