Margaret Haley: A Heroine of Education, Labor, Feminism and Politics

“Educate in order that your children may be free.”

Irish Proverb often quoted by Margaret Haley.

“Only through the freedom of their teachers could the children remain free.”

Margaret Haley, ca 1899.

Margaret Haley is one of my heroes.  She was a woman of great ideals who acted on these ideals and accomplished much.  She began as an underpaid elementary school classroom teacher, with no job security and subject to the whims of her supervisors. To win protections, security and respect for the mostly female elementary school teachers, she organized the Chicago Teachers Federation (CTF).  She led the affiliation of the CTF with the Chicago Federation of Labor and fully participated in the radical world of turn-of-the-century labor politics in that city.  She was the first woman to speak at a National Education Association meeting where her 1904 talk “Why Teachers Should Organize” scandalized the conservative, professor-and-administrator-dominated organization.  She helped secure the passage of Illinois’ Woman’s School Suffrage law, which like those in about 30 other states and territories granted women limited suffrage and office-holding rights for school related elections and posts.  She was a fighter; her autobiography is titled Battleground and she was dubbed a “lady labor slugger.” You can see why she is one of my heroes.

Perhaps her finest hour was the 1900 “tax fight.”  When the Board of Education pled poverty and failed to pay hard-fought-for raises to the teachers in the CTF.  In order to remedy the situation, Haley led a team that researched and then sued to secure back taxes totaling over $600,000 from major utility and street car companies; money that the politicians were not interested in collecting.  This was more than enough to pay for the raises.  At about the same time she exposed sweetheart and (tax free) lease arrangements of School District property with major Chicago businesses, including the Chicago Tribune.  The courts refused to find wrong in the Tribune case, but Haley had many successes fighting for education against corporate power and the politicians who protected that power.

For more on Haley, see:

Citizen Teacher, by Kate Rousmaniere.

Battleground: The Autobiography of Margaret Haley (edited by Robert L. Reid).

“Margaret Haley calls for teachers to organize,” History of Education, Selected Moments in the 20th Century.

Margaret Haley (1861-1939) – Early Career, The Chicago Teachers Federation, American Federation of Teachers, Politics, Haley’s Contribution, by Kate Rousmaniere.

Encyclopedia of World Biography on Margaret A. Haley.

“Being Margaret Haley, Chicago, 1903,” by Kate Rousmaniere.

Happy Labor Day

Check out the LaborFest (1602 S. Park, 12:00-5:30), great atmosphere, great music, good food, cold beer, fun for the kids.  I’ll be there, both to celebrate with my family and friends and to promote the November MMSD referendum with CAST.  Come and raise a glass to Margaret Haley and others worth honoring.

Some Labor Day Music Videos:

“Union Maid,” Pete Seeger and Arlo Guthrie

“Salt of the Earth,” The Rolling Stones

“There is Power in a Union,” Billy Bragg

Thomas J. Mertz


Filed under "education finance", AMPS, Best Practices, Blast from the Past, education, Local News, Referenda, referendum, School Finance, Take Action, Uncategorized

2 responses to “Margaret Haley: A Heroine of Education, Labor, Feminism and Politics

  1. Pingback: Labor Day Blast from the Past: Samuel Gompers on Public Education | AMPS

  2. Pingback: Happy Labor Day! | AMPS

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