Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren speaks at a town hall meeting Sept. 19 in Iowa City, Iowa. (Charlie Neibergall/AP)
Elizabeth Warren has a personal anecdote that she shares on the campaign trail, about being fired from her teaching position after becoming pregnant. As Warren tells it, the story demonstrates the type of systemic unfairness that she has made her career fighting against. “By the end of the school year, I was pretty obviously pregnant,” Warren wrote in her 2014 book, “A Fighting Chance.” “The principal did what I think a lot of principals did back then — wished me good luck, didn’t ask me back for the next school year, and hired someone else for the job.”
On Monday, a conservative website published a report seemingly contradicting Warren’s story. Specifically, it found minutes from a board of education meeting in which Warren’s contract was unanimously renewed. Other critics of Warren, who is now the Democratic presidential front-runner, have pointed to an interview in which she presented her departure from education as a choice. “I had a baby and stayed home for a couple of years,” Warren said in a 2007 appearance at the University of California-Berkeley.
Warren’s story, in all its ambiguity, is surprisingly typical. As scholars of education and the law have documented, female teachers throughout the 20th century commonly had their careers derailed. In light of that, Warren’s story is credible historically. But perhaps more importantly, the questioning of her story reveals the way that gender discrimination continues to thwart the professional ambitions of women — even those running for president.
As scholars of education and the law have documented, female teachers throughout the 20th century commonly had their careers derailed.
Let’s start with some stark historical facts. In the first half of the 20th century, female teachers were commonly fired upon marriage. In 1930, for instance, an author in the Texas Outlook, a magazine, wrote “A Plea for Married Women Teachers,” arguing that the common practice of firing married women was severely limiting the pool of available teaching talent. Two decades later, an author writing in the Minnesota Journal of Education stated bluntly that “if [teachers] marry, they will be automatically fired.”