Ideas about teacher certification developed in the nineteenth century, especially in the latter half of that period. People began to believe that some sort of professional authority should verify that a teacher did indeed have the ability to teach in public schools. In Iowa, one of the most common forms of certification consisted of passing an examination, typically offered by a county superintendent of schools. Those examinations included subjects such as orthography, reading, writing, arithmetic, geography, grammar, physiology, history, and the theory and practice of teaching. If an applicant passed this examination, and if that person possessed "good moral character, aptness to teach and ability to govern", the county superintendent had the authority to certify that person to teach in that county for a specified period of time. At the end of that time, a teacher would usually need to take the examination again in order to be re-certified.
Teachers could strengthen their credentials by attending public county normal institutes, private academy normal institutes, or formal institutions of higher learning, such as the Iowa State Normal School, now the University of Northern Iowa. Participating in this kind of professional development could make it possible for a teacher to earn a higher salary or to teach in a larger town school or high school. But formal instruction at such institutes or institutions of higher learning was not a mandatory part of teacher certification. For many teachers, especially those who wished to teach in small or country schools, the county examination was their route to certification.
A young woman named Ella Sarah Pullman followed this path. She was born on June 7, 1858, in Seneca County, New York, the youngest child and only daughter of John James and Caroline P. Lyons Pullman. She had three brothers, two of whom died relatively young. Ella Pullman's mother died in New York on April 12, 1867. John Pullman married his second wife, Betsy Ann Crapo, in Charlotte, Michigan, on June 11, 1871. Sometime after that, the family moved to Iowa, probably to Guthrie County. John Pullman died on March 14, 1877, in Thompson Township, Guthrie County, Iowa.
Ella Pullman secured her first teaching certificate in 1876, several months before she turned eighteen, by passing the Guthrie County superintendent's examination. She taught in Iowa schools for at least the next twenty-five years. At some point, she took training at the Chicago Evangelistic Institute's John Fletcher College in Oskaloosa, Iowa. She became a deaconess in the Church of the Nazarene and taught Bible studies until her retirement in about 1926. She died on November 19, 1938, in Lansing, Michigan. She was buried in Wacousta, Clinton County, Michigan, on November 22, 1938.
Margaret Keller, of Des Moines, gave Ella Pullman's teaching certificates to William L. Sherman, an expert on teacher certification in Iowa. Mr. Sherman generously donated the certificates to the University Archives of the University of Northern Iowa in 2011.
The primary purpose of this Web page is to present images Ella Pullman's teaching certificates, covering the years 1876 through 1901. They present a nice outline of the credentials of a woman's professional teaching career in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. The certificates offer only a limited view of Ella Pullman's life. We know, for example, where she was certified to teach, but we do not know the schools in which she actually taught. However, at this point, the writer of this page simply does not have additional factual information about Ella Pullman's life. Should details emerge, this page will be updated.
1876-1877--Guthrie County, Iowa
Ella Pullman's educational background is unclear. She likely attended elementary school and perhaps some high school in Michigan and Iowa. By the spring of 1876, when she was not yet eighteen years old, she decided that she wished to be a teacher. It is unclear whether she made this decision based on an idealistic commitment to education or out of economic necessity. No matter what the reason, she chose one of the few professional career paths available to young women of her era.
Ella Pullman sat for the Guthrie County examination in the spring of 1876. Her grades on the examination were not especially strong. They ranged from 50% (physiology) to 95% (reading). But, given that she was a young woman just entering the profession, the grades were strong enough to warrant certification in the eyes of Superintendent Giles Miller. She received a second class certificate to teach in Guthrie County for six months, beginning April 1, 1876.
It is uncertain if Ella Pullman, with her certification in hand, found a teaching position for a spring or summer school term in 1876. But sometime in the summer of 1876, with her first certification nearing expiration, she again took the Guthrie County examination. She passed again and received second class certification for another six months, beginning on September 1, 1876. It is interesting to note that she raised her lowest grade from her first examination, a 50% in physiology, to a much stronger 93%.
The year 1877 presented significant changes for Ella Pullman. Her father died on March 14, 1877. Perhaps she could no longer count on assistance from her family. Money may have been tight, and she may have lost the home base of her family's residence, where she could stay inexpensively between teaching positions. Her stepmother may well have returned to her home in Michigan. At this point, Ella Pullman, still just nineteen years old, may have decided that teaching would be her career and her way of life.
It seems reasonable to assume that Ella Pullman's teaching positions had been successful in 1876-1877. With the expiration of the second of her six month second class certificates, she took the Guthrie County examination again. Her grades were much stronger, with 90th percentile results in six of the nine categories. County Superintendent Giles Miller gave her a first class certificate for twelve months.
Perhaps Ella Pullman could not find a suitable Guthrie County position for the 1877 fall term. Or perhaps she simply wanted to move to another area of the state. Just a few days after her twelve month certificate went into effect, Superintendent Miller wrote the following letter of recommendation.
The text of the letter reads:
Guthrie Center, Sept 10, 1877
To Whom it May Concern:
I hereby certify that the bearer Miss Ella Pullman has taught three terms of school in this county, and has given general satisfaction. She has proven herself to be an energetic and conscientious teacher; fully realizing the magnitude of influence and responsibilities of a teacher. I cheerfully recommend her to whomsoever this may be presented. This recommendation is given without solicitation.
Giles C. Miller
1877-1878--Taylor County, Iowa
It is unclear whether or not Ella Pullman taught a fall term in Guthrie County. But, later in 1877, she took the certification examination in Taylor County, Iowa. Her grades were not quite as strong as they had been in her final Guthrie County examination. Taylor County Superintendent J. B. Owens gave her a second class certificate for ten months beginning on November 24, 1877.
Ella Pullman took the Taylor County examination again in 1878, with generally higher scores. Superintendent Owens gave her another second class certificate for ten months, beginning August 31, 1878.
In the spring of 1879, Ella Pullman took the certification examination in adjacent Adams County, Iowa. She did well on the examination. Superintendent Maxwell gave her a first class certificate for five months. It is unclear now why she moved to Adams County for the spring term. In those days, country schools did not necessarily offer class every term. Perhaps her Taylor County school did not offer a spring term or perhaps she found a better opportunity in Adams County. In any case, since certification was a county matter, it probably improved a teacher's employment possibilities to be certified in several jurisdictions.
The meaning of the handwritten note on the bottom of the Adams County certificate is now unclear. That note reads: "This certificate is issued in place of a second class dated Dec 1, 1878." No certificate with that date, from either Taylor or Adams County, exists in this collection. But, one way or the other, Ella Pullman seems to have moved up to first class certification in Adams County.
1879-1880--Taylor County, Iowa
Ella Pullman took the Taylor County test again in 1879 and improved her scores even more. This time Superintendent Owens awarded her a first class certificate for twelve months, beginning August 30, 1879.
In the summer of 1880, Ella Pullman attended the "Seventh Session of the Taylor County Normal." This was a county-sponsored teacher training institute, where teachers learned more about both the subjects they taught and the methods for teaching those subjects. Experienced teachers, principals, and collegiate faculty usually taught these classes, which were a convenient, inexpensive, and local means for teachers to learn more about their profession. The session lasted from July 26 through August 20, 1880. It culminated in a certification examination. Ella Pullman received the certificate below to show that she had completed her work at the normal training institute.
On the basis of this training and examination, Superintendent Jeffrey gave Ella Pullman a first class certificate for twelve months, beginning August 20, 1880.
1880 Adams County, Iowa
Late in 1880, Ella Pullman returned to Adams County for certification. Again, perhaps her Taylor County position did not offer a winter term, so she needed to look for a position in Adams County.
1881-1890 Taylor County
Perhaps Ella Pullman's Adams County position continued into the fall of 1881. Or maybe she could not find a Taylor County position until later in the year. In any case, Ella Pullman did not seek Taylor County re-certification until October 1881. After doing well on the examination, she received a first class certificate for twelve months, beginning on October 29, 1881. This certificate notes that by October 1881, Ella Pullman had taught twelve terms of school. That means that she was teaching two or three terms per school year.
Ella Pullman continued her work in Taylor County for the next few years. In 1882 she received a first class teaching certificate for twelve months, beginning August 12, 1882.
Ella Pullman did not renew her Taylor County certificate until December 1883. Perhaps she found a position in another county, or perhaps she simply took some time to rest. In December 1883 she passed her examination again and received a first class certificate for eight months, the remainder of the school year, beginning December 3, 1883.
Ella Pullman renewed her certificate in August 1884. She received a first class certificate for twelve months beginning August 12, 1884. Her certificate states that she had taught eighteen terms at that point. It also indicates that she may well have attended a normal training institute that year.
She renewed her Taylor County certification on time again in 1885. Her certificate notes that she attended the Taylor County Normal Training Institute in July 1885. She had done very well in her studies at the institute with a grade of 97% on the final examination. Superintendent Bishop granted her a first class certificate for twelve months, beginning August 25, 1885.
She did not renew her Taylor County certification until the school year was well underway in December 1886. This was similar to what she had done in 1883. Superintendent Bishop awarded her a first class certificate for eight months, beginning December 1, 1886.
Ella Pullman attended the Taylor County Normal Training Institute for fifteen days in the summer of 1887. She received a grade of 97% on her examination and was re-certified for twelve months, beginning August 26, 1887.
She renewed her Taylor County certificate in August 1888. Her examination results were again extremely strong. She was certified for ten months, beginning August 27, 1888.
Ella Pullman renewed her certification late for 1889. But Taylor County Superintendent Dick gave her a full twelve month first class certificate to begin November 27, 1889.
She renewed her Taylor County certification in 1890. She received a first class certificate for nine months, beginning November 8, 1890.
1891-1895 Adams County, Iowa
In 1891, Ella Pullman returned to Adams County. She attended the Adams County Normal Training Institute for fifteen days in July 1891. Her performance on the certification examination was excellent, with no subject area less than 95%. Superintendent J. L. Adkins gave her a first class certificate for eleven months beginning September 1, 1891.
She renewed her Adams County certification for 1892. Superintendent J. M. Bixler gave her a first class certificate for twelve months, beginning August 22, 1892.
There is no certificate in this collection for the early part of the 1893-1894 school year. Perhaps Ella Pullman decided to take most of the year off for travel, study, or rest. Or perhaps she was ill. The only certification for this school year covers the last term of that year. In April 1894, she received first class certification from Adams County for three months, beginning April 21, 1894.
She was back to her regular pattern of recertification in the late summer of 1894. Adams County Superintendent Bixler gave her a first class certificate for twelve months beginning August 25, 1894.
Ella Pullman renewed her certification in Adams County in 1895. As might be expected of a teacher with almost twenty years of experience, she made uniformly excellent examination scores. She was certified for twelve months, beginning August 24, 1895.
1896-1899 Taylor County
Things changed a bit in 1896. After teaching in Adams County for five years, Ella Pullman returned to Taylor County to seek certification. Her examination scores were again excellent. Taylor County Superintendent Crosson awarded her first class certification for twenty-four months. This longer period of certification was unprecedented for Ella Pullman. Her previous certifications had been valid for twelve months at the most.
Ella Pullman's Taylor County certification noted above was valid until August 29, 1898. However, the next certificate in this collection is dated August 1899. Perhaps she took a year off from teaching. Perhaps she was engaged in study or other work. In any case, she attended the Taylor County Normal Training Institute in July 1899. The institute lasted fifteen days. She did her usual good job on the county examination and was again awarded a twenty-four month first class certificate, beginning September 2, 1899.
Apparently Ella Pullman had a fall term Taylor County position. Taylor County Superintendent C. H. Haskinson extended her certification, probably on the strength of her experience and without examination, for a brief period of time. A handwritten note on the back of this certificate states:
Corning, Ia. 8/27/'91
This certificate is hereby endorsed,
extended and made valid in this
county until Nov 27,1901
C. H. Haskinson
1901 Adams County
Ella Pullman returned to Adams County for her next, and apparently last, certification. On November 27, 1901, she was certified to teach in Adams County for two years, beginning November 27, 1901.
Sometime after Ella Pullman received this Adams County certificate in late 1901, she changed careers. She had taught for over twenty-five years. She was at least forty-three years old. Her credentials and experience were such that she could certainly have continued to be certified to teach in the public schools for as long as she chose to do so. According to the very limited biographical information available to this writer, she attended the Chicago Evangelistic Institute's John Fletcher College in Oskaloosa, Iowa, at some point in her life. It is unclear whether she did this while she was teaching or sometime after 1901. Perhaps she became tired of teaching. Perhaps her health was not strong enough to stand up to the rigors of teaching country schools. Perhaps she had a religious awakening. Whatever the reason, Ella Pullman became a deaconess in the Church of the Nazarene and used her teaching experience to lead Bible studies for the rest of her working life. She retired in about 1926 and died in 1938 at the age of eighty.
The primary purpose of this essay has been to display a fine collection of Iowa county teaching certificates from the late nineteenth century. Ella Pullman clearly valued these credentials. They were her passport into one of the few professional careers available to women of her time. However, as interesting as the certificates themselves are, they invite many questions about the rest of Ella Pullman's life. Informed speculation can sometimes give broad outlines of possibilities. .And, perhaps at some point, additional information will emerge. But until that information does come to light, the answers to many questions about Ella Pullman will remain unanswered.
Collection (MsC-79) processed and essay written by University Archivist Gerald L. Peterson; scanning by Library Assistant David Glime; May-June 2011; updated, February 9, 2015 (GP). Last updated by Library Associate Dave Hoing, October 2017. Photos updated by Jaycie Vos, Feb 2023. Images and citations updated by Graduate Assistant Eliza Mussmann, February 23, 2023.