While researching the term maternity leave in newspaper archives, the terms “teacher-mother” or “mother-teacher” began to appear. Papers were using these terms in trying to describe when married teachers would get pregnant and then neglect their teaching responsibilities due to child labor. In 1913, the Hartford Courant reported that a teacher in New York, Mrs. Katherine O. Edgell who had petitioned for a leave of absence for childbirth was denied by a vote of 32-5. According to the article, “the board voted beforehand not even to allow the position to be debated.” This shows one example of strong opposition to letting female teachers take time off to give birth.
In 1914, the New York Times reported a more optimistic case in which the local New York mayor was being interviewed about the “teacher-mother controversy.” After Mrs. Lora Wagner had been charged with “neglect of duty” after taking time away from school for childbirth, it appears some changes were petitioned to be made and the local school leaders were more prepared to take action. Although he was not reporting an official school board decision yet, Mayor Mitchel told reporters, “It is my understanding that leaves of absence will be provided for teachers about to become mothers.” The end of the article gave directions for participation in a local debate at Washington Irving High School in which people could hear different sides of the question. It said, “At the close of the discussion, a resolution addressed to the Board of Education, in favor of granting a leave of absence to the married teacher, who is about to become a mother, will be voted on by the audience.” This shows a desire for community input on the issue. However, it seems that the local authorities had already made a tentative policy decision since they stated afterward: “whether the vote is aye or no, it will be forwarded to the Board of Education.”
In January 2015, the Hartford Courant reports a teacher in the Bronx who successfully won an appeal after she was charged with neglect of duty and dismissed after leaving to have her baby. The article reported that “decisions in five other mother-teacher appeals are expected soon.” As part of the case decision it was reported that, “A law providing that a woman teacher’s position automatically became vacant when she married, had been declared unconstitutional.” He then explained that a married teacher having children and needing a leave of absence should be therefore logically granted as a “natural corollary.”
Another article in the Hartford Courant in 2015 labels the difficulty women face when working and preparing to bear a child the “mother-teacher problem.” The article explains that this is a greater issue in New York than in Hartford because, “the proportion of married teachers is large, and this condition has been the cause of much conflict.” This indicates that there is quite a stir in New York not long after there was such a quick denial of Edgell’s petition. The article articulates one of the central arguments against granting a leave of absence for “mother-teachers” as, “the married teacher who has a husband able to support his family, is depriving some unmarried and self-dependent woman of an opportunity to earn her living.” The concern was centered then more on the propriety of married women and mothers to work than on the individual mother and child in question.
“TEACHERS TO GET MATERNITY LEAVES.” New York Times (1857-1922), Nov 13, 1914. http://search.proquest.com.erl.lib.byu.edu/docview/97497775?accountid=4488.
“TEACHER-MOTHER WINS HER APPEAL.” The Hartford Courant (1887-1922), Jan 12, 1915. http://search.proquest.com.erl.lib.byu.edu/docview/556181549?accountid=4488.
“THE MOTHER-TEACHER.” The Hartford Courant (1887-1922), Jan 15, 1915. http://search.proquest.com.erl.lib.byu.edu/docview/556177647?accountid=4488.