Margaret Haley was the driving force in the early years of the Chicago Teachers Federation. She began her teaching career in a country school at the age of 16. At 21, she moved to Cook County where she taught for many years until going to work for the union in 1900. In 1901, she was the first woman ever to speak at a national convention of the National Education Association, which was then an organization of superintendents, college presidents, and other exalted educational leaders.

At the NEA convention in 1901, she gave a speech called “Why Teachers Should Organize.”

It is hard to find a copy of the speech. It is part of a collection called Readings in American Educational Thought: From Puritanism to Progressivism, published by Information Age, and edited by Andrew J. Milson, Chara Haeussler Bohan, Perry L. Glanzer, and J. Wesley Null.

Here are some excerpts from her famous 1901 address:

If the American people cannot be made to realize and meet their responsibility to the public school, no self-appointed custodians of the public intelligence and conscience can do it for them.
The methods as well as the objects of teachers’ organizations must be in harmony with the fundamental object of the public school in a democracy, to preserve and develop the democratic ideal. It is not enough that this ideal be realized in the administration of the schools and the methods of teaching; in all its relations to the public, the public school must conform to this ideal.
Why did schools not achieve their goals? These were the reasons she offered:

1. Greatly increased cost of living, together with constant demands for higher standards of scholarship and professional attainments and culture, to be met with practically stationary and wholly inadequate teachers’ salaries.
2. Insecurity of tenure of office and lack of provision for old age.
3. Overwork in overcrowded schoolrooms, exhausting both mind and body.
4. And, lastly, lack of recognition of the teacher as an educator in the school system, due to the increased tendency toward “factoryizing education,” making the teacher an automaton, a mere factory hand, whose duty it is to carry out mechanically and unquestioningly the ideas and orders of those clothed with the authority of position, and who may or may not know the needs of the children or how to minister to them.


Two ideals are struggling for supremacy in American life today: one the industrial ideal, dominating thru the supremacy of commercialism, which subordinates the worker to the product and the machine; the other, the ideal of democracy, the ideal of the educators, which places humanity above all machines, and demands that all activity shall be the expression of life. If this ideal of the educators cannot be carried over into the industrial field, then the ideal of industrialism will be carried over into the school. Those two ideals can no more continue to exist in American life than our nation could have continued half slave and half free. If the school cannot bring joy to the work of the world, the joy must go out of its own life, and work in the school as in the factory will become drudgery.