What Was Education Like in the 1930s?

During the 1930s, education experienced significant changes from elementary school to college. New developments in elementary and high schools formed the precursor to current American education systems, while women gained easier access to the upper levels of formal education.

In rural communities in the 1930s, one-room schoolhouses were still common. However, the modern high-school and elementary-school systems were developing in suburban and urban areas. The student-centric Activity Movement contributed to the rise of professional educators: people who studied and developed effective teaching methods. In previous years, teaching responsibilities typically fell to the best-educated person in the community, regardless of experience in educational development.

The years between 1900 and 1940 were a period of explosive growth for women in higher education. In 1900, less than 100,000 women were enrolled in college. By 1940, there were more than 600,000 female college students. “A Study of Student Life,” published in a 1935 edition of the “Journal of Higher Education,” found that colleges with female students fell into one of two types: finishing school and feminist school. In so-called finishing school colleges, courses focused on home economics, social graces and attracting husbands. In the feminist colleges, women took career-oriented classes in nursing and teaching alongside home economic courses. The 1930s saw more women enrolling in colleges to further their careers rather than using higher education solely as a status symbol to attract a husband.