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A Pioneer of Women's Rights: Phebe Sudlow, the First Female School Superintendent in the United States

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In 1860, twenty-nine year old Phebe Sudlow had been teaching for twelve years—for most of that time in a one-room school schoolhouse in rural Scott County, Iowa—when she was appointed principal at Grammar School No. 2 in the city of Davenport.

When she found that the salary she had been offered was less than that of a male colleague in the same position, Sudlow she brought up the issue with the school board. At the time, lower salaries for women were justified on the grounds that female teachers—unmarried women who left teaching when they married—had only themselves, while male teachers had families to support. The school board refused to raise Sudlow’s pay, but she continued to press the issue.
In 1874, when she was chosen to become Davenport’s superintendent of schools, she again approached the school board and refused to accept the position unless her salary was equal to that of her male predecessor.
“Gentlemen,” she told the school board, “if you are cutting the salary because of my…