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FIFTY Study Page: Montana— "The Marriage Bar"

FIFTY Study Page: Montana— "The Marriage Bar"

FIFTY: Montana— "The Marriage Bar"

Each story in the FIFTY collection focuses on a remarkable American from a different state. Below are some recommended topics to inspire further investigation of the history and geography of the state, as well as themes that can support our children's growth and development.

Jenny Bell Maynard seemed to have created the perfect life. She was now living where she always wanted to live - her hometown in Horse Plains, Montana. She was doing what she always wanted to do - teaching elementary school in the one-room schoolhouse where she was once a student. And she had just met the love of her life and was engaged to be married. There was one thing, however, that could potentially unravel it all: the Montana Marriage Bar. This was an old rule that stated only single women could legally teach in the state, due to unfair reasoning that married women no longer need an income. Luckily she and her husband were able to create a plan that would allow them to marry while letting Jenny keep her job. But it came with consequences...

*Note: Though this is historical fiction and the characters have been developed to accommodate a story, their attributes and development may be useful as reference points and inspirations. *

Montana History

  • History of Montana Territory and State
  • History of women’s rights in the American West

Montana Geography

  • Map of Montana and location of Horse Plains

“The Marriage Bar” Study Topics

  • Discussion around both sides of the argument as it pertains to women’s rights and from a historical perspective

Topics for Reflection

From a Child Development Perspective:

In this story, your child might learn that:

  • Children benefit from both warmth and discipline. It is a very delicate balance to strike, but one informs and supports the other. Jennie Bell looked up to her teacher, Miss Foley, who provided the perfect balance of strict and kind. She had high standards for her students, but she was also very compassionate and kind when things were difficult.

  • Teachers often help students through life's challenges. Thank you to our teachers! We can all think back to a time when a teacher helped us through a difficult period in our lives. Frequently, Jennie looked to her teacher, Miss Foley, during the harsh times growing up in Horse Plains, Montana.

  • Vocational calling can be clear to some even in childhood. Sometimes we know even when we are very, very young what we want to be and what work we want to do in the world when we grow up. Others have to search for a while. But for some, there is a strong calling — an intuition — and we know what we are meant to be, even at a young age. For Jennie, she knew that she wanted to be a teacher.

  • Teachers know that family is the most important thing to child. It is important to find teachers who educate the whole child: not just providing the academics, social education, the visual and practical arts, not even outdoor experiential education and community service. The whole child includes all that the child brings from home. Miss Foley knew that the hard part of being a teacher comes when personal matters from home enter the classroom.

  • We all need mentors in our lives. When we are young, we need people to look up to — people who set positive examples for us and to inspire us. But even when we are older we need role models to help us to strive to be a better person. We also often need help in our professional lives when we are just beginning to learn our trade. Jennie Bell was so fortunate that Miss Foley was that person for her. She needed her guidance in particular to address the complexities of being a young teacher, especially when children brought their families into the classroom. Jennie needed Miss Foley’s wisdom to know how to best teach little Adelaide and to address the family woes that she brought to school.

  • A good teacher's commitment does not waiver. Because the business of growing up can be tricky indeed, it is so important to know that we have adults upon whom we can count. For a child, teachers can be a main source of stability.

  • Anyone who guides us and helps us to be our best or to learn new things is a teacher. A teacher does not need to be someone who stands before us in the classroom. A teacher can be a coach or a music instructor, or even a neighbor or friend. For Jennie, her husband Bradley was not merely her husband, but also an important teacher.

  • Grown-ups sometimes have difficult moments in their jobs. Just as a child can have difficult times in school, so too can adults experience struggles in work life. Miss Jennie had to endure some challenges in her teaching as she was finding her way, but with love and commitment, she knew that eventually skill and ease would replace the confusion, frustration, worry, and upset. It just takes patience and trust with a lot of determination.

  • Life sometimes presents us with difficult decisions. Sometimes in life we want things that may not seem compatible and we are forced to make a tough choice. For Jennie, given the Marriage Bar in Montana, she was forced to choose between teaching and marrying the man whom she loved, Bradley Ernsberger.

  • Life sometimes presents us with tricky ethical problems. Sometimes, when forced to make difficult decisions, we are put in a challenging ethical position where we might decide to bend rules or to make compromises. For Jennie and Bradley, they got married in spite of the Marriage Bar, but they did not tell anyone that they had done so. This was the only way they thought they could reconcile their love for each other and Jennie’s love of teaching.

  • Walking through difficult life decisions can prepare us to be leaders in our communities. Sometimes, when forced to make decisions that seem impossible, we can be the vehicle for change. Jennie thought that the Montana Marriage Bar was unfair, so she and her husband, with the dedication of others, worked to get the law changed.

  • Change often happens slowly. Sometimes change takes time, and sometimes we don’t even benefit from the things we fight to change. Jennie was a grandmother before the Marriage Bar was dropped — forty years after she set out to change the law. But she planted the seed for change, and it would not have grown had she not done so!

About the Authors

David Sewell McCann

Story Spinner

David Sewell McCann fell in love with spinning stories in first grade – the day a storyteller came to his class and captured his mind and imagination. He has been engaged in storytelling all of his adult life through painting, film-making, teaching and performing. Out of his experience as a Waldorf elementary class teacher and parent, he has developed a four step method of intuitive storytelling, which he now shares through workshops and through this website.

Meredith Markow

Sparkle Schoolhouse Head of School

Meredith has been working with adults and children of all ages for the past 25 years as a Waldorf Teacher and Educational Consultant. She received a B.A. with a focus on child development and child psychology from the University of Michigan, in 1984, an M.A. Ed from Washington University in 1987, and her Waldorf Teaching Certificate from the Lehrerausbildung (Teacher Training) in Nurnberg, Germany in 1989. She was certified as a Living Inquiries Facilitator in 2014, and she completed her formal teaching certification with The Enneagram Institute in 2014. Her work in the classroom and with individuals and groups is designed to help people of all ages to drop self-limiting beliefs to live a more joyful and compassionate life.

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