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Reviewed by:
  • Citizen Teacher: The Life and Leadership of Margaret Haley
  • Nancy Niemi (bio)
Rousmaniere, Kate. Citizen Teacher: The Life and Leadership of Margaret Haley. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2005. 271 pp.

There are few big names in education. Many people could probably name John Dewey or Maria Montessori, and they would recognize Anne Sullivan as Helen Keller's teacher. A few more might recognize Jonathan Kozol or Ted Sizer. But even among educators, almost no one knows about Margaret Haley, the founder of the first American teachers' union. Margaret Haley not only understood the grand view of schooling in America, but she tried almost single-handedly to will public education into the forefront of American civic consciousness.

Given the enormity of her task–making public schooling the centerpiece of collective community financial and social investment—it is not as surprising that Haley failed as it is that her work remains unknown. Kate Rousmaniere's thorough biography of this social activist, union organizer, public speaker, and, above all, teacher, reads like the Rosetta stone of school reform, highlighting the same issues with which we, as teachers and reformers, continue to struggle. Rousmaniere also shows adeptly how Haley's multiple and conflicting identities served to complicate her work.

Author Rousmaniere details the socio-political contexts in which Margaret Haley forged her beliefs. Her research re-creates the conditions of rural midwestern life after the Civil War, which shaped Haley's identity as an Irish-Catholic, working-class woman. She also describes the zeitgeist of late nineteenth-century Chicago, which solidified Haley's identities as teacher and social activist. Haley was unable, however, to see how her Irish-Catholic, working-class identity was also racialized. Her world was essentially a white one, with her exposure to African-Americans only within their roles as former slaves and underpaid laborers. Working-class Irish-Americans, Rousmaniere writes, could only rise from their subordinate status if they found a group that could take its place at the bottom of the social hierarchy. As such, Haley's "emerging political consciousness was racially defined, and she would never learn how to include African Americans into her political theory of economic rights" (13). It is these conflicting identities that formed the basis of the contradictions in Haley's work.

Rousmaniere also rightly identifies gender as a primary factor in Haley's identity formation. Although the author can only speculate that it was Haley's older brother's death and her father's business losses that allowed her to escape the prescribed nineteenth-century female roles of mother and wife and instead become a teacher, what is clear is that teaching provided Haley with "unique opportunities: the vibrant and passionate politics of the labor aristocracy, and the ironic advantages presented to educated women by the feminized occupation of teaching" (14). Being a woman may have opened a door, but just as often Haley would find it also prevented her from being taken seriously by politicians whose attention she most needed.

Haley would tread the line between acceptable and unacceptable American female norms throughout her life. Her relationship with social reformer Jane Addams highlights this tension, exacerbated by their social class differences: Haley felt [End Page 166] as though her working-class upbringing forced her into a position of challenging social norms, while she resented, according to Rousmaniere, Addams's ability to choose her social causes because she was not dependent on earning a living. Rousmaniere states, "Margaret Haley and Jane Addams were raised in strikingly different economic and cultural situations . . . [Addams was] caught in an emotional trauma that she later called 'the family claim'—the tension facing educated middle-class girls who wanted to do something purposeful with their life even as society pushed them back to the family . . . Haley had been pushed out of her family by her father's financial crisis . . ." (140). Addams's stand between cultural rules and desire to act on the world seems reflective of present-day teachers' lives, and her story, more than Haley's, may offer an important clue about why current teachers do not see themselves as activists. The current American teaching force, overwhelmingly white, middle class, and female...


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pp. 166-168
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