On March 2, 1944, the Kansas City school board announced that it would hire married female teachers for the first time due to a workforce shortage caused by World War II. Despite the departure from longtime tradition, the news was hardly controversial because employers throughout the nation were hiring women and minority workers in unprecedented numbers to meet wartime demands.
Teaching had long been an acceptable occupation for women, of course, but many school districts of the era barred married women from the profession so that they could concentrate on their duties as wives and mothers. While the supply of workers dwindled as men and women vacated civilian jobs to join the armed forces, however, cultural assumptions about women's roles in society began to shift.
Nationally, "Rosie the Riveter," a poster character representing female industrial laborers, became a patriotic symbol of women's contribution to the war effort on the home front. More than 16.4 million women found employment by the end of 1943 in every occupation from factory work to nursing.
With so many women entering the workforce, civilian leaders worried about the millions of children who no longer had the full attention of their mothers. In Kansas City, over 700 of these so-called "latchkey children" received additional care in programs and facilities developed by the Child Care Subsection of the Civilian War Services Welfare Committee.
Despite these efforts, some still considered juvenile delinquency almost as threatening as the war itself. According to some reports, young women were delinquent at 300 percent of the prewar rate. Their most frequently cited offense was short-lived romances with soldiers passing through town. By contrast, the stereotypic offense attributed to young men was vandalism, with one gang, the "Clan," making headlines for its activities in the Country Club District.
The school board did not want to contribute to the problem of errant youngsters, yet the pressing demand for teachers required the employment of married women by 1944. Dr. Herold Hunt, the superintendent of schools, vowed that other standards would not be relaxed. All new teachers still had to have a college degree, and for unspecified reasons, the newly hired married women had to be younger than 45 years of age. In practice, the new policy did not just attract new teachers—it allowed many current teachers to get married as well, which ensured that the policy was not reversed after the war's end.
Following the war, however, women's unprecedented involvement in the workforce declined. Although wartime need had spawned mainstream acceptance of working women, the postwar period reestablished women's roles in the home. It was now widely considered a patriotic duty to step aside so that returning soldiers could reclaim their jobs. It would be two more decades before women entered the labor market in such large numbers again, but the wartime experience in Kansas City and the rest of the United States was an important step toward women's deeper involvement in the economy.
Read a biographical sketch of Carolyn Farwell Fuller (1875 - 1944), the first female member of the Kansas City Board of Education, prepared by Janice Lee, Missouri Valley Special Collections, Kansas City Public Library.
View images related to teaching in Kansas City around World War II.
- Blenheim Kindergarten, 1940
- Yeager School, 1939-1940
- Kansas City Teacher's College, 1935
- John J. Pershing School Graduation, 1944
Check out the following books about Kansas City during World War II.
- City of the Future: a Narrative History of Kansas City, 1850-1950, by Henry C. Haskell, Jr. and Richard B. Fowler; contains a chapter on Kansas City during the 1940s, pages 159-177
- Kansas City: An American Story, by Rick Montgomery and Shirl Kasper; contains a chapter on World War II, with pictures, pages 239-252
View the following documentaries and contemporary videos from World War II.
- "Over Here: the Story of Kansas City & World War II;" a documentary about Kansas City's home front experience, produced by Pamela Reichart for KCPT Public Television, 2000
- "Scenes of Kansas City, Mo. 1942-45;" a brief collection of videos taken around Kansas City during World War II, compiled by Charles H. Gregory
Continue researching Kansas City's experience of World War II using archival material from the Missouri Valley Special Collections.
- "A City At War: the Impact of the Second World War On Kansas City." Master's thesis, by Fredrick Marcel Spletstoser
- Vertical File: Kansas City School District Board of Education
Haskell, Henry C. City of the Future: A Narrative History of Kansas City, 1850-1950. Kansas City, MO: F. Glenn, 1950.
Montgomery, Rick and Shirl Kasper. Kansas City: An American Story. Kansas City, MO: Kansas City Star Books, 1999.
"School Jobs to Wives: Shortage of Teachers Impels Action by Board." The Kansas City Times, 4 March 1944.
Spletstoser, Fredrick Marcel. "A City At War: The Impact of the Second World War On Kansas City." Master's thesis, University of Missouri-Kansas City, 1971. [Missouri Valley Special Collections, Kansas City Public Library, Manuscript File: Spletstoser, Fredrick M.]