Educators as Activists:

Five Women from Chicago

Petra Munro

In an article on women teachers in politics between 1850 and 1930, Geraldine Clifford has shown that the teaching profession was an important source of activism and political ideas (Clifford 1987). Throughout the early twentieth century, the work of women teacher activists brought to the forefront issues of social reform including equal pay for equal work, pensions, tenure for teachers, and maternity leave.
Women's experiences as classroom teachers provided them with a previously unknown sense of independence and financial autonomy. Simultaneously, their school experiences encouraged the development of speaking skills, organizational skills, and networking with like-minded women. This experience, Clifford (1987) points out, "greatly enlarged the pool of political activists who would agitate the woman question until female suffrage and the other goals of the 19th-century women's rights movements" (p. 4).1

Women in Illinois were among the most active advocates in the country of the extension of the franchise. Prominent in the state franchise movement were five Chicago women educator activists: Margaret Haley (1861-1939), Catherine Goggin, Ella Flagg Young (1845-1918), Ida B. Wells (1862-1931), and Jane Addams (1860-1935). For these women, all active participants in the suffrage movement, the goal of women's emancipation was important not only to their immediate circumstances as teachers but also as part of a larger vision of social change. Like other social reconstructionists of the progressive period, these women educator activists recognized that social change would entail a great deal more than getting the vote.2 They demanded a radical re-envisioning of political culture, in which a true democracy was based on community networks, not individual rights (Baker 1990; Sklar 1990), and in which notions of citizenship would incorporate women's experiences viewed in a political light. (Noddings 1992)

The five women advanced the women's cause in different ways. Haley and Goggin organized women teachers into a union and built up strong community networks that bridged class and ethnic divisions, creating a strong infrastructure for the promotion of women's rights. Young was a principal and educational administrator who worked tirelessly to organize schools as model democracies in which women's work as teachers was central to social reform. Addams and Wells created alternative educational institutions through the settlement house movement, which challenged turn-of-the-century educational reforms that attempted to organize schools on the model of business and industry. In their view, these reforms perpetuated social inequality. Settlement houses not only expanded educational opportunities for women, immigrants and migrants, but were experiments in educational reform to promote social justice. All five women advanced a worldview in which the right to vote was only one feature of their blueprint for social change. It is to their work as educator activists in critiquing and transforming social relations that we must turn to understand their vision of social change.

Margaret Haley and Catherine Goggin: Chicago's "Lady Labor Sluggers"
Margaret Haley began teaching in country schools in Illinois at age sixteen. By 1894, she had moved to Chicago, where she began teaching sixth grade. Haley was prompted to organize with other teachers to remedy poor working conditions, including low wages and lack of a pension plan (women teachers were not allowed to marry, but they had no safeguards for their retirement either). Among her colleagues was Catherine Goggin, who had begun teaching in 1872. Goggin was particularly concerned with the economic rights of women teachers. She maintained that many women entered teaching as a means of being economically independent. This independence of teachers, Goggin believed, functioned as a positive role model for young women and created a positive female image. For Goggin, a woman teacher "learns to govern, not to be governed" (Murphy 1990, 73).
The central early issue for these two Chicago teachers was the fight for "equal pay for equal work." Women teachers were often paid substantially lower wages than were men.3 Haley, who was active in the Women's Suffrage Party of Illinois, was encouraged by her friend Susan B. Anthony to pursue her campaign of "equal work for equal pay" as well as her demand for equality within the National Education Association (NEA).4

Haley and Goggin raised issues central to the lives of women teachers: economic exploitation, the imposition of standardization of methods and curriculum, and the involvement of business in education. It was a time when urban schools were increasingly adopting an assembly-line, factory model, which emphasized "social efficiency," through curricular control, standardization, and reliance on experts (Pinar et al. 1995). This centraliztion, through top-down administration, threatened the democratic nature of schools by restricting the curriculuar autonomy of teachers, taking decision-making out of teacher's hands and severing schools from their communities.

Haley reflected that the working conditions in schools made

... the teacher an automaton, a mere factory hand whose duty it is to carry out mechanically and unquestionably the ideas and orders of those clothed with the authority of position, who may or may not know the needs of children. (Haley cited in Hoffman 1981, 291)
This resistance to the de-skilling or, as Haley referred to it, the "factoryizing" of teaching was central to her vision of social change in which teaching was to function as a form of democratic practice.

The reform efforts of Haley and Goggin focused on shaping educational institutions, on the basis of democratic practices. Haley wrote in her autobiography, Battleground:

Great educators, John Dewey, Colonel Parker, Mrs. Young among them, had recognized that democracy in education, either in methods of teaching or administration, could not be secured while the public mind was vitiated by the ideal of the industrial factory system, which made the man at the top the only possessor of directing brain, and the thousands below him the mere tools to carry out his directions. They realized that educators could not stand alone and that if the ideal of democracy were to be secured in one field, it must be secured in all. That ideal meant freedom to the human mind. (Reid 1982, 86)
Haley quoted educator John Dewey: "How can the child learn to be a free and responsible citizen if the teacher is bound?"

At the time, teachers' organizations and unions were forming around the country to resist lower salaries as well as the centralization of schools that subordinated teachers to supposed "experts" in the school hierarchy. Haley and Goggin co-founded the Chicago Teachers Federation (CTF), the forerunner of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), to address economic inequities as well as resist incursions into the classrooms and promote teachers' autonomy as curriculum decision makers. According to Murphy, these "new teachers' unions were not just woman-led, they were feminist" (1990, 61). The promotion of women teachers' rights in schools was a cause that had a natural link to advocacy of women's rights in society as a whole. Suffrage was only one tool. The real goal was a complete social revolution.

By 1899, Goggin and Haley were respectively President and Vice-President of the CTF, engaged in a "tax fight" aimed at forcing Chicago corporations to pay their taxes so the city would have the necessary revenue to pay promised salary increases for teachers. Later that year, Haley and Goggin successfully led the CTF against the "administrative Progressivism" of the Harper Bill, introduced to the Illinois legislature by William Rainey Harper, President of the University of Chicago (Prentice and Theobold 1991, 14).

Harper's proposed bill called for a centralized administration of the Chicago school system, which, in effect, undermined Goggin and Haley's commitment to a non-hierarchical, democratic, decision-making process. He proposed to require a college education for all teachers, at a time when college was beyond the reach of most women, especially those from the lower class. The bill called for efforts to hire more men, pay them higher wages, and promote them more rapidly within the school system. Fearful that the feminization of teaching would destroy the minds of bright young men (by 1920, 86 percent of the nation's teachers were female), the bill conveyed the sense that masculine authority would cure the schools of all ills (Murphy 1990, 29). Organized opposition to the Harper Bill among women teachers was swift. They mobilized actions with other women's organizations, such as the Women's Clubs of Chicago, for which teachers gave afternoon teas in neighborhood schools.5 Ultimately, the Harper Bill was defeated.

For Haley and Goggin, women's emancipation was inseparable from the war on privilege and the strengthening of labor. In 1902, the CTF affiliated with the Chicago Federation of Labor (CFL), which already counted 200,000 working male voters of Chicago. Margaret Haley recalled in her autobiography that it was not easy to convince teachers to ally with non-teaching neighbors over whom they felt a certain social superiority. She recounted how on November 8, 1902, at the general meeting of the CTF (now 5,000 members strong), Jane Addams "electrified our members by telling them that they were already a union. The only question now before them, she said, was whether they should avail themselves of the help they could get from other unions. . . . Gentle Jane was so respectable and aristocratic that they had to swallow their prejudice and join the parade" (Reid 1982, 91).

Within the next three years, the CFL focused on organizing women and industrial workers (including chorus girls, laundry workers, domestic servants, department store workers, garment workers, and glove workers) and launched its first consistent lobbying effort through the work of Haley, who was elected union lobbyist. The most lasting effect of this affiliation was the 1904 Board of Education approval of salary increases for teachers.

Ella Flagg Young: A Practicing Pragmatist
Central to the emerging network of women educator activists in Chicago was Ella Flagg Young. She began teaching in Chicago in 1862, became principal of the New Practice School of the Chicago Normal School in 1865, and was appointed assistant superintendent of Chicago schools in 1887. According to her biographer, John T. McManis (1916), Young, in addition to being an educator, superintendent, scholar, and intellectual, was a recognized club woman and advocate of the women's movement. When, in June 1913, Illinois women were enfranchised, the Chicago Record Herald pictured Young with Jane Addams and Julia Lathrop, two other Chicago social reformers, with a caption that read "Three reasons why Illinois women won the vote" (Smith and Smith 1994, 307).
Although she worked tirelessly for women's suffrage, Young committed her life to bringing democratic practices into educational institutions. In order to teach democratically, teachers needed full participation in decisions affecting their work. If the schools themselves were not models of democracy, teachers could not be effective in teaching democratic values to the children.

Young's doctoral dissertation focused on articulating participatory forms of leadership in which teachers would have a central voice. Entitled "Isolation in School Systems," it was completed, with Dewey as her advisor, in 1900 at the University of Chicago. It embodied a "philosophy of learning by experience and of social freedoms for a school community through a democratically run administration from superintendent down to student" (Smith and Smith 1994, 304). As an active participant at Hull House, Young was engaged with other leading intellectuals of the progressive reform movement (Jane Addams, John Dewey, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and George Herbert Mead) in debating the link between schooling and a democratic society. Dewey himself, with whom she co-taught and published at the University of Chicago, claimed that she "was a practicing pragmatist long before the doctrine was ever in print" (Smith and Smith 1994, 304), and that he got more ideas from her than anyone else when it came to education.

In 1909, shortly after leaving her teaching position at the University of Chicago, Young was appointed superintendent of Chicago schools. In obtaining this position, she benefited from the support of Jane Addams, who was on the school board at the time, John Dewey, and the Women's Clubs of Chicago. Becoming the first woman to head a large urban school system in the United States, Young announced that her administration would be characterized by democratic efficiency. A critic of the "social efficiency" movement, Young warned that schools would develop a system comparable to a "great machine" if not checked (Reid 1982, xxi). Her goals as superintendent focused on the recognition of teachers as democratic decision makers and the broadening of their responsibilities in the major policy goals of her office. She removed the "secret marking system" (a form of teacher evaluation) and began to involve the teachers in decisions that affected their professional lives.

In 1910, Young was elected by an insurgent group of women to be president of the NEA, the first woman to hold that office. As president of the NEA, she directed her efforts toward "increasing attention to classroom teachers and endorsing higher salaries, equal pay for equal work, women's suffrage, and advisory teachers' councils" (McManis 1916, 156-57). Increasingly, however, the Chicago school board emerged at odds with Young. The board sought to consolidate control of the schools by dictating curriculum, choosing textbooks, and taking control of the teachers' pension fund.

In 1915, both Haley and Young became the subjects of a state investigation in which Young's policies were decried as "Frenzied Feminine Finance" (Murphy 1990, 82). According to Murphy, critics depicted Young as "virtually giving away the store to public school teachers out of her feminist sentimentality, her Catholic sympathies, and her alleged near-senility" (1990, 82). Haley was accused of taking advantage of innocent teachers by convincing them to join the unions and then forcing them to conform to the dominance of the female leaders of the CTF. The assault against Young and Haley, who were both accused of breeding rebellion and lack of respect for the school board authority, resulted in the Chicago Board of Education ban of the CTF and the eventual crippling of the union. Although Young stepped down as superintendent, she continued her activism in the women's suffrage movement and became chairperson of the Woman's Liberty Loan Committee.

Widening the Circle": Jane Addams,
Ida B. Wells, and the Curriculum of the Settlement House Movement 6
To define Jane Addams and Ida B. Wells as teacher activists is to reclaim the work of women in the settlement houses as a major, although neglected, contribution of women to American education. The establishment of Hull House by Jane Addams and Ellen Starr Gates and of the Negro Fellowship League Room and Social Center by Ida B. Wells were dynamic social experiments and curriculum innovations that were designed to critique the emerging factory model of schooling through the provision of alternative forms of education to migrants and immigrant. Addams recalled, "We used to say that the settlement had a distinct place in the educational field and we were even bold enough to compare ourselves with universities and colleges" (Addams 1930a, 404). Although settlement houses have traditionally been associated with providing social services, Linda Kerber suggests that they were pioneering, even radical, educational institutions. She maintains:
Teachers at settlement houses undertook to teach people who were not welcome in the usual schools. They taught women who had baked their bread in communal village ovens how to cope with American kitchens. Jane Addams's Hull House had free reading rooms... Teachers from the extension division of the University of Chicago came to teach art and literature classes. Hull House made room for a labor museum and a textile museum in which the work of women's hands was exhibited. If we seek to catalogue the contributions of women to American education, the work of the settlement houses must be included in the list. (1983, 29)
Hull House was the embodiment of Jane Addams' philosophy of education, which maintained that learning must be lifelong, based on community involvement, and a reciprocal exchange of knowledge intended to empower learners and heal social, economic and ethnic divisions.

Disillusioned with traditional schooling, Addams wrote in Democracy and Social Ethics:

It is possible that the business men, whom we in American so tremendously admire, have really been dictating the curriculum of our public schools, in spite of the conventions of educators and the suggestions of university professors. The business man, of course, has not said, "I will have the public schools train office boys and clerks that I may have easily and cheaply," but he has sometimes said, "Teach the children to write legibly and to figure accurately and quickly; to acquire habits of punctuality and order; to be prompt to obey; and you will fit them to make their way in the world as I have made mine." (1902, 191)
Addams believed that education should be organized to enhance the individual's capacity to engage with others in community affairs as a means of advancing the common interests that would foster gradual, yet continuous social reform. (Lagemann 1985). Central to her notion of a radical democracy was the belief that all people were to have a voice in decisions affecting their daily lives and society. By defining a "settlement as an institution attempting to learn from life itself" (Addams 1930a, 408), Hull House's educational philosophy was grounded in the understanding that meaningful learning and social action occurred only when education allowed individuals and communities to define their own needs.

Although Jane Addams shunned teaching as beneath her social class, Ida B. Wells began her activist work as a teacher, losing her teaching job after writing an article criticizing the schools. Best known for her work as a journalist and anti-lynching activist, Wells was also a leader in the new women's club movement and co-founder of the National Association of Colored Women, the National Afro-American Council, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. After moving to Chicago in 1895, she became increasingly involved with the conditions of urban blacks who were migrating from the South. After women won the vote in local elections in Illinois, she formed the Alpha Suffrage Club, the state's first suffrage organization for black women. In the predominantly black Second Ward, club members canvassed from house to house, urging women, despite the opposition of black men, to register to use their votes to elect a black alderman to the city council. The black suffragists marched with the whites (including Haley and Addams) when they paraded down Michigan Avenue in Chicago to urge the passage of the federal suffrage amendment.

Wells faced severe racism from within the white women's reform movements and the suffrage movement. For example, Wells lobbied the Woman's Christian Temperance Movement (WCTU) to pass an anti-lynching resolution and never hesitated to point out how, despite claiming to be a Christian body, the WCTU ignored seven million colored people. She also experienced the sting of racism when the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) requested that she not march in Washington in 1913, lest she antagonize southern women. Wells was supported by the Illinois delegation and marched anyway.

Although settlements like Jane Addams's Hull House provided services for newly arrived immigrants from Europe, few social services were available for blacks arriving from the south (Sterling 1979). Disturbed by high unemployment and by the growing crime rate, Wells started the Negro Fellowship League Room and Social Center in 1910. Like other settlement houses, the center served as an employment office, dormitory, and school. Located on State Street, it sought to educate in numerous ways. Not only were newspapers, books, and games provided, but Wells focused on teaching the skills and customs blacks needed to assimilate to a northern, urban setting. Most importantly, she worked with Jane Addams to prevent Chicago from setting up separate schools for black children (Wertheimer 1977).

In challenging the nature of schooling at the turn of the century, Addams's and Wells's development of the settlement house movement has rarely been acknowledged as a forum for experimenting in curricular and education reform that challenged the dominant ideology of social efficiency. Hull House eventually provided numerous educational activities, including the teaching of English, reading clubs for adults, mothers' clubs, kindergartens, cooking and dressmaking classes, sex education, theater productions, vocational training in woodworking, an art gallery, public library, music school, and a labor museum. The labor museum, drawing on Dewey's concept of "a continuing reconstruction of experience," was intended to empower urban immigrants through validating their heritage, values, and culture (Deegan 1990, 251). Consequently, it is a prime example of the successful institutionalization of the collaboration and pragmatism of Addams and Dewey. These interactions between academics, women's clubs, and immigrants served an important educational function by providing a mechanism for people of various classes to "speak together" as a means of widening understandings of different communities and enlarging active involvement in the work of social change.

Hull House also served an important, but ignored, role in women's education. The cooperative and communal living arrangements at Hull House encompassed a holistic view of women's professional and personal lives that contradicted the dominant gender ideology of "separate spheres." In particular, college-educated, middle- to upper-middle class women who had few opportunities in the public sphere were provided a space in which to pursue their ideals. The environment at Hull House provided many young women with the opportunity to avoid marriage and commit themselves to establishing a women's culture.

Women educators articulated a central role for teachers in shaping society along more democratic lines. Social change necessitated not only the vote but also the education of women and men about social inequalities. All five educators described here saw suffrage as a necessary means of impacting social legislation designed to ameliorate unequal social conditions. At the same time, the improvement of the condition of women required much more than obtaining the right to send representatives to a legislative assembly. To be effective, the struggle of women had to focus on the economic rights of women, on the democratization of the institutions that dominate everyday life, and on restructuring society and experimenting with new political forms that took women's knowledge and culture seriously. The work of these women educators to address social inequalities has rarely been acknowledged as a form of political activism or of educational reform. Now is the time.

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New York: Peter Lang, 1995. Prentice, A., and M. Theobald, eds. Women Who Taught: Perspectives on the History of Women and Teaching. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1991.Reid, R. L. Battleground: The Autobiography of Margaret A. Haley. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1982.Ryan, M. Womanhood in America. New York: New Viewpoints, 1979.Sklar, K. "Hull House in the 1890's: A Community of Women Reformers." In Unequal Sisters: A Multicultural Reader in U.S. Women's History, edited by E.C. Dubois and V. Ruiz, 109-122. New York: Routledge, 1990.Sterling, D. Black Foremothers: Three Lives. New York: The Feminist Press, 1979.Smith, G., and J. Smith. Lives in Education: A Narrative of People and Ideas. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1994.Weiler, K. "The Lives of Teachers: Feminism and Life History Narratives." Educational Researcher 23, no. 4 (1994): 30-33. Weiler, K. Women Teaching for Change. Boston: Bergin & Garvey, 1988.Wertheimer, B. We Were There: The Story of Working Women in America. New York: Pantheon Books, 1977.Notes1Clifford (1987, 21) points out that data from the Center for the American Woman in Politics show that teaching continues to appear more commonly than any other paid occupation in the background of women elected recently to state-house offices.2The role of suffrage in bringing about social change was debated among women activists. Charlotte Perkins Gilman rejected suffrage, believing that equal relations between the sexes would emerge only when economic inequalities, such as women's use as domestic slaves, were redressed. Mary Beard, although an ardent suffragist, also questioned investing all energy into a political reform that left the foundations of American society untouched and brought women into a political culture defined by men for men. Simple-minded slogans calling for equality, she insisted, deny the power and force of the total community of women. The militant call for equality, Beard said, denies the existence and value of female culture (Lane 1977, 2). Beard also wrote to Alice Paul in 1914 that "I ought to be interested in suffrage first and labor second, but frankly I am not," thus expressing her overriding concern for labor.3In 1905, for example, the average annual salary of a woman who taught elementary school in an urban school system was $605; the average salary of her male counterpart was $1,161, nearly twice as much (Kerber 1983). 4Anthony had been headmistress at Canajaharie Academy in New York. According to L. Kerber, one of the experiences that drew her into the women's rights movement was finding that when she attended a meeting of the New York State Teachers' Association, she was initially denied permission to speak because she was a woman (1983, 13). 5The relationship between the Federation of Women's Clubs and teachers has not been extensively explored. However, the Journal of Education (March 6, 1919, and May 15, 1919) does document the services rendered by women's clubs on behalf of teachers. The influence of these networks, considering that women's clubs flourished at the turn of the century and played a vital role in educating women on an informal basis, is an area in need of further research. 6The phrase "widening the circle," is taken from an article written by Addams titled "Widening the Circle of Enlightenment: Hull House and Adult Education" (1930b).

Petra Munro is assistant professor of education at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The author gives special thanks to Shelley Kies Wells for the library research that she conducted in the preparation of this article, Jamie Matherne, and Mary Ellen Jacobs for her thoughtful readings.