Educator, organizer, and leader Margaret Haley spent her life fighting for teachers’ rights through her leadership of the Chicago Teachers Federation. In this video, we will take a look at her legacy and lasting impact on public education.
Meet Margaret Haley
First and foremost, Margaret Haley was a teacher. In fact, Haley was one of the most influential teachers of the 19th and 20th centuries.
Many educational reformers have taught, but few spent as many years working in the classroom as Haley. During her lifetime, she helped shape the way teachers were treated as professionals through her leadership in the Chicago Teachers Federation, one of the most powerful teachers unions of the 19th and 20th centuries.Haley was born in 1861 in Joliet, Illinois. She was born into a family of Irish immigrants of lower socio-economic status.
Despite financial troubles, Haley’s family was active. Her father was active in a number of labor organizations. In fact, his interests in politics were likely influential on Haley. Despite his activism, Haley’s father experienced continuous financial difficulties.
It was this difficulty and a desire to help provide for her family that led Haley to the classroom.At only 16 years old, Haley began teaching in local, rural schools. While teaching, Haley attended a normal school.
Normal schools were progressive schools designed to aid in teacher training and development. As Haley continued to learn, she became focused on implementing a child-centered pedagogical approach that allowed students to hone their interests and skills through a democratic approach to schooling. This was a radical approach during Haley’s time.Haley moved to Chicago in 1883 and began teaching in the Chicago Public School System in 1894, where she would teach until 1900. It was in Chicago that Haley was able to further develop and eventually blossom into a leader and pioneer. Chicago’s schools were riddled with poverty.
Classrooms were often overcrowded. Facilities were underfunded. Teachers were sorely underpaid.To put it lightly, Chicago was a difficult place to be a teacher.
It is under these conditions, though, that Haley seemed to find her niche. Her continued diverse classroom experiences coupled with her love of politics and advocacy for education and human rights were seemingly the perfect storm.
Becoming a Leader
In 1897, Haley joined the Chicago Teachers Federation (CTF), a teachers union founded by elementary school teachers who were dissatisfied with their working conditions, and it changed her life.
She had always been an advocate for teachers’ rights, for public schools, and for democratic education, but now she was about to have quite a platform from which to promote all of these ideals.Haley quite rapidly rose to leadership in the CTF. One of her first battles was over teacher pay.
Chicago Public Schools had promised an incremental pay raise for teachers spread out over three years. The system delivered in the first year but failed to deliver after that.Haley investigated and discovered that the system was suffering for funding because of an underpayment of taxes by some local corporations.
She refused to allow education to be the scapegoat for the city’s mishandling of funds. She took these corporations to court, proved their wrongdoing, and secured funding for the school system necessary for teacher pay raises. But, by 1900, she was so involved that she retired from teaching in order to pursue political activism full-time.As one of her first major actions as a full-time activist, Haley urged the CTF to merge with an incredibly powerful labor union, the Chicago Federation of Labor, in 1902. At first, the CTF, which was comprised almost exclusively of women schoolteachers, was opposed. Haley, however, reminded them that change would come through political action, and in 1902, women did not yet have the right to vote.Haley would remain a warrior for teachers’ rights throughout the early 1900s.
Her affiliation with the Chicago Federation of Labor would come to an end as laws were passed prohibiting teachers from joining labor unions, but that wouldn’t stop Haley’s activism. In her career, she was able to break a number of barriers. In fact, she was the first woman ever to speak at a forum for the National Education Association, another teachers association focused on political change for educators. She would give probably her most famous speech, ‘Why Teachers Should Organize,’ before the NEA in 1904.Haley’s influence on teacher organizations had a lasting effect. She’s promoted better pay for teachers, more organized and professional training, and a more child-centered approach to schooling.
She believed that the public school belonged to the people and that decisions regarding education should be left to professional educators, not politicians.For Haley, she was fighting for more than just the rights of teachers. She was fighting for the rights of women, of workers, and of children. She was standing up for what she believed was right. What makes Haley unique is that not only did she talk the talk, but she also walked the walk. She was a rare mixture of thinker, activist, and classroom-experienced teacher.
Thanks to Haley, teachers saw better working conditions and had a more powerful voice in legislation.
To summarize, Margaret Haley was a Chicago teacher who quickly rose to prominence in the Chicago Teachers Federation (CTF). She eventually worked to merge the CTF with the powerful labor union, the Chicago Federation of Labor. While she spent many years as a classroom teacher in one of Chicago’s poorest areas, she is best known for her political activism.
Her most famous speech, ‘Why Teachers Should Organize,’ outlined her belief in the power of collaborative effort and the need to fight for teachers’ rights.She was the first woman to speak in a forum of the National Education Association. For Haley, the struggle for teachers was representative of a larger social struggle for women and children alike. Her contributions and trailblazing approach have had a lasting impact on modern education.
By the end of this lesson, you should be able to:
- Summarize Margaret Haley’s early life and career and how they would affect her activism
- Discuss how Haley entered into activism for teachers and which organization she led
- Recall some of the impacts Haley’s activism had on education, teacher training, and woman’s rights