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social sciences

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Women who stepped out of gender-appropriate roles also became suspect. Although society became more and more uncomfortable with unmarried female teachers, they continued to employ them because they were available and cheap to hire. Indeed, during the Great Depression, many school districts formally barred married women from the classroom on the basis that they were taking jobs away from men and needy single women.

With the advent of World War II, most school districts eased the restrictions on hiring married women, but by that time women were finding employment elsewhere and began to leave the teaching profession. After the war, men began to re-enter the profession as schools began to recruit male veterans.

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From the late 1940s and early 1950s, when the topic of homosexuality made headlines through the Kinsey reports on male and female sexual behavior, school boards attempted to hire teachers considered appropriate gender role models--in other words, married heterosexuals. For women and especially men desiring to enter the teaching profession, to be unmarried became a liability. After World War II, married women quickly surpassed single women in the teaching profession.

After World War II, homosexuality also became more visible in American society, as more men and women began to identify themselves as homosexuals, both individually and collectively. Social and legal conflicts over homosexuality began to occur as gay men and women moved into urban centers and established homosexual subcultures.

The McCarthy Era

During the 1950s, fueled by Senator Joseph McCarthy's homosexual witch hunts, school officials began to conduct investigations aimed at removing teachers thought to be homosexual from the classrooms.

During this period, homosexuals became the chief scapegoats of the Cold War hysteria that seized the country. Thousands of individuals were arrested and imprisoned on homosexual charges. The popular consensus that homosexuals were immoral, emotionally unstable, and untrustworthy justified their punishment and stigmatization.

Homosexuals were believed to recruit young people into a "homosexual lifestyle" and, even baser, to abuse young children sexually. In 1950, in an article in Coronet, Ralph Major, for example, claimed that "homosexuality is rapidly increasing throughout America today," and he warned that parents had a moral responsibility to protect their children from homosexual teachers.

In addition, during the 1950s a series of sex-crime panics occurred in the United States. In Sioux City, Iowa, for example, after the rape and murder of two children, police rounded up twenty men, mostly homosexual, and incarcerated them in a mental hospital. The term "sexual psychopath" became synonymous with homosexual.

In 1955, Time magazine claimed there was a homosexual network in Boise, Idaho that had supposedly corrupted many young men in the area. Hundreds of homosexuals, many of them teachers, immediately left the area when the story broke.

Teachers and others who were caught up in vice stings and raids of gay bars and cruising areas often found themselves not only with a criminal record but also without a job, as it was routine practice to notify employers of those arrested for "morals" infractions.

At the same time, however, progressives became aware that the punishments of victimless crimes were excessive. In 1955, for example, the American Law Institute's Model Penal Code recommended that all forms of sexual activity between consenting adults be legalized.

Although none of the states adopted the reforms at the time, the recommendations indicate an increasing concern for the procedural rights of persons charged with crime and a growing sympathy for persons accused of victimless crimes. Karen Harbeck argues that "this heightened social conflict very quickly entered the educational realm, and that for the first time in American history the judiciary broke with educational policy concerning immorality, criminal conduct, and the extent to which someone should be punished for consenting sexual activity outside of marriage."

The state most actively engaged in terminating gay and lesbian educators was California. In the wake of the Model Penal Code recommendations, California passed two pieces of legislation to crack down on teachers. Penal Code Section 291 required police to notify local boards of education when a teacher was detained or arrested in a criminal matter. Education Code Section 12756 permitted the immediate suspension of teaching credentials if an educator was convicted of statutes pertaining to sex and morality.

Local police officials in California used these two pieces of legislation to persecute "immoral" educators. However, for the first time in history it became possible for teachers accused of criminal homosexual activity to keep their jobs if they were able to demonstrate some unconstitutional infringement on their procedural rights even though homosexual acts remained criminal.

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