Teachers Fight For Their Rights

Miss Belle Van Horn leads the Associate Teachers’ League of New Orleans to join the Labor Union to gain more rights.

          In late 1918, controversy about women’s salaries and rights began to be a problem that women could not handle any more. Most women were only getting paid about $8 a week at this time, while men were making nearly double of women salaries that work the same number of hours. It was not until Miss Belle Van Horn, leader of the Associate Teachers’ League, James Leonard, local representative of the American Federation of Labor, and Robert Lyons, interested in United States waitresses, all were invited to New Orleans. Together, these three leaders represented groups of all types of women ranging from teachers to labor workers to everyday waitresses and were able to gather them to fight for better work conditions. They all encouraged women to join the Federation of Labor, and the teachers were also asked to join the American Federation of Teachers to have jurisdiction over Orleans parish.

Miss Belle Van Horn

         If it were not for Miss Belle Van Horn, New Orleans teachers would not have joined the Labor Union for several more years. Miss Belle Van Horn’s background is what allowed her to be devoted to bringing more power to the hands of teachers. Belle and her sister, Anna, both fought for the heart of Lee Cooney, where Anna won him over. Miss Belle Van Horn was heartbroken after losing her love and decided never to love again. Her heartbreak, in turn, allowed her to focus more on her true passion of giving teachers what they deserved. Before being the president of the Associate Teachers’ League, she had been a member for about 25 years. Once she had defined herself as this strong, independent woman, she was able to climb the ranks of the organization and fight for teachers rights as their president.

School Teachers Vote to Affiliate with Union Labor
Article written by the Times-Picayune in 1918.

         The American Federation of Teachers was later able to demand higher wages and better working conditions due to all the support. Being that almost all teachers were women, and there were not many women in authoritative positions, women were oppressed and unable to make their voice heard. Although, since most teachers were women, they were like a monopoly and used that as an advantage. This organization created by women, for women, was the perfect step for women to gain power and be able to be heard. As the American Federation of Teachers continued to gain power, it is one of the main groups that brought the 19th amendment into action, allowing women to be able to vote.

          Even today, the United States still faces the problem that teachers occupy the most important jobs which give Americans the foundation for education and yet are one of the lowest paid jobs on the market. The pay has significantly increased from 1918 going from $420 annually to $38,617. In today’s economy, it is particularly difficult to live off this amount. The cost of products seemed very high for teachers back then because even the most straightforward needs like shoes cost about $12 but since they earned $35 a month. The shoes alone are almost one-third of a teachers income, and they still have other cost such as gas, rent, and food. Teachers’ low salaries are an example that women were oppressed into lower positions with low income.

           Ironically on a side-note, New Orleans commonly has investigations of corruption throughout the year. Recently the police department had used taxpayers money to go on a trip to Las Vegas. Even in 1918, they had similar scandals because money that was supposed to have gone to the Benjamin Franklin School had suddenly disappeared and is still lost today.


“American Federation of Labor–Congress of Industrial Organizations | Labour Organization.” Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed November 1, 2018. https://www.britannica.com/topic/American-Federation-of-Labor-Congress-of-Industrial-Organizations.

jmustian@theadvocate.com, JIM MUSTIAN |. “Records: State Police Troopers Charged Taxpayers for Overtime, Vacation Homes to Attend ’14 Conference in Orlando.” The Advocate. Accessed November 1, 2018. https://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/news/politics/article_499682c4-3664-11e7-ae86-079f3638512a.html.

“Teacher Salaries in America.” Niche. Accessed November 1, 2018. https://www.niche.com/blog/teacher-salaries-in-america/.

“World War I: 1914-1918 | Striking Women.” Accessed November 1, 2018. http://www.striking-women.org/module/women-and-work/world-war-i-1914-1918.

“Belle Randolph Van Horn (1863-1946) – Find A…,” accessed November 26, 2018, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/11758953/belle-randolph-van_horn.pl_011252018_2220_29701_755

Jesse Hagopian, “A People’s History of the Chicago Teachers Union | International Socialist Review,” accessed November 26, 2018, /issue/86/peoples-history-chicago-teachers-union.

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