Monday, January 19, 2015

Married Teachers Dismissed - 1933

Almost daily, reminders of discrimination permeate media reports, but at one point East Hampton witnessed a situation that would seem by 2015 standards a bit draconian – the dismissal of female teachers – because they were married!  On May 11, 1933, with four of the ten members absent, and Chairman Charles Torkelson abstaining, the Board of Education passed a resolution on a 4-to-1 vote to dismiss (terminate) four married teachers and reduce the salaries of eight others one-third percent (about $50) due to “economic conditions,” effective upon the expiration of teachers’ contracts in June.  The resolution, sponsored by Mrs. Howard W. House, included a provision to fill the positions with un-married teachers. Mrs. House, explained that it was presented “to save money and to open jobs for competent, single and unemployed teachers.” Joining Mrs. House in support were Mrs. Samuel Stewart, Leon Voisin and Richard J. Wall with Deaconess Harriet G. Hyde opposed. 

Two of the married teachers, Alice S. (Mrs. Ralph)  Thatcher and Regina Cheney began a campaign to fight the dismissal, threatening court action, if necessary.  Backed by a strong community effort, a petition was circulated calling for the Board to hold a special meeting to rescind its action.  Other teachers affected were Beatrice H. (Mrs. Raymond) Thatcher and Dorothy Parker. All four had taught for several years and were regarded as experienced and capable teachers. Commenting as President of the Taxpayers’ Association, Hubert Hodge stated that he was thoroughly in accord with any action taken by the Board, or any other official group, to reduce the town’s expenses, and so reduce the heavy burden now resting on the general public.

The Board of Education resolution and action to dismiss four married teachers spurred considerable community debate. The petition had a mixed results - 71 supporting reinstatement of the teachers and 75 against.  It was however enough to bring the issue back. The depression, then in its fourth years, had engendered many ideas for cost cutting and what many thought - fairness. If the husband, the primary breadwinner, had employment, why not give positions to unemployed single teachers? It would give more townspeople at lease some income.  At a Public Hearing and Special Meeting of the Board of Education on May 31st, the action previously taken was rescinded on a 5-to-4 vote after lengthy discussion.  Opposition to the dismissal was led by A. D. Williams who challenged the “economic issue” as “petty,” and was supported by the Rev. Edwin C. Field, Dr. John D. Milburn, Mrs. Milburn and Achille Cozzi.  Mr. Williams noted that the possible minor saving was estimated to be  $900 or less than 75 cents per taxpayer. 

Members Edward H. Wilkins, Mrs. Nellie Barton, Forest G. Thatcher (not husband of either of the dismissed teachers) and Mrs. Ethel Butler joined in the vote to overturn the previous action.  Speaking at the public hearing, Mrs. Regina Cheney, one of the teachers to be dismissed  “deplored the method and secrecy of the Board action in dismissing her.  She noted that she was informed by one of her pupils the following day.  She thought it most unfair to ask her to move to town and to transfer her from one grade to another with the implication that she was to remain, and then dismiss her.”  Mrs. Cheney even suggested that she would be willing to consider a reduction in salary if the economic conditions of the Town warranted it. Mr. Field pointed out that it was more to the point to consider the competence of teachers than to put a premium on the "M-R-S" in front of a woman's name and stressed the fact that children should be considered before economics.  The final outcome actually surprised many.
After being reinstated with the Board's rescission of the Resolution, Beatrice Thatcher, Alice Thatcher and Dorothy Parker tendered their resignations shortly after the close of the school year.
At the end of July, Mrs. Regina Cheney's contract was not renewed by the Board of Education, thus ended the East Hampton teaching careers of four married teachers.

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