Richmond County fired married teachers during depression
Almost everyone has spoken out against it.
There is no record that anyone has spoken for this.
But it happened anyway.
In the fall of 1933, the Richmond County School Board opposed public opinion, community support and, some argued, the law of the land, and voted to fire all of its female teachers married to the end of the school year.
The first mystery is why. The second mystery is why the secret was used.
There is no doubt that public finances were bad in the early 1930s. A regional and national depression was underway and officials at all levels of government were talking about cutting costs. The cash-strapped Richmond County school system was no different.
By April 1933, local schools were nearly closed, only to be saved by an emergency loan from the state of Georgia. The state didn’t have a lot of money either but was counting on a quick boost from new beer taxes, now that the ban was being phased out.
A new school year was underway and teachers’ contracts had been set for the next term of 1933-1934, but the board was to fear unstable financial and political support in the coming year.
There was certainly instability in the local economy.
October 1933 saw strikes by workers at the Sibley, Enterprise, Globe and King factories. A strike at the Graniteville plant in Aiken County prompted South Carolina to send 57 National Guardsmen armed with machine guns. This happened despite a general increase in carpenters’ wages in June.
There were political upheavals as the state and city of Augusta fought over the future of medical school.
There was even the community loss of Lucy Laney, a longtime educator and beloved civic leader, who died on October 24 and was buried in one of the largest funerals in Augusta history.
The issue of dropping married teachers came as no surprise. The proposal was presented at a board meeting on Oct. 7, drawing quick criticism from an Augusta Chronicle op-ed that suggested the board could find a better and fairer way to save money. money.
The teachers involved – at first it was said there were only 13, but it turned out to be more – showed up at a meeting on October 28, as did their eloquent allies.
Dr Ethel Polk Peters, regional leader of the Parent-Teacher Association, said her organization was strongly opposed to the action. She called this discriminatory and suggested that if the school board really wanted to see which teachers could afford to lose their jobs, it should review their individual finances.
Ms. JW Silbert, President of the Monte Sano PTA, rose to agree, reminding the Board of Directors how important the support of her group was.
Rev. MM MacFerrin, pastor of the Presbyterian Church on Greene Street, told council he believes the plan to fire teachers is likely illegal and will not stand up in court. Teachers should be selected on merit, not marital status, he said.
It was the same point made by Inman Curry, Augusta’s respected lawyer who often dealt with legal issues for the local patronage-loving Cracker Party.
The board should consider pre-marriage teaching ability as an employment measure, he said. While sympathetic to the council’s dilemma, he said he thought the proposal to ban married teachers was “a mistake.”
No speaker was cited in favor of this decision.
Board member Charles R. Holmes therefore called for what he called an “executive session” to discuss the matter. It was seconded by board member FE Ferris, and members then met privately to reflect on the proposal.
The Chronicle account of that special Saturday meeting does not say how long the school board has met, but the anonymous reporter appears to express his irritation at such an important community issue that is decided behind closed doors with a secret ballot. . While we don’t know how the individuals voted, we do know that the board decided 14-7 to fire married teachers at the end of their year in June 1934.
In the following June, reports The Chronicle, 32 teachers were dismissed as well as the secretary of the president of the college.
Why did they do it? This is the second mystery.
In all the discussions and speeches, it was never explained or articulated the goals that the dismissal of married teachers hoped to achieve.
However, there appears to be an unspoken theme, and it is evoked in The Chronicle’s editorial opinion and the speeches of its critics. It goes like this: If a single teacher loses her job, she may have to fend for herself. However, if a married teacher lost her job, her husband could traditionally provide for both.
Chauvinistic, paternalistic and, to put it mildly, illegal today, such a result found a more sympathetic audience nine decades ago.
Yet why haven’t they tried to explain it? Why did the board of directors not reveal its reasoning? Why was he so suspicious of public pushback that he made his decision in secret, an action that would also violate today’s open meeting laws?
Then again, maybe something else is happening.
When the action was finally taken the following June, the initial vote of 14-7 board members in October had narrowed to 12-9.
After another secret ballot, board member Berry Ellison said he suspected some members – on both sides of the issue – were interested in protecting the jobs of certain family members or teacher friends.
He did not mention any names.