Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Margaret Haley, 1861-1939

By Yvonne Almodovar, Undergraduate student at University of California, Santa Barbara

Margaret Haley was born in 1861, the second of eight children, to Irish Catholic immigrants. She grew up in a rural Illinois and, due to her family's declining economic status, she began to teach at the age of 16. She later moved to Chicago to teach in city schools.

She taught as a sixth-grade teacher from 1884 to 1900 on Chicago's South Side; 1900 was the end of her career as a teacher. During this time, she became an early member of the Chicago Teachers' Federation (CTF). One of her first major involvement within the CTF came in 1898 when she became a part of the fight against the Harper Commission. Haley's involvement in the CTF spanned from 1898 until her death in 1939.

Her participation continued through her efforts against the “tax fight,” trying to ensure that public schools received due funding, as well as keeping teachers from having to beg for salary increases and security of pay when the Board of Education pursued inequitable tax and lease policies. This was particularly important to the interests of the CTF, which formed to defend the interest of grade-school teachers, who were mostly women.

Initially, Haley supported Jane Addams' appointment to the Chicago Board of Education. However, she became disillusioned with Addams because she believed Addams had become compromised by her dependence on large corporations for assistance with the projects she had planned. Due to this, Haley believed that Addams would trade away basic teacher rights in favor of corporate support.

In 1904, Haley made an address to the National Education Association (NEA) convention. In a speech entitled “Why Teachers Should Organize,” Haley gave what was considered to be a first call for a national effort to unionize U.S. classroom teachers. This speech advocated for unionism, and was particularly impactful because, although female schoolteachers made up the vast majority of the NEA's constituency, only the nation's most esteemed male education administrators were allowed to address the association.

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