Journal of Interdisciplinary Undergraduate Research


After the Emancipation Proclamation, the process of helping newly emancipated slaves, or Freedmen, get access to education began. Different religious and secular organizations such as the American Missionary Association and Freedman’s Bureau drummed up an army of teachers to accomplish this education mission. During the Civil War and Reconstruction, thousands of women made their way into Freedman’s classrooms across the South. The majority of these were white Northern women, while Southern white women came in much smaller numbers. This paper offers a broad survey that compares and contrasts the motivations and inhibitions of Northern and Southern white female freedmen’s teachers. Using a range of primary sources such as Freedman’s teacher’s diaries, census records, and letters, and secondary literature, the conclusion was drawn that the majority of Northern Freedmen’s teachers were motivated by social factors, such as religion, abolitionist sentiments, and higher education levels. Southern women were deterred by many of these same factors, though those who did enter the classroom usually did so out of economic necessity. Southern women were often deterred from teaching black students because of racial prejudice, and fear of social ostracization. This paper attempts to shed some light on the motivations of teachers across the South, and what inspired them to take up the cause of educating the Freedmen. It concludes that Northern women were motivated by societal factors like religious and moral conviction, and that Southern women were drawn to Freedmen’s classrooms for the possibility of economic gain.