New Orleans’ Underpaid Teachers

November 24, 1918 the Times-Picayune reported the most recent raise in public school teachers wages. The headline announced, “Raise in Teachers’ Pay Below Average: School Board Notes Difference, But Did the Best They Could.” This seems to be a common theme in the attempted improvements of New Orleans’ education system in the early twentieth century (Times-Picayune, 1918).

“Martin Behrman, Mayor of New Orleans, 1919.” Wikipedia. January 1, 1919. 

Under the leadership of mayor Martin Behrman from 1904 to 1920, New Orleans experienced significant civic development, including within the public school system. Increased funding made it possible to “expand the curriculum to include manual training, domestic art, and domestic science” (Williams Jr., “Martin Behrman and New Orleans Civic Development, 1904-1920 on JSTOR.”). Additionally, the school board expanded the adult and trade school programs as well as those for special needs children. During this time, a multitude of new schools were built and the already existed ones were repaired and improved upon. However, despite all of these apparent improvements, the 1918 United States Bureau of Census still reported that New Orleans expenditure on public schools was the lowest of comparable cities. It is no surprise that New Orleans school teachers were also underpaid in comparison to other major U.S. cities (Williams Jr., “Martin Behrman and New Orleans Civic Development, 1904-1920 on JSTOR.”).

Along with all of the attempted improvements, the school board also faced a multitude of setbacks during Behrman’s time as mayor. Most of which were due to WW1 and the Spanish influenza epidemic. During the war, schools served as not just educational locations, but also as assistants to the war effort. War activities became entangled with the typical school curriculum. Although the participation of school in war activities was necessary and useful, the conflict inevitably took funding and attention away from the primary focus of schools, education. There was even pressure for older students to be released from school to aid in the production of war materials. Then finally, the Spanish flu resulted in many schools being closed down. Wartime was simply a bad time in the educational sphere because the government had other priorities (Palmer, “The Impact of World War I on Louisiana’s Schools and Community Life on JSTOR.”).

By late November of 1918, it seems that New Orleans has adjusted its focus. The article expresses concern for the treatment of teachers and emphasizes the importance of happy teachers to good education. In addition, another article published on the same day, “Strayer Ends Lecture Series in New Orleans,” reports a recent set of talks given by a well-known educator to all of New Orleans public school teachers. Both articles imply that New Orleans cares about the quality of public school education. However, the facts show that during the early twentieth century the school board did not have the financial backing to support the school system as seen in other cities across the country (Times-Picayune, 1918).


Williams Jr., Robert. “Martin Behrman and New Orleans Civic Development, 1904-1920 on JSTOR.” Accessed November 20, 2018.

Palmer, Jean M. “The Impact of World War I on Louisiana’s Schools and Community Life on JSTOR.” Accessed November 20, 2018.

“Raise in Teachers’ Pay Below Average.” Times-Picayune, November 24, 1918.

“Strayer Ends Lecture Series in New Orleans.” Times-Picayune, November 24, 1918.

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