During the early years of the Progressive Era, women teachers in urban centers across the United States bound their fight for equal pay and voice within the schools to a broader social and political activism, each propelled by an image of the professional woman: independent and autonomous in and outside the schools. Without the right to vote, these women turned cautiously toward organized labor to achieve their goals. However, the union between labor associations and organized teachers was troubled from the start and complicated by gender and class. As this article chronicles, affiliation with labor brought increased power and visibility to teachers nationwide but also thwarted the aspirations of early teachers as it severed the connection between teachers’ labor organizations and women’s political activism.

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