Jane Crow:
Then and Now

When discussing the history of segregation, powerful white men easily leap to mind. But the history of Jane Crow—the white women supporting white over Black—unearths the poisonous roots behind today’s educational battles.

Read the Mothers of Massive Resistance Excerpt

White women’s support for white supremacy extends farther in time—both backwards and forwards—than many realize. It also has never been confined to the South. Adults rarely discuss the prevalence of Jane Crow culture in schools, but students and teachers of color are routinely oppressed by it. From school board battles to the school-to-prison pipeline, Jane Crow education remains a barrier to education justice.

Even while this project traces the story of Jane Crow education, we want to remember the allies in history: the white women accomplices who challenged the system and worked to provide just education for Black and Brown young people, sometimes at great personal cost.

Then and Now

A photo gallery of key dates & events of how white women have shaped the culture of schools.
Click on the image to learn more.

1800
Dame Schools

White women taught only at the most basic level of education, through “dame school.” Dame schools were often run by widows, for the youngest students to learn their letters and the basics of reading. More advanced studies were taught by men, for men.

1837
Horace Mann Founds Normal Schools to Train Women

Horace Mann became secretary of the Massachusetts state board of education nand promoted women as teachers because they were supposedly more moral than men. He founded normal schools to train teachers, both women-only and co-ed.

1839
Women Enroll at Framingham Normal School

On July 3, 1839, three young women braved a fierce thunderstorm to enroll at Framingham Normal School in Lexington, Massachusetts. This first state-supported school dedicated to training teachers in America, would one day become Framingham State University.


 

1840
Catharine Beecher Founds National Board of Popular Education

White women began entering teaching in greater numbers, often from missionary impulses. Catharine Beecher founded the National Board of Popular Education, which sent hundreds of white women to teach in Midwest and Western schools. She later launched teacher training schools in Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin.

1860
Reconstruction Opens Opportunities for Black Women

The Civil War and Reconstruction opened opportunities for Black women to become teachers and principals.

1862
The Port Royal Experiment

The Port Royal Experiment in South Carolina is often described as what Reconstruction could have been across the South. On the state’s Sea Islands, Black families took control of land abandoned by white planters. White organizations from the North provided support, funds and resources. White women teachers from the North, including Mary Ames, Elizabeth Botume, Sarah Jane Foster, and Laura Towne actively worked to de-center themselves and unlearn stereotypes they’d been taught about Black adults and children. They listened to their students, adapted lessons to accommodate their interests and goals and became members of the community.

1866
National Teachers Association Allows Women to Join

The National Teachers Association (precursor to today’s National Education Association), founded in 1857, allowed women to join.

1900
Three-Quarters of U.S. Teachers Are Women

By the start of the 20th century, about three-quarters of U.S. teachers were women; the majority of them were white.

1954
Brown v. Board of Education

Brown v. Board of Education decision legally mandates all U.S. public schools be desegregated. As southern and border states began to desegregate, largely by closing Black schools, 38,000 Black teachers and administrators soon lost their jobs.  Over the next two decades, white-dominated school boards forced out thousands more Black educators, as described in Jim Crow’s Pink Slip.

1968
Ocean-Hill Brownsville Teachers’ Strike

On May 9, the newly-created community school board, led by Black and Puerto Rican parents, fired 19 white, union teachers for underperformance. The United Federation of Teachers held three strikes over the year, culminating in a deal with the city’s district leadership that cut out the community school board and reinstated the fired teachers.

1971
23,000 New Principal and Teacher Jobs in the Southeast

Eleven southeastern states created 23,000 new principal and teacher jobs. Black candidates filled less than 500 of them. Senate committee takes testimony regarding the disappearance of Black educator jobs following Brown.

1980
Women High School Teachers Outnumber Men

Women finally outnumber men in high school teaching.

2008
Women Reach Parity With Men in Principalships

Women reach parity with men in public school principalships (50/50). Black principals (male and female combined) make up only 11% of the principal force.

U.S. Teacher Demographics By Race and Gender

According to the most recent available data, 61% of all U.S. public school teachers are white women. This data includes teachers in charter schools, who tend to be more diverse than teachers in traditional public schools. (Source: National Center for Education Statistics.)

Teacher Demographics-2

White Females, 60.7%

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White Males, 18.5%

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Hispanic/Latine Females, 7%

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Black Females, 5.2%

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Other Females, 3.5%

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Hispanic/Latine Males, 2.3%

7-4

Black Males, 1.5%

8-4

Other Males, 1.1%

2020 Voter Demographics by Race and Gender

In 2020, slightly more white women than men voted. White women were the largest voting demographic, at 37% of total voters. Together, white women and men comprised 72% of voters. (Source: Pew Research Center)

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White Women, 37%

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White Men, 35%

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Black Women, 6%

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Black Men, 4%

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Hispanic/Latine Women, 5%

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Hispanic/Latine Men, 5%

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Other, 8%

U.S. Education Reporters by Race

Although it’s difficult to collect demographic data about education reporters, both The Grade and the Education Writers Association have surveyed the field. In 2016, the association reported, “Compared to the overall pool of full-time journalists, education journalists are twice as likely to be female,” at 71%. In 2022, white women continue to dominate the field, though the most recent EWA survey did not report data by gender.

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White, 82%

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Hispanic/Latine, 8%

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Black, 5%

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Asian, 5%

More Data Facts

By the Numbers

A deeper look at white women and their representation in schools, as voters and education reporters. 

U.S. Teacher Demographics by Race and Gender

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Data chart #3 goes here