Margaret Haley Essay

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Margaret Haley was an early-twentieth-century educator and union leader who was concerned about social reform, particularly with regard to the working conditions of teachers. For three decades, Haley led the Chicago Teachers’ Federation, the first teachers’ labor union in America. During her tenure, she campaigned for increases in teacher salaries, pensions, and tenure laws.

Haley’s notable career in education was launched in a one-room schoolhouse in Illinois when she was sixteen. During the weekends and summers when Haley was not teaching, she attended a normal school in Morris, Illinois. In 1883, Haley and her Irish Catholic immigrant family relocated to Chicago, where she started teaching in the Hendricks School in a poverty-stricken area. She taught there for sixteen years and also studied briefly under the direction of Francis Wayland Parker, a leader in progressive educational practice.

When she was thirty-six, Haley joined the newly founded Chicago Teacher’s Federation and became a representative of the organization. Her participation evolved and she became involved in a variety of legal cases, including one that focused on large corporations that escaped paying property taxes that Haley knew the Chicago Treasury could use the money to pay for increases in teacher salaries. Haley became a leader at the state and national levels in the education profession and advocated for a democratic voice of teachers in their professional careers.


  1. Rousmaniere, K. (2002). Margaret Haley: Progressive education and the teacher. In A. R. Sadovnik & S. F. Semel (Eds.), Founding mothers and others: Women educational leaders during the Progressive Era (pp. 147–162). New York: Palgrave.
  2. Smith, L. G., & Smith, J. K. (1994). Lives in education: A narrative of people and ideas (2nd ed.). New York: St. Martin’s Press.

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