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Teachers Organize!

At the beginning of the 20th century teachers faced terrible working conditions including low wages, a lack of political and community support and women especially faced strict rules regarding their appearance and personal life. In some districts the schools had policies that banned teachers from being married, restricted them from socializing with men, restricted the hours they were allowed to be out, required them to wear long dresses and fix their hair a certain way. After the expansion of public education in the late 19th century and newly formed compulsory education laws which shifted lower and middle class children from factories to schools, public schools were flooded with students and in dire need of more teachers and more funding. At the time schools were often more focused on economic efficiency then giving their students a valuable education. Because of many of these conditions and teacher's lack of a national forum the American Federation of Teachers was started (11). 

Margaret Haley was one of the most prominent women in the effort to create better working conditions for female teachers. In 1901, Haley resigned from her teaching position to devote all her energies to organizing teachers. She headed the Chicago Teachers Federation and helped found the American Federation of Teachers. She was nominated to be the AFT’s first president but the position was given to Charles Stillman, a vocational high school teacher. Haley was given the position of national organizer, which was unpaid. Haley eventually withdrew from the organization due to ideological differences she had with Stillman.



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(c) Copyright National Women's History Museum, 2007

Myrtie Henry and her 6th grade class in 1902.
Myrtie Henry and her
6th grade class in 1902.

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Maude Keith and her kindergarten class in 1911.
Maude Keith and her
kindergarten class in 1911.

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Margaret Haley
Margaret Haley