top of page
  • Writer's picturemtlmagazine

Intersection Column | The Challenge of Teaching in 1910

by Ann H. Gabhart


Did you ever pretend to be a teacher when you were a kid? I did, as I’m sure many little girls have at some time. I wrote out lessons on my chalkboard. I found a ruler I could smack on whatever I was using for a teacher’s desk, and I enjoyed coming up with math problems to solve. My only problem was I never had any students unless I could talk my sister into playing. Of course, she always wanted to be the teacher, too.


I never considered a career as a teacher. From the time I can remember, I wanted to write stories, but through creating various characters, I have been able to be many things. In my new story, The Song of Sourwood Mountain, I’ve created a schoolteacher. In 1910, Mira is a dedicated teacher who wants to give her students the gift of education.


In my research, I discovered that the teaching profession for women in the late 1800s and early 1900s was much different from that of my schooldays. Many school systems of that era would not allow a female teacher to be married. Once a woman married, she was expected to devote her time to making a home for her husband and children.


Teachers were required to demonstrate high moral character and had clauses in their contracts to make sure they did. Women teachers could not wear bright colors. In the old pictures I found, they were dressed in long sleeved, high collared white blouses and long skirts of black, navy blue, or gray. They were required to wear at least two petticoats. A teacher couldn’t dye her hair or cut it short. She was not to scandalize the community by being seen in a carriage or car with any man other than her brother or father. And heaven forbid she be seen smoking! Before the smoke cleared, she would find herself out of a job. The whole community had high expectations for teachers.


In The Song of Sourwood Mountain, Mira moves from teaching in the city to an isolated mountain community. The schools scattered through the Appalachia were usually one room cabins. Teachers were expected to teach ages six through the late teens. They needed to be at the school early to start a fire and warm the building before the children came. They had to fetch water for the children to drink. They were required to keep the building clean and orderly. Since many of them were not from the mountains, they sometimes struggled to understand the local culture. Yet with few books or supplies, these dedicated individuals taught reading, writing, and arithmetic to all their students, whatever their age and abilities.


Some mountain schools were mission schools taught by women called to teach and share Christian beliefs. The school in my fictional Sourwood is that type, and my character feels the Lord leading her to make that kind of commitment.


I admire the dedication and fortitude of the women who taught in those rural areas. If they had not gone, many of the children would not have had the opportunity for “book learning.”


So while I had fun playing teacher when I was a kid, I don’t think I would have made it as a teacher in 1910. I could have worn the long skirts and petticoats. I could have built the fires, carried in the water, and even cleaned the floors, but could I have poured knowledge into the eager minds of those children? Probably not, but Mira finds wonderful ways to teach in The Song of Sourwood Mountain. Through her, I was able to experience the struggles and joys of being a teacher.


About the Author

For nearly twenty years, readers have been coming to bestselling author Ann H. Gabhart for thought-provoking and heartwarming stories set in fascinating times and places. Her newest offering, The Song of Sourwood Mountain, is no exception. This gripping tale about having the courage to follow the Lord’s leading (even when it seems He is leading down strange and unpredictable paths) has everything Gabhart’s fans expect: a memorable setting, a realistic conflict, and complex characters you love to root for.


About the Book

It is 1910 when Mira Dean resigns herself to being a spinster schoolteacher—until Gordon Covington shows up. No longer the boy she knew from school, Gordon is now a preacher who is full of surprises. First, he asks Mira to come to Sourwood in eastern Kentucky to teach at his mission school. Second, he asks her to marry him. With much trepidation, Mira steps out in faith and discovers a life she never imagined.


Did You Know?

Dissociative amnesia is often used as a trope in fiction and movies. Something happens and a character’s memory of their whole life is wiped away. Here are a few movie examples of characters with dissociative amnesia, and how accurately the phenomenon is portrayed.


  • Overboard: Goldie Hawn plays a spoiled, rich socialite who loses her memory after falling from her yacht and bumping her head. This causes a dramatic personality change. At the end of the movie her memory loss is reversed by another bump on the head.

  • 50 First Dates: A man and woman fall in love after meeting at a café one morning, but when they meet the next morning, the female character doesn’t remember him or their previous date. We learn that she has lost her short-term memory and every morning, she wakes up to a new world.

  • Finding Nemo: Dory has difficulties in learning and retaining any new information, recalling names, and knowing where she is going or why.


Of the three movies mentioned, only one accurately portrays a victim of dissociative amnesia. It’s not Overboard. Patients rarely experience amnesia from a bump on the head. And in true amnesia, their personalities do not change. And it’s not 50 First Dates—there is not one documented case where an amnesic patient formed new memories during the day only to have them wiped clean overnight. Only Dory accurately portrays how someone with dissociative amnesia would feel if she was alone, lost, and confused.


-Patricia Bradley, Fatal Witness


Why I LOVE My Local Christian Bookstore

“I love shopping in bookstores because it slows me down from my heavy schedule. I find a refuge in a quiet place while I sample books to choose just the right one for this moment in my life. The busy world slides into the background for a blissful book retreat.”


-Angela Breidenbach, A Healing Heart



bottom of page