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The First Attempts to Unionize the Faculty

by Timothy Reese Cain - 2010

Background/Context: Faculty unionization is an important topic in modern higher education, but the history of the phenomenon has not yet been fully considered. This article brings together issues of professionalization and unionization and provides needed historical background to ongoing unionization efforts and debates.

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: This article examines the context of, debates surrounding, and ultimate failure of the first attempts to organize faculty unions in the late 1910s and early 1920s. Following a discussion of the institutional change of the period and the formation of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) as an explicitly nonlabor organization, this article considers the founding, endeavors, and demise of 20 American Federation of Teachers (AFT) locals. In doing so, it demonstrates long-standing divisions within the faculty and concerns regarding professional unionization.

Research Design: The article uses historical methods and archival evidence to recover and interpret these early debates over the unionization of college faculty. It draws on numerous collections in institutional and organizational archives, as well as contemporaneous newspaper and magazine accounts and the writings of faculty members embroiled in debates over unionization.

Discussion: Beginning with the founding of AFT Local 33 at Howard University in November 1918, college and normal school faculty organized 20 separate union locals for a variety of social, economic, and institutional reasons before the end of 1920. Some faculty believed that affiliating with labor would provide them with greater voices in institutional governance and offer the possibility of obtaining higher wages. Others saw in organizing a route to achieving academic freedom and job security. Still others believed that, amidst the difficult postwar years, joining the AFT could foster larger societal and educational change, including providing support for K–12 teachers who were engaged in struggles for status and improved working conditions. Despite these varied possibilities, most faculty did not organize, and many both inside and outside academe expressed incredulity that college and university professors would join the labor movement. In the face of institutional and external pressure, and with many faculty members either apathetic about or opposed to unionization, this first wave of faculty unionization concluded in the early 1920s with the closing of all but one of the campus locals.

Conclusions/Recommendations: Unionization in higher education remains contested despite the tremendous growth in organization in recent decades. The modern concerns, as well as the ways that they are overcome, can be traced to the 1910s and 1920s.

Faculty, adjunct, and graduate student unionization are important issues in modern times, with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the National Education Association (NEA), the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), and other groups seeking to organize educational workers in various sectors of higher education. They also remain contested and problematic as educators wrestle with appropriate responses to institutional, professional, and economic concerns. The AAUP’s decision to separate bargaining and academic freedom functions highlights the disagreements over whether organizing offers benefits, support, and protection or diminishes faculty status and professional authority.1 These concerns are not new but instead extend back to the conversations leading to the 1915 founding of the AAUP as an explicitly professional and avowedly nonunion organization. They were implicated in the debates over and demise of the first AFT locals on college campuses in the ensuing years. This article examines these early conflicts, experiences, and efforts to unionize faculty in postsecondary educational institutions. In doing so, it addresses a considerable gap in the current literature and contributes to our understanding of faculty work and life; political pressures placed on institutions and faculty; and the histories of the AFT, colleges, and universities.

For the past 40 years, scholars have examined academic union affiliation, its potential for conflict, debates over the adequacy and appropriateness of different provisions for faculty input into governance, and the outcomes associated with organization at different institutional types.2 Few have, however, considered the deep history of unionization on college campuses. In their influential 1973 work Professors, Unions and American Higher Education, Everett Carll Ladd Jr. and Seymour Martin Lipset argued that faculty unionization as we now understand it arose in the 1960s in response to changing employment and societal conditions. Based on the role of collective bargaining in modern unions, the authors asserted that unions were insignificant prior to this period.3 Others have implicitly or explicitly echoed this sentiment, including Judith Wagner DeCew, who relied on Ladd and Lipset while avoiding all efforts at organization before the 1960s in her chapter on the background and history of faculty unions.4 Similarly, Gordon B. Arnold described the “abrupt appearance” of faculty unions in the mid-1960s, dismissing college faculty in the AFT prior to this point in a single sentence.5 Collective bargaining was a significant development that changed the nature of unionization, but ignoring the earlier unionization efforts misses noteworthy aspects of faculty life and work, as well as important issues in the history of American higher education.

Histories of the AFT, the group attempting to unionize faculty in the 1910s and 1920s, rarely mention professorial organization in the period. The Commission on Educational Reconstruction’s house history declared that it “must not ignore the contribution of college teachers in developing the union program” but dedicated less than a page to the topic.6 The AFT’s ensuing A Looseleaf History of the American Federation of Teachers similarly shortchanged the topic, only mentioning college and university faculty in passing.7 The same can be said for most accounts written by those outside the organization. William W. Eaton’s account provided a slightly more detailed discussion of the AFT’s efforts in higher education than other published sources, although it too remained brief. Eaton noted the difficulties in establishing college locals before the Great Depression, including that many in the professoriate misconstrued the union as an organization only interested in securing wage increases. Rank and disciplinary differences further hampered organizing efforts and, combined with the pressures that unsympathetic administrators placed on campus locals, led most of the few locals organized prior to 1930 to quickly disappear.8 Only Jeannette Lester’s 1968 dissertation, which Eaton used as a key source, treated the topic in more depth. Lester argued that during this early period, many faculty members were ignorant of union methods and purposes, lacked organizational skills, and received little assistance from the national organization. She concluded, “In general, it appears that affiliation with labor in this period proved to be more of a hindrance to these college groups than an aid.”9

Few historians of higher education have considered the early interest in faculty unionization either. In Universities and the Capitalist State, an examination of corporate, political, and social influences on new universities in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Clyde W. Barrow relied on Eaton’s and Lester’s works for his discussion of unionization efforts, noting that the movement failed to gain a foothold and only appealed to a minority of faculty in the 1910s and 1920s.10 A few scholars, including Philo A. Hutcheson and Walter P. Metzger, recognized concern over unionization in this period while discussing professionalization and the history of the AAUP. Like Barrow, they noted the AAUP’s early condemnation of faculty organization as leaders believed that union membership would forestall objective consideration of contested economic issues. At the same time, AAUP leaders attempted to establish their association as a legitimate partner with which academic administrators could cooperate, and they feared that union affiliation would preclude such collaboration.11 Elsewhere, Metzger noted that an active AFT influenced the development of academic freedom in the 1930s.12 Each of these pieces provides valuable insight into the early debates surrounding faculty unionization, although each focused on different issues or eras.

In this article, I specifically examine the context of, debates surrounding, and ultimate failure of, the controversial attempts to organize faculty unions in the late 1910s and early 1920s. Following an introduction to institutional change and faculty discontent in the early 20th century, I show that the AAUP worked to establish itself as a professional organization, repeatedly countering claims that it shared principles and goals with labor. Next, I detail the creation of 20 AFT locals for college faculty between 1918 and 1920, demonstrating that they were formed for personal, professional, and societal reasons in the void left by the AAUP’s elite approach. Through membership in the AFT, these unionized faculty believed that they could influence institutional governance, protect academic freedom, and improve faculty remuneration. Finally, I explore the reaction to these early faculty unions, all but one of which closed by the mid-1920s in the face of external pressure, divisions in the faculty, and apathy. In doing so, I contend that these first attempts to unionize college faculty and the backlash against them from within and without academe are important historical antecedents to modern faculty considerations. Indeed, many of the same concerns, questions, and arguments about organization that abound today were first identified in the years addressed in this study.


American higher education underwent significant transformations in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Shifting ideas of knowledge, increasing emphasis on research, new economic resources and pressures, tremendous institutional growth, the development of graduate education, and the bureaucratization of educational administration were all hallmarks of the new academic enterprise. It was in this period that modern institutional forms developed, and, as Roger L. Geiger noted, “By 1920, then, American research universities had established patterns of structure, intellectual organization, and financing that are still recognizable today.”13 Of course, these universities were only a small portion of the system of postsecondary education and were only one scene of transition. Institutions in various sectors responded to the changing social and educational landscape by shifting their curricula and practices. Christine A. Ogren demonstrated that normal schools were among those that “jockeyed for position” in the new educational hierarchy. While many did not officially become teachers colleges until the 1920s, “virtually all state normal schools began by the 1910s to consciously emulate collegiate institutions,” including reconsidering their admissions requirements, restructuring their curricula, and changing their missions.14 These pressures also led normal schools to shift the make-up of their faculties, including by increasingly emphasizing research.15 By the end of the 1910s, institutions now referred to as Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) were also changing their curricula and practice, partly in response to harsh critiques and calls for consolidation. They did so amidst increased challenges posed by Red Scare politics.16 Early unionization efforts took place across these and other sectors as faculty sought to define their roles and responsibilities, looking first to the professions and then to labor for models.

This restructuring of higher education notably affected faculty life, changed the opportunities for and demands on professors, and shifted the pressures that professors faced. At the new universities, faculty experienced new prospects to pursue their own research and were increasingly relieved of oversight over undergraduate students. Opportunities for shared governance gradually increased at some institutions, but autocratic administrators and demanding governing boards did as well, leading to conflicts over the appropriate roles and rights of college and university professors. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a series of controversies pointed to the early development of, and conflicting ideas over, academic freedom. Faculty, including Edward A. Ross at Stanford University, Edward W. Bemis at the University of Chicago, and John Spencer Bassett at Trinity College, clashed with trustees and administrators when their speech on contested social and economic issues pushed the limits of what was deemed acceptable. Concomitant with these struggles and the development of modern academia, national disciplinary associations emerged and contributed to the redefinition of scholarship and the professionalization of faculty members. Faculty increasingly looked outside their own institutional settings and developed more cosmopolitan interests and entanglements.17

Concern over the position of the professoriate and the new bureaucratization of higher education institutions can be seen in professors’ increasingly confrontational writings during the period.18 Joseph Jastrow issued a series of attacks on the new administrative bureaucracy and the autocracy of presidents beginning in 1898 and continuing into the 20th century.19 Thorstein Veblen critiqued the intrusion of businessmen and business principles into higher education, condemning its deleterious effect on tenure and the resulting subservience of faculty. He argued that the only solution to modern problems was “the abolition of the academic executive and of the governing board. Anything short of this heroic remedy is bound to fail, because the evils sought to be remedied are inherent in these organs, and intrinsic to their functioning.”20 Others, including J. E. Creighton, James P. Monroe, Stewart Paton, and John Dewey, also decried the growing centralization in university administration.21

Frequently, editorials and other critiques of faculty members emphasized their dullness and questioned their manliness, damning commentary in the era.22 Other writers focused more explicitly on the degraded status of faculty members, including the resulting diffidence in the face of administrative action. Among these was John Jay Chapman, who noted, “The average of this species will look on at an act of injustice done to a brother professor by their college president with the same unconcern as the rabbit who is not attacked watches the ferret pursue his brother up and down the warren to predestinate and horrible death.”23 Jastrow agreed with this assessment, noting that “a combination of timidity and a distorted scruple is responsible.”24 For a few, the solution to these problems was clear. George Cram Cook was among this small group. He argued that professors’ only hope was organization, noting that only a union was “capable of taking ‘professor’ out of the category of the ridiculous.”25

Notable among these critics was Columbia University professor James McKeen Cattell, who likewise condemned modern business practices in education and the influence of autocratic leaders. In University Control, he presented his plans for reorganizing institutions, along with solicited responses to his ideas. He wrote that a college president’s “despotism is only tempered by resignation” and “that the president should decide which professor shall be discharged and which have his salary advanced, which department or line of work should be favored or crippled, is the most sinister side of our present system of university administration”26 He further claimed that either high salaries or tenure was needed to attract the ablest men to the profession, ensure their dignity, and foster the highest possible quality of work.27 He argued,

Trade-unions and organizations of professional men, in spite of occasional abuses, have been a benefit not only to those immediately concerned, but to society as a whole. . . . [I]f it is expedient to better the conditions under which work of any kind is done, this is of the utmost importance for education and research. If we can unite to improve the conditions of the academic career, so that it will attract the best men and permit them to do their best work, we make a contribution to the welfare of society which is permanent and universal. It may be that the time has now come when it is desirable and possible to form an association of professors of American universities, based on associations in the different universities, the objects of which would be to promote the interests of the universities and to advance higher education and research, with special reference to problems of administration and to the status of professors and other officers of the university.28

Cattell’s ideas were not new when he published them in the 1913 University Control. He had been arguing along the same lines since at least 1902, including to colleagues at Johns Hopkins University, where he taught prior to moving to Columbia University. These discussions, the successful short-term administration of Johns Hopkins University by a committee of faculty and trustees, and Arthur O. Lovejoy’s leadership all fostered the ensuing creation of a professional association for college and university faculty.29


The arguments of Cattell and others contributed to the formation of the AAUP, but other more pressing issues were also involved, including the 1913 dismissal of Willard C. Fisher and the forced resignation of John M. Mecklin from Wesleyan College and Lafayette College, respectively.30 These highly publicized removals resulted in investigations by disciplinary associations and helped provide momentum for Lovejoy and his colleagues’ efforts to form what would become the AAUP. In March 1913, the majority of the full professors at Johns Hopkins University circulated a letter to professors at nine leading research institutions, proposing a meeting to discuss the potential creation of an organization that would cut across academic disciplines and address issues of concern to the professoriate as a whole. The call noted that professors were rightly concerned with both investigatory and educational policy issues. The former were well served by the disciplinary associations, but cooperative action for the latter was lacking.

The general purposes, therefore, of the contemplated association would be to promote a more general and methodical discussion of the educational problems of the university; to create means for the authoritative expression of the public opinion of the profession; and to make possible collective action, on occasions when such action seems called for.31

Conversations over the ensuing years culminated in the formation of the AAUP at the beginning of 1915 and the release of its “Declaration of Principles on Academic Freedom and Academic Tenure” at the end of that year.32 It was in response to this document that the New York Times famously editorialized:

Academic freedom, that is the inalienable right of every college instructor to make a fool of himself and his college by vealy, intemperate, sensational prattle about every subject under heaven, to his classes and to the public, and still keep on the payroll or be reft therefrom only by elaborate process, is cried to all winds by organized dons. . . .

It would be well for the Professors’ union to understand that the screeching, the shallowness, and the pretense of too many professors are bringing on the vocation a certain discredit. The union suffers from the violence of some of its members.33

In addition to disparaging the AAUP’s claims to academic freedom, the New York Times editorial, titled “The Professors’ Union,” raised another issue that troubled the association throughout its early years. From the initial 1913 call to organize, the leaders of the association were concerned that their new organization would appear to be affiliated with labor or otherwise radical. The founders went to great lengths to assure both prospective members and the larger population of the conservative nature of the association. Cattell’s aggressive rhetoric denouncing university administration helped set the stage for the AAUP, and his 1917 dismissal from Columbia University would emphasize the challenges that faculty faced, but he refrained from a leading role in its organization specifically out of fear of alienating more moderate members of the professoriate.34 Others who had argued for radical changes and organizing along union models were notably absent from the association’s planning efforts. Even the American Economics Association, the American Political Science Association, and the American Sociological Society’s Joint Committee on Academic Freedom, which was formed in response to the Fisher dismissal and would merge with the AAUP’s committee on the same topic in 1915, specifically dismissed union tactics.35

Despite these efforts, AAUP founders’ correspondence indicates that prospective members were still concerned about the possibility that the new association was going to become a union. Ulysses G. Weatherly wrote to AAUP leader John Dewey, “In general, I do not believe that university teachers ought to resort to trade union methods, and I fear that this is exactly what the proposed plan would lead to, despite the present ideas of the organization.” Alfred Scott Warthin believed in the idea of the AAUP but noted, “I should be very much opposed to the formation of an association on a trades union basis, that is, an association having the undesirable features of the average trades union or protective association.”36 Sentiments such as that expressed by University of Michigan’s Alexander Ziwet when explaining his decision to withdrawal from organizing efforts were rare. Ziwet wrote, “If the original idea expressed here of including all professors had prevailed, the association would have become something like a labor union, or trade union, and as such might have had my sympathy. As now proposed it threatens to become a self-constituted aristocracy of older men.37 The founding members of the professors’ association made sure that Ziwet’s vision of a trade union would not be achieved and fostered the AAUP’s elite nature through restrictive membership requirements, including 10 years of service at recognized four-year institutions.

Still, the potential appearance of unionism continued to be a main concern of leaders and members. Even John Dewey, who later joined and advocated for the AFT, articulated the differences between the AAUP and a union while assuring listeners of the AAUP’s conservative nature. His introductory address at the founding of the AAUP referenced unions several times:

The fear that a “trade unionism” of spirit will be cultivated is ungrounded. I have great respect for trade unions and what they accomplish. . . . Since economic conditions seriously affect the efficiency and scope of our educational work, such topics are surely legitimate ones for inquiry and report. But the term trades unionism has been used to suggest a fear that we are likely to subordinate our proper educational activities to selfish and monetary considerations. I have never heard any one suggest such a danger for the American Bar Association or the American Medical Association. Pray, are the aims of college teachers less elevated?38

Dewey’s successors similarly denounced allusions to the association as a professors’ union, including Frank Thilly, who, at the third annual meeting, argued that the AAUP’s growth could be attributed to convincing faculty members that the group would refrain from union tactics.39 Anxiety remained, however, largely due to the association’s work for academic freedom, even though it repeatedly emphasized that it worked for principles, not to protect individual faculty members. As a member’s letter printed in the Bulletin of the A.A.U.P. under the heading “The Association Not a ‘Union,’” noted,

The matter of academic freedom and tenure was, of course, forced upon us soon after our organization, and the only right thing to do was to meet the issue. It is, nevertheless, unfortunate that we should have become identified in the public mind with a movement whose immediate concern is with the fortunes of the professors. It goes all right in a jocular way to be spoken of as a labor union, but an impression of this kind could do great damage to us if it becomes more than a joke. I fear that it has already reached that stage.40

These protestations were only partially successful, as another New York Times editorial titled “The Professors’ Union” indicated in 1917:

What is so mysterious, wonderful, and sacred about the profession of a professor that a member of the caste who notoriously professes disloyalty, for instance, or who is in the habit of making, in public, foolish or wild speeches hurtful to the reputation of the college he works for, cannot be removed save by the consent of brother professors? The association says that “there is no trade unionism” in its position. It is plain trade unionism.41


Even as the AAUP defended itself against charges of unionism while working to establish itself as a conservative professional association, a separate educational group was organizing somewhat along the lines that the AAUP disdained. Amidst concerns over school teachers’ lack of input into the NEA and in response to Chicago’s Loeb rule banning teachers from joining unions, three Chicago teachers unions and one from nearby Gary, Indiana, officially affiliated with each other in April 1916. The four unions had already been assured of both a national charter from the American Federation of Labor (AFL) and the cooperation of other municipal teacher unions. The founders hoped that this new American Federation of Teachers would offer a voice to school teachers, work for their economic interests, and try to improve both conditions of employment and conditions of education.42 Although clearly focused on K–12 education, the early AFT included some members from institutions of higher education, most notably Dewey, whose holding of union Card No. 1 was widely promoted by the organization. Also noteworthy was the inclusion of Wilson Normal School in the High School Teachers Union of Washington DC (Local 8), when it was founded in May 1916.43 As part of a larger expansion of membership eligibility, the AFT revised its charter to allow for the organization of unions specifically for college and university faculty in 1918.44 Over the next two years, college and normal school faculty formed 20 separate locals on individual campuses or for faculty in specific metropolitan areas. These college locals briefly challenged the educational establishment and revealed fissures in the professoriate before withering in the face of official pressure and faculty apathy.


Although many of the critiques of higher education emanated from the new universities, much of the early unionization took place in other sectors. The first AFT college local, Howard University Teachers Union (Local 33), founded on November 18, 1918, was one such organization. As did many institutions, Howard University underwent significant change in the early 20th century. In his centennial history of the institution, Rayford W. Logan termed the period from 1903 to 1918 “Fifteen Years of Experimentation,” noting the shifting roles and ideas of African American intellectuals, the reigns of three presidents and two acting presidents, the expansion of the institution and its facilities, debates over organization and curriculum, and the disruption of World War I.45 According to Walter Dyson, the period was also one of “rapid degradation of the professor in University affairs.”46 In July 1918, James Stanley Durkee, a Baptist preacher with little experience in higher education or with African Americans, was named the institution’s 11th president.47 His eight-year reign was one of the most tumultuous of the institution’s history, including the elimination of the preparatory academy, the creation of new colleges, the centralization of administration, and a concentration of authority that “interfered with many ‘vested’ interests.”48

Durkee’s actions led to significant unrest among students, faculty, and alumni, eventually resulting in his resignation in 1926. Still, the evidence suggests that the Howard University Teachers Union was formed in response to issues not specifically related to the new president.49 Lester noted that the Washington DC context may have played an important role because the city was a site of aggressive nationalism and patriotic fervor during and after World War I. It was a difficult period for educators in the nation’s capital, and Red Scare politics would take their toll on Howard University and elsewhere.50 Lester also noted the AFT’s ensuing call for increased funding to the institution as evidence that financial concerns were also implicated in the founding. The institution, though private, was largely funded by the federal government, and a year after Local 33 was organized, the AFT national convention resolved for almost a tenfold increase in congressional appropriations to the institution. Combined with the dramatic discrepancies in pay between African American and white teachers in the city, individual and institutional financial considerations were important to the union.51 Although each of these may have been relevant, the “degradation of the faculty” was more significant. In the months after it was founded, the local expressed an interest in increasing faculty participation in institutional governance, with an eye “toward more democratic conditions.”52 In his history of the institution written 22 years later, Dyson recalled the situation after World War I:

The teachers returned to their work, determined to make the schools safe for teachers. They had worked to make the world safe for democracy; now they would work for democracy in education. They had fought autocracy abroad; they would now fight autocracy in the schools. Fortunately for the determined teachers—made more militant by their war experiences—there was ready at hand an organization. On April 15, 1916, the American Federation of Teachers, an affiliate of the American of Labor, had been organized. . . . The aim of the chapter at Howard University was to secure for the teacher a voice in determining the conditions under which the teacher must perform his tasks.53

Despite these influences and the promise of improving faculty working conditions, the Howard University Teachers Union was short lived and produced few results. At its peak, the local included 38 members, all of whom were drawn from the undergraduate departments, where “the teachers’ load was heaviest, his pay less, his degradation deepest.”54 Congress did not appropriate funds at close to the level for which the AFT advocated, and little direct progress was made in changing the institution’s governance. Members of Local 33 participated in efforts to create a general faculty body, form an elected “Committee on Administration” that could appeal directly to the trustees, and elect a faculty member to the board of trustees, but these efforts were unsuccessful.55 In June 1920, member McLeod Harvey responded to AFT queries about what had become of the first college local.

The reasons for the disbanding of the Howard University Teachers Union was briefly as follows: (1) The University is to a very considerable extent supported by an appropriation made each year by the U.S. government. . . . That means that we cannot afford to antagonize in the slightest the feelings of even unreasonable government officials. (2) The immediate University administration seemed to be opposed to the Teachers Union being tied up with the American Federation of Labor, and we had to consider that. (3) While a number of us wanted to continue the organization, the majority voted to disband and so it went out of existence. That is the story.56

Dyson later blamed the lack of influence on the union’s small size and the local’s constitutional ban on striking.57 Without more members and the ability to apply direct pressure, faculty unionization disappeared from Howard until the mid-1930s.


Shortly after the chartering of the Howard University Teachers Union, John V. Ross, the vice president of the Illinois Typographical Union and secretary of the local labor federation, began organizing faculty members at the University of Illinois. His efforts were initially met with some resistance, and he reported, “Without a doubt, these men are the most ignorant of the benefits to be derived from the organization, than any set of educated men I ever had anything to do with.”58 Some on the faculty were concerned with status and believed that “the idea of trying to put education on the same plane as labor is preposterous.”59 Despite the ambivalence, the efforts of Ross and a small faculty group resulted in founding of the Federation of Teachers of the University of Illinois (Local 41) in January 1919. Its constitution, written two months later, noted,

The purpose of the organization is to promote the welfare and efficiency of the teaching staff of the University; to help bring the University and its staff into contact with the people of the State and with the labor movement; and to further such aims generally as come within the scope of an organization of teachers acting directly for the best interests of the university and State of which they form an important and responsible part.60

During its two-year existence, Local 41 pursued these activities largely through speakers’ series and public meetings. Its most significant activity, though, was aimed at demonstrating the dire financial conditions of the faculty. In late 1919, the local undertook a survey of the economic status of the institution’s faculty members, revealing an “ominous picture” of “the nearly desperate character of the situation.”61 Over half of the respondents reported spending more than they had earned in the previous year and that they where worse off financially than they had been half a decade earlier, despite promotions and longer tenures of service. Financial strains forced the postponement of medical procedures, cutbacks in diets, and an inability to fulfill professional obligations.

By the following fall, the local was in disrepair and considered disbanding because of  lack of interest. Its president, Harold N. Hillebrand, wrote to the AFT national office in February that they had instead decided to “lie dormant,” awaiting the results of pending efforts for increased appropriations. He explained,

Our reason was that if the expected legislation at Springfield for the University does not materialize, then in the ensuing dissatisfaction our local might serve as a rallying point for action. If the legislature, however, does come across, then we shall quietly disappear. It is evident that under present conditions, or unless there is a change for the worse, we cannot command enough interest here to make it worth while to keep on.62

Later that spring, before the legislature approved the university’s request for a $10,500,000 appropriation, the local disbanded.63

Local 41, though short lived, was significant for several reasons. In a stratified society, the unionization of faculty at a predominantly white state university attracted much more attention than did a similar act at Howard. It was only after the organization of teachers at Illinois that national publications took notice and debates about the appropriateness of faculty joining the AFT ensued.64 Its founding further revealed divisions within the community and faculty. Local and campus papers showed disagreement over unionization, with some viewing the movement positively but others claiming that it was evidence of radicalism and would inhibit objective research on economic and social issues.65 Although financial concern was widespread among professors and instructors, many were unwilling to affiliate with labor, some on principle and others because they believed that existing mechanisms such as the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching pension plan would provide for them.66 More significant, the local’s membership was drawn primarily from junior faculty and instructors, those who were explicitly excluded from membership in the AAUP. Indeed, at the union’s first mass meeting, the contention that the AAUP was already filling the needs of the professoriate was met with the realization that fewer than 10% of those present were eligible for membership in the more elite association.67


The next two unions with significant college membership were formed in April 1919 and consisted of faculty from multiple institutions, rather than being located on individual college campuses. Led by socialist professors involved in the Boston Trade Union College, educators from all institutional levels founded the Greater Boston Teachers Union (Local 66) with the hope of uniting the various constituents and addressing salary and benefits concerns. Shortly after the local received its AFT charter, an editorial in The Harvard Crimson contended that, while perhaps inappropriate, the local would offer prestige and status to the labor movement. It also expressed concern that differences between educators and the other members of the AFL would forestall its efforts.68 In fact, the obstacles that hampered the Greater Boston Teachers Union were internal to the profession itself; the differences between college faculty and K–12 teachers quickly became too difficult to manage, and within a few months, the noncollege members left Local 66 to form three additional locals for various segments of the teaching population. This split, which involved more conservative teachers’ concerns over faculty members’ radical politics, pointed to the differing economic and political reasons for organizing. It highlighted the challenges of serving diverse membership and foreshadowed some of the difficulties that the AFT would face in the 1930s.69

The founding of the Associated Teachers Union of New York (Local 71) was perhaps more important, although it too soon faced difficulties. New York was the locus of much teacher unionization, and Teachers Union (Local 5) was among the first and most active locals in the AFT. Its membership, though, was limited to public school teachers, John Dewey’s honorary membership excepted. This gap was filled when faculty members from across the city received an AFT charter in April 1919. The union, which was run by college faculty, welcomed members otherwise excluded from Local 5, including private school teachers and school administrators. Its constitution identified its purposes as:

1. To develop the spirit of democracy in educational institutions, and to provide the machinery for its practical application.

2. To increase the efficiency of educational institutions by securing the conditions essential to the best professional service.

3. To bring teachers everywhere into relations of mutual assistance and co-operation.

4. To co-operate with organized labor in raising the standards and furthering the democratization of the industrial, social, and political life of the community.70

When the local began its first public membership drive the following December, it sought to assuage concerns by emphasizing that the AFT did not support strikes and that its own constitution explicitly prohibited such action. It continued,

Our reliance is on the power of organized numbers. By this power we may convince directly the trustees of educational institutions that profound changes are needed in teaching conditions. Failing this, we can, through an educated and aroused public opinion, influence our legislature to enact general laws for the administration of schools and colleges of the state. Such laws might establish minimum standards of democracy, of security, and of pay.71

As the recruitment campaign began, Local 71 vice president Bird Stair informed the New York Times, “We receive miserable pay, we have to work under undemocratic conditions, and we enjoy little public esteem.”72 The conditions of employment were of concern, but so too were larger societal relations, as the union saw itself as an agent of social and educational change.73 Local 71 president Herman Defrem echoed the organization’s constitution, noting that they were

equally interested in two objects. These are, on the one hand, the professional: to improve the conditions of teacher, and of teaching, thru democratic administration, security of tenure, and better pay; and, on the other, the civic: to cooperate with organized labor in raising the standards and furthering the democratization of the industrial, social and political life of the community.74

Despite its conditional acceptance by several college presidents, cooperation with other labor groups on behalf of workers’ education, an active publicity campaign, and the largest membership of any faculty union of the time, the Associated Teachers Union soon succumbed to difficulty.75 By autumn 1921, the local was struggling with its internal management as bills went unpaid and correspondence remained answered. In November, Defrem informed the national office, “Local 71 as well as Local 5, is having a difficult time. Our union suffers because of apathetic weariness, offspring of world disillusionment, which seems to have struck liberal academic circles in New York.”76 Where the Boston local had split in the face of professional differences, Local 71 merged with the New York Teachers Union (Local 5) in response to this “weariness.” Members believed that the combination would benefit members from across the city by providing energy and support to the college faculty and prestige to the elementary and secondary teachers.77


Many of the remaining college faculty unions founded in this period were located at public institutions in the Midwest, including at a number of teachers’ institutions. Efforts to unionize the faculty in Normal, Illinois, began in the fall of 1918 and culminated in the chartering of Local 76, Illinois State Normal University Teachers’ Federation, in May 1919.78 The institution faced serious financial difficulties that caused faculty salaries to fall significantly below those at the nearby University of Illinois, as well as those at normal schools and teachers colleges in other states. Worried about the combination of static salaries and rapid inflation, President David Felmley argued for additional state appropriations, and Dean Orson L. Manchester declared, “Penuriousness in pay will be followed by strained relations, fleeting attachments, penuriousness in service.”79 Felmley was hampered by both a state legislature that sought to control costs and the Civil Administrative Code of 1917’s reduction of presidential authority by placing all teachers institutions under the oversight of the state’s director of the Department of Registration and Education. Institutional historians lauded Felmley’s handling of a difficult situation, while acknowledging that he was unable to secure all needed funding. They argued that Felmley encouraged his staff and faculty to advocate for increased appropriations and was a supporter of the freedom to discuss controversial political and economic issues.80

The faculty who founded Local 76 were not as admiring and hoped to bring about change in the administration of the normal school.81 The limited remaining correspondence between the local and the national office refers to Felmley and those who supported him as “the worst enemies of the profession.”82 They were in the minority, however, and faced severe challenges in attracting and maintaining members. Eight months after its founding, the local’s secretary reported finally writing a constitution but that the efforts were “dragging,” in part due to a backlash against unionization caused by a national coal strike. Three of the original 15 members had resigned and others demonstrated “much lack of enthusiasm,” causing the national office to note,

The reason teachers, or at least one of the reasons why teachers, find themselves in the predicament they are today, is because they never learned to stand up on their own feet. Of course your local has the added handicaps of being unable to secure the support of those higher up who are catering to Felmley.83

The local desired to create an identity for normal school teachers but limped along with little influence for the next two years. Membership dipped to five by the end of 1920, and Local 76 closed in late 1922. The official reason recorded by the AFT was “institutional pressure,” although further details are absent.84

Between May 1919 and March 1920, faculty formed locals at four institutions in Wisconsin: Milwaukee State Normal School (Local 79), Whitewater State Normal School (Local 80), Superior State Normal School (Local 101), and the University of Wisconsin (Local 166). In the aftermath of difficulties with their president, faculty from Whitewater initiated the movement in the state, convincing colleagues at Milwaukee to simultaneously apply for charters from the AFT.85 They did so, however, without a clear sense of purpose and soon reported, “our worst problem will be the same as that facing most churches, nothing in particular to do.”86 The local started with 30 members, but extensive retrenchment across the system reduced the membership to 12 by the following fall. Over the next two years, its work consisted of attempting to increase its own numbers, encouraging other groups to organize, and offering suggestions about how to better publicize the AFT. By January 1921, it appeared that the group might fold, but by combining social and educational events, it rebounded at the end of the year to become one of the more active college locals in the nation.87 The following fall, it was able to report its schedule of monthly meetings aimed at informing its own members, other faculty, and upper level students about important educational and social issues of the day. Sessions included examinations of state legislation, normal school governance and policies, AFT activities, and national political affairs. These were described as attending to the issue, “How can we give better service to the institution with which we are connected, and what may we expect from that institution, naturally, as a result of this better service?”88 Despite this rebirth, the local remained without a unifying purpose, lacked support from the state’s labor organizations, and was viewed as avoiding practical issues. By November 1924, the local was dormant, and efforts to revive it a year later were unsuccessful.89

Neither the Superior nor the Madison local lasted nearly as long, with the latter only paying dues for one month before beginning to break down.90 Local 79, the Milwaukee Normal Teachers Association, also struggled in the beginning, first in the face of institutional pressure and then due to a lack of purpose. When 75 members of the faculty formed the local, Milwaukee Normal president Carroll G. Pearse responded negatively, worrying potential members and limiting the organizing efforts. Later that summer, he informed Local 79 president Lucius T. Gould that he was being relieved of his position. Although widespread retrenchment in the system was blamed, Gould and others understood that it was “his too great recent activities in directions not approved by authority” that led to his dismissal.91 Gould’s firing affected Local 79 membership, which dropped to 40 in August 1919 and 13 in October 1920, and hampered efforts to organize grade-school teachers in the city. Significantly, it also pointed to the weakness of the AFT in this period. The Association of the Wisconsin Normal School Teachers, a group unaffiliated with labor, intervened and was able to secure Gould’s appointment through the ensuing fall term, but neither Local 79 nor the AFT national office had any influence in the matter. Indeed, the local specifically avoided working on Gould’s behalf because such an effort could have caused further dismissals.92 In February 1920, Edith White explicitly countered the suggestion that Local 79 had campaigned for Gould and for teacher tenure, noting, “even the impression that we were so acting might endanger the life of the local. We found this to be a correct prophecy; and though the danger is now safely past, we shall have to be very quiet indeed for some weeks to come.”93 Membership remained in the low teens for the remainder of the decade, but Local 79 withstood the initial challenges and slowly was able to undertake educational and lobbying efforts, emphasizing issues such as improving teacher qualifications, increasing teacher professionalism, and securing adequate salaries for normal school teachers.94 Despite its small size and lack of power, the Milwaukee Normal Teachers Association was the only one of these early locals to survive until the second wave of college unionization began in the late 1920s.

Members of Local 79 intentionally distanced the local from efforts to reinstate Gould, but faculty at the private Washburn College in Topeka, Kansas, took the exact opposite approach when its trustees dismissed Professor John E. Kirkpatrick. In spring 1919, Kirkpatrick, an outspoken advocate for democratic organization of higher education, clashed with President Parley P. Womer over personnel moves, Womer’s disregard for faculty in educational matters, and Kirkpatrick’s attempts to reform the institution’s administrative structure. When Womer agreed to modify his administration, including by creating a council of deans and faculty to advise the president on all appointments and dismissals, and told Kirkpatrick that the professor’s position was safe, it appeared that these efforts were bearing fruit. Within days, however, Kirkpatrick was dismissed without a hearing or charges, spurring the formation of the Washburn Teachers Federation (Local 99), an AAUP investigation, and national attention.95 The seven faculty members who organized Local 99 modeled their constitution on that of Local 41 at the University of Illinois but focused their efforts on Kirkpatrick’s reinstatement and their desire to increase faculty input into governance.96 AFT president Charles B. Stillman attempted to intervene on Kirkpatrick’s behalf but was rebuffed by Womer, who believed that unionization was so antithetical to education that he later tried to blame Kirkpatrick’s dismissal on the formation of Local 99 even though this was temporally inconsistent.97 Despite a damning AAUP report, agitation from students and alumni, and efforts by Local 99, Kirkpatrick was never reinstated. Mass departures from Washburn ensued, and the Washburn Teachers Federation folded a year after it was organized.98

In Missouri, teachers at Central Missouri State Teachers College at Warrensburg joined the Johnson County Teachers’ Union (Local 108) “with considerable enthusiasm,” according to AFT secretary Freeland Stecker, “but many things happened in the next few weeks which made the situation precarious and the local could no longer continue.”99 Spurred by discussions with teachers attending summer classes, faculty at the University of Missouri organized the Missouri University Teachers’ Union (Local 126) in November 1919.100 The Missouri local is significant for several reasons, including the reaction to its formation by faculty at the institution and the AAUP, discussed below. Also important was that 14 of its 24 original members were full professors, providing evidence that it was not only junior and temporary faculty who were interested in unionization.101 Although its members attended to institutional issues, throughout its short existence, the local focused on those facing K–12 education. A statement of principles prepared by H. Wade Hibbard, a member of the local’s executive committee, spoke broadly about the rights and responsibilities of all educators, emphasizing the professional nature of teaching:

We believe that this freedom is as essential in the elementary and secondary schools as in the universities. We believe that in any association of public school teachers, the teachers in tax-supported universities are in duty bound to share, since such a university is an essential part of the public school system, and the health of each part depends upon the health of all the others.102

Despite its broad goals and senior membership, Local 126 disbanded a year after its founding because of opposition from fellow faculty and serious setbacks in efforts to unionize teachers in the state.103


With the exception of short-lived locals at Edinboro State Normal School in Pennsylvania (Local 122), Miner Normal School in Washington DC (Local 145), and Winona State Normal School in Minnesota (131), the remaining early faculty locals were founded in the Dakotas and Montana.104 These locals—College Teachers Organization of the Agricultural College of North Dakota, Local 96; Federation of Teachers in the State University of Montana, Local 120; Associated Teachers of the State University of North Dakota, Local 134; Associated Teachers, Madison State Normal School, Local 138; and Federation of Teachers of Montana State College of Agricultural and Mechanical Arts, Local 181—often shared purposes with those already described, including providing for greater faculty participation in academic governance, increasing salaries, uniting educators with other laborers, and addressing needs of K–12 education and teachers. Local 96 noted problems in the administration of its own institution but was especially interested in reforms for public schools and public school teachers.105 Local 120 formed in response to the University of Montana’s suspension of Professor Louis Levine for his writing about mine taxation and because “the Faculty was tired of having the sword constantly hovering above their intellectual heads.”106 Its charter endorsed larger principles of the AFT before emphasizing governance and salary issues at the institution.107 The short-lived local at Montana State College (Local 181) lacked a clear purpose from the start and appealed to the AFT local as to what it should do. Within a few months, Local 181 activities were at “a stand still” because of legislative opposition to faculty unionization.108

State and local contexts played significant roles in the founding and experiences of these locals, just as they had in those already discussed. In Montana, teachers struggled with the state government over taxation and the mining interests’ influence on the legislature, causing many union educators to consider leaving for positions in other locales.109 In the Dakotas, the Non-Partisan League, an agrarian socialist organization formed in 1915, was crucial both in fostering the organization of the unions and in the reaction to them. In the late 1910s, the Non-Partisan League controlled the executive and legislative branches of the North Dakota government, but its success in statewide elections did not translate to the educational system, which remained controlled by business interests. The president of Local 96 was thoroughly defeated in his run for the Fargo Board of Education amidst rumors that he was a communist, and the president of Local 134 reported that reaction to the Non-Partisan League was responsible for his difficulties in unionizing teachers.110 Joining Local 138 and the Non-Partisan League cost Anna Mae Brady her position at South Dakota’s Madison State Normal School. Within a year, the remaining six members of the local were also removed from their positions for their support of organized labor.111 The pressure on Local 138 may have been more overt than on some other locals, but the effect on college faculty unionization was the same across the Great Plains. By the end of 1921, the only remaining faculty union in the region was Local 120 at the University of Montana, which struggled to maintain its membership until folding in early 1923.


The founding of these first faculty unions took place shortly after the AAUP’s establishment “by an academic corps d’elite positioned in the cynosure institutions,”112 and the most important debates over faculty unionization involved the differences in approaches and philosophies between the AAUP and the AFT. The AAUP’s aforementioned aversion to unionization continued, and its leadership maintained that all characterizations that it was acting like a union were misguided and inappropriate.113 By 1919, the association was established as professional and conservative, causing some to welcome labor’s organization of the professoriate. The Nation was among those concerned with the difference between the groups, complaining that the AAUP’s reports on academic freedom were ineffective and suggesting that the AFT’s entrance into higher education offered the potential for change.114 Three months later, an editorial in the magazine began,

When the Association of University Professors was formed five or six years ago, there were not wanting expressions of horror at the very thought that college professors would organize after the pattern of mere mechanics. But unfortunately for the profession, there has been nothing in the record of the Association to startle anyone. Indeed it has proved a sad disappointment in more than one case. . . 115

It expressed approval for professorial unionization but worried that the AFT was not strong or aggressive enough either. AFT publications and members also questioned the AAUP’s commitments and investigations. An article in the American Teacher argued that without “a more determined policy, [the AAUP] will hardly conquer for the profession its freedom.”116 Local 71’s Bird Stair contributed an article to the Socialist Review, which called the AAUP “brave” but averred that it would not “get to the root of the matter” without labor affiliation.117

AAUP leaders did not take the AFT lightly. Lovejoy, a consistent opponent of unionization in higher education, dedicated a large portion of his 1919 annual message to the AAUP to concerns that members of the association were simultaneously joining the new teachers union. While acknowledging that the AAUP had no official policy on dual membership, he made a case against professorial unionization on three points. He argued that the majority of professors would never unionize, so the AFT could only divide the faculty; the AAUP was building consensus and offering a unified voice to the faculty. After all, it was at this meeting that the AAUP relaxed its membership requirements to allow educators to join with 3 rather than 10 years of experience. Lovejoy’s second argument built on the idea that there should be only one representative body and implied a solely economic motivation for trade unionism. Based on an obligation to society, he contended that this one association should not be organized for primarily economic purposes. Finally, Lovejoy argued that union membership would forestall the possibility of honest inquiry because it would commit professors to certain predetermined economic positions.118

Lovejoy was answered by members of AAUP who also belonged to the Missouri University Teachers’ Union. Where Lovejoy contended that joining the AFT would divide the professoriate and lessen its influence, the University of Missouri educators responded that labor affiliation was needed for exactly the opposite reason. For professors to maintain their voices in broader educational discussions, rather than limiting themselves to only those involving colleges and universities, joining with a larger educational association was needed. The authors denied the contention that unionization would bias investigators and argued that affiliating with labor could help defend academic freedom because only professors who challenged the business interests were dismissed for their ideas. Unionization of the faculty might broaden the economic perspectives given a hearing in higher education. They also pointed to some of Lovejoy’s misunderstandings of the AFT, including his contentions that it was bound to support AFL policies. Finally, the members of Local 126 contended that Lovejoy’s position was based on an unfounded fear that the AFT hoped to “weaken or displace” the AAUP.119

In his response, Lovejoy countered that unionization would be “gravely injurious” to the professoriate and contended that the Missouri professors were naïve in their thinking. He argued that the AFL, and through it the AFT, was primarily a “fighting organization . . . almost constantly engaged in controversies.” These controversies would harm the profession and diminish its reputation, making it more difficult to achieve the AAUP’s larger goals. Finally, Lovejoy addressed academic freedom, the issue with which the AAUP was so closely associated. Although he acknowledged that repression often came from the right, aligning with the left was not the appropriate response. Even short-term gains of increasing perspectives aired on campuses would come at the cost of sacrificing independence. Entanglements with labor would either in reality or in the public mind forestall disinterested research. Both would be equally damaging. He concluded,

It is extremely unsound strategy, in the present state of affairs, to confuse issues in the public mind by making our struggle for full freedom of teaching seem, at least to outsiders, to be somehow mixed up with the cause of trade unionism—and therefore the object of whatever odium attached to the latter, in the minds of large sections of the public. The prospect of continuing success in the campaign for freedom of teaching and discussion in American colleges and universities will be, I am certain, far greater if we keep this issue distinct, defend it ourselves, on its own intrinsic merits, and do not burden it with unnecessary and irrelevant antagonisms.120

These debates continued later that year when Lovejoy, president of Local 126 Winterton C. Curtis, and others participated in a symposium on faculty unionization that appeared in Educational Review.121 Together, they demonstrate the differences in opinion regarding teacher unionization, including concerns over prestige and objectivity within the profession. And, as Metzger mentioned in a footnote to his discussion of the AAUP’s founding,

The further problem of whether professors should join labor unions has agitated the profession from that day to this. Against such affiliation, it was maintained that teachers serve the public; that, unlike labor, pecuniary gain is not their main object; that the strike and other labor tactics of intimidation are indefensible for teachers; that traditions must be interpreted and passed on without bias; that the competitive situation which defines the essential function of a trade union does not exist in the academic calling, where teachers and trustees are both custodians of the public interest.122

Over 50 years after Metzger observed this long-standing struggle, many of the same issues remain.


Looking across this first wave of faculty unionization, then, what main themes and issues emerge? First, the very interest in organizing faculty locals is evidence of the disruptions in higher education and the ensuing dissatisfaction with financial returns, administrative controls, and lack of faculty input into governance. Small groups of faculty scattered across institutions and institutional types sought labor affiliation as a method of increasing their voice in academic and administrative affairs and of improving the economic status of the professoriate. The founding of these locals was both in response to specific institutional events, such as the dismissal of Kirkpatrick at Washburn College, and part of the larger concerns, including those represented by the writings of Veblan, Cattell, and others. For some, especially those at elite institutions or in secured positions, there were additional social impetuses for organizing. They sought to unite larger coalitions by joining educators at all levels with labor in the hopes of achieving societal change. These included the desire to support K–12 teachers at the University of Missouri and Local 71’s intent “to cooperate with organized labor in raising the standards and furthering the democratization of the industrial, social and political life of the community.”123

Understanding the ultimate failure of these early efforts to unionize is just as significant as noting the reasons behind their founding. Importantly, the preceding discussion of the differences between the AAUP and the AFT highlights that the faculty itself was divided. As Local 71’s Bird Stair reported, “The opposition to unionizing has been stronger within the profession than from without.”124 For many in academia, the greatest concern was the appropriateness of educators aligning with labor. Issues of class partisanship and impartial scholarship were often implicated, with those opposed to labor convinced that affiliation precluded objectivity. Others claimed that the economic concerns associated with unionization were unbecoming of the professoriate and would diminish faculty standing. Indeed, at the same time that some sought to organize unions to bridge divides among educators at different levels and between educators and other workers, others derided this notion. American education was stratified and hierarchical. Some sought to ameliorate these differences, while others sought to retain them.

The experiences of Brady, Gould, and numerous others highlight the potentially disastrous effects of these early attempts to organize colleges, universities, and normal schools. From the founding of the Howard University Teachers Union, faculty interested in unionizing or who attempted to unionize faced political pressure and resistance. This opposition related to specific local events, state and national political concerns, and shifts affecting teacher unionization writ large. Certainly, administrators on many campuses disapproved of the unionization efforts for both philosophical and pragmatic reasons. Among the most significant were those involving the appropriateness of teacher unionization and the allegations of radicalism among unions and their members. Indeed, this unionization effort was set against the backdrop of the first Red Scare, Palmer raids, and contentious strikes involving coal miners, police officers, and others. In Washington DC, these concerns were amplified by interracial riots in the summer of 1919 and United States senator Reed Smoot’s demand that Howard University remove an allegedly pro-Bolshevik tract from its library in early 1920. President Durkee capitulated to the command, emphasized the institution’s loyalty, and removed the work from circulation. The closure of the Howard University Teachers Union later that year was part of the institution’s attempts to placate conservative interests in Congress.125 Allegations of communism were oft-repeated and hampered organization at other institutions, including the University of North Dakota, where opponents claimed that members of Local 96 were “socialists, ‘reds’ etc [sic] bent upon the destruction of the school system.”126 In other cities, such as Boston, Massachusetts, and Normal, Illinois, larger fears of labor radicalism due to violent strikers in other industries were similarly damaging. Social conditions both fostered interest in unionization and rallied opposition to it.

These external pressures demonstrate that debates about faculty unionization were not confined to professors and administrators. Papers such as the New York Times were highly critical of this organization, but the response was not uniform. Liberal publications were more favorable, including the Nation, which lauded the appearance of faculty unions even though it admitted being surprised by the development and noted that the “public gapes amazed.”127 After initially reporting on the founding of Local 41, the Christian Science Monitor followed up with a feature on the union.128 The Washington Post observed the unionization with bemusement but condemned the low salaries that made unionization attractive to some educators.129 Campus and area newspapers often evidenced both support and consternation, including editorials and rejoinders representing a breadth of opinions. In the weeks after the formation of Local 41 at the University of Illinois, for example, the Daily Illini and the Urbana Courier editorialized in favor of the action, but the Champaign Gazette worried that the union could radicalize labor in the city.130 Letters to the editor were split. Some defended the decision as a respectable attempt to improve faculty remuneration while allowing faculty to better understand and support workers. Others decried it as unbecoming and dangerous.

These conversations extended to other institutions and fostered speculation that faculty elsewhere would quickly follow. Newspapers reported, for instance, that the University of Chicago would unionize when a faculty member at the institution declared, “The average milk driver is paid more than any assistant professor in the University of Chicago. A janitor gets more than a school principal. Plumbers get more than teachers. That is because milk drivers and plumbers and janitors have unions.”131 Of course, organization did not always follow such statements, and at the end of 1919, the New York Times reported that faculty at the institution were not in favor of unionization and that the administration would not allow it. As the secretary to President Harry Judson told the Times, “The conservatism of the University of Chicago is so well known that a union of professors is unthinkable. Were one to start, it wuold [sic] be squelched immediately.”132

Indeed, many of those that did start were squelched, and almost all the unions were small. Many had fewer than a dozen members for much of their existence. Archival evidence precludes an exact calculation of membership in the college locals, but Jeannette Lester estimated that it peaked at 353 during this period.133 Only a few locals gained substantial support among the faculty in their institutions, most notably the Milwaukee Normal Teachers Association, which started with 75 members, and Local 96 at the North Dakota Agricultural College, which briefly counted 80% of the faculty among its membership.134 Even these, though, soon collapsed—the former after the dismissal of Gould, and the latter in the face of statewide political opposition. Just as damning to the movement, however, was apathy. For college locals across the nation, withstanding pressures from colleagues and administrators was only part of the challenge. Weariness in the face of societal changes, the lack of a clearly defined program, and faculty indifference eroded union membership and led to the collapse of this first wave of professorial unionization in the early 1920s.

Finally, in introducing his study of faculty unionization in New England, Gordon Arnold noted,

Faculty unions, especially at the university level, have been controversial since their first appearance on the higher education scene. . . . [T]he appearance of faculty unions was a significant development, not only for the institutions that grappled with the issues directly, but also for higher education generally. The questions raised by the rise of unionism are not only about unions and collective bargaining. Rather, they aim at the heart of the academic enterprise, questioning assumptions about the role of a faculty and about the distribution of resources and power within institutions of higher education.135

Although this article asserts that faculty unions were significant almost a half century earlier than Arnold identified, it concurs with this understanding and the arguments of those who have advocated for historical knowledge when considering professorial unionization.136 Many of the issues implicated in these early attempts to unionize remain to this day. Just as Rhoades identified that the current restructuring of higher education, including of academic work and professional control, has contributed to faculty organization, this article argues that the fundamental changes in higher education in the decades around the turn of the 20th century contributed to the first wave of faculty unionization. Discontent with institutional governance—both then and in modern times—is a potentially powerful force. This larger restructuring, especially when combined with difficult local experiences such as decreasing real salaries, autocratic administrators, and lack of faculty control over working conditions, has the potential to spur labor responses.

Both in the years just after World War I and today, this potential is only sometimes realized. In 1919, the Urbana Courier noted, “however mistaken . . . notions may be of either the unionist or his latest convert, thinking of them as we do, it is purely pardonable to gasp with astonishment, if not incredulity, when told that the two are to become bedfellows.” That perceived mismatch between faculty and workers has persisted into the modern era, with Rhoades commenting just a decade ago that he was frequently asked, “Are there any faculty who are unionized?”137 Importantly, it was faculty who posed the question to Rhoades, indicating that issues of academic exceptionalism—here, the idea that knowledge workers in colleges and universities are somehow fundamentally different than laborers in other sectors of the economy—remain instrumental to unionization debates. This article affirms more recent studies that this exceptionalism can be partly overcome when faculty themselves are faced with dire or diminishing working conditions. Most often, these faculty are either lower in an institution’s internal academic hierarchy or at less elite institutions. For others occupying more privileged places in a stratified system, unionization is often more politically based and part of larger ideological beliefs, rather than personal workplace concerns.

In his 1982 discussion of collectively bargained contracts, Brown noted the explicit attempts of faculty unions to “justify the agreement in terms of the mission of higher education and of the university. . . . [A]n underlying supposition is apparently that the contract will contribute to the college’s well-being.”138 As Brown argued, these efforts are not unique to higher education; as this article argues, they are also not new. The unions discussed here framed themselves in terms of the best interests of their institutions and the general public. They sought acceptance by articulating a larger purpose than their own economic interests and, even when discussing remuneration and faculty life, doing so in terms of the larger benefits to education and society. This pressure to justify faculty unionization remains to this day, both inside and outside of academia, and Rhoades has urged professors’ unions to “reorient themselves . . . to speak to public interest issues that are articulated in local and state communities.”139 If the historical precedents discussed in this article are any indication, this redefinition will struggle to overcome faculty apathy at institutions that are not now unionized.


In the second decade of the 20th century, faculty members in America’s colleges and universities sought avenues to increase their status, their input into governance, and the remuneration of their profession. The American Association of University Professors, created as an explicitly professional and antilabor organization, offered elite faculty with an option of expressing opinions, providing input into governance and staking claims for academic freedom. Although initially met with suspicion, it established itself as a judicious organization, attempting to work with administrators to improve the conditions of the professoriate. When teachers founded the American Federation of Teachers in 1916, they looked to the AAUP as an analogous organization serving educators at different institutional levels. Two years later, as the AAUP remained closed to many in postsecondary education, the AFT began organizing college faculty. It appealed first to those excluded from the AAUP and then to those interested in social, as well as educational, change. It briefly made inroads into higher education, attracting both support and concern before withering in the early 1920s.

In some ways, this was an extension of the difficulties of the AFT as a whole. The early AFT quickly grew as World War I financial and social pressures engendered some prounion sentiment. However, the Russian Revolution, the conclusion of World War I, the first Red Scare, and violent strikes in other industries shifted national attitudes. Concern over leftist influence in schools grew, resulting in requirements that educators sign loyalty oaths and in investigations into pacifists, socialists, and others suspected of disloyalty.140 Popular sentiment turned against union membership, and the AFT entered the 1920s in a precarious position. Attacks by the NEA, internal divisions, and administrative pressure caused membership to drop from over 10,000 in 1919 to just over 3,000 two years later. This erosion continued as the American Federation of Labor withdrew funding for AFT organizers, limiting the union’s ability to solidify its locals and reach out to new members.141 Faculty members in postsecondary education and educators across institutional levels abandoned unionization as they worried for their positions, reconsidered their beliefs, questioned the effectiveness of organized labor, and sought other outlets to help them meet their desired ends.

Certainly, labor organization in higher education has expanded in scope and impact in the decades since these first attempts to unionize the faculty. Especially since the 1960s, the numbers of college faculty members in unions has grown exponentially, with the AFT, AAUP, and National Education Association as the main national groups representing tenure-line professors, and additional unions, including the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), and the United Auto Workers (UAW), organizing contingent faculty and graduate students. All told, almost 250,000 faculty members on over 1,000 college campuses are members of unions.142 Still, disagreements about the nature and appropriateness of faculty unions remain. This article demonstrates that concerns over academic exceptionalism, professional authority, and status are not new and not easily resolved. In the 1910s and 1920s, despite institutional change that affected faculty work life, threats to academic freedom and job security, and larger societal considerations, only a small minority of faculty joined the AFT. Most preferred to remain unaffiliated with labor because they were opposed to it in principle, misunderstood its purposes, believed that unionization was unbecoming of the profession, trusted the existing system, benefited from the stratification of educational workers, feared for their positions, or were apathetic. Overcoming these various impediments remains the challenge for faculty members and union organizers hoping to spread unionization to new institutions and to garner tenure-line faculty’s support of the unionization of contingent and part-time educational workers.


1. Robin Wilson, “AAUP, 92 and Ailing,” Chronicle of Higher Education 53 (40), June 8, 2007; “AAUP Restructuring Information and Materials,” http://www.aaup.org/AAUP/about/Restruct  (accessed June 20, 2008).

2. See, for example, Stanley Aronowitz, “Are Unions Good for Professors?” Academe 84 (November–December, 1998): 12–17; Gary Rhoades, Managed Professionals: Unionized Faculty and Restructuring Academic Labor (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1998); Philo A. Hutcheson, A Professional Professoriate: Unionization, Bureaucratization, and the AAUP (Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University Press, 2000).

3. Everett Carll Ladd, Jr., and Seymour Martin Lipset, Professors, Unions, and American Higher Education (Berkeley, CA: Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, 1973).

4. Judith Wagner DeCew, Unionization in the Academy: Visions and Realities (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2003), 11–29.

5. Gordon B. Arnold, The Politics of Faculty Unionization: The Experience of Three New England Colleges (Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2000), 37.

6. The Commission on Educational Reconstruction, Organizing the Teaching Profession: The Story of the American Federation of Teachers (Glencoe, IL: Free Press, 1955), 209.

7. American Federation of Teachers, A Looseleaf History of the American Federation of Teachers (Washington, DC: American Federation of Teachers, 1972).

8. William W. Eaton, The American Federation of Teachers, 1916–1961 (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1975). See also Marjorie Murphy, Blackboard Unions: The AFT and the NEA, 1900–1980 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1990).

9. Jeannette A. Lester, “The American Federation of Teachers in Higher Education: A History of Union Organization of Faculty Members in Colleges and Universities, 1916–1966” (Ed.D. dissertation, University of Toledo, 1968), 79.

10. Clyde W. Barrow, Universities and the Capitalist State: Corporate Liberalism and the Reconstruction of American Higher Education, 1894–1928 (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1990), 180–85.

11. Walter P. Metzger, Academic Freedom in the Age of the University (New York: Columbia University Press, 1961), 196; Walter P. Metzger, “Origins of the Association: An Anniversary Address,” AAUP Bulletin 51 (1965), 229–37; and Hutcheson, Professional Professoriate, 15–18.

12. Walter P. Metzger, “The 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure,” Law and Contemporary Problems 53, no. 3 (1990): 3–78. See also Timothy Reese Cain, “For Education and Employment: The American Federation of Teachers and Academic Freedom, 1926–1941,” Perspectives on the History of Higher Education, 26 (2007): 67–102.

13. Roger L. Geiger, To Advance Knowledge: The Growth of American Research Universities, 1900–1940 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986), 2.

14. Christine A. Ogren, The American State Normal School: “An Instrument of Great Good” (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), 202.

15. Andrew Gitlin, “Gender and Professionalization: An Institutional Analysis of Teacher Education at the Turn of the Twentieth Century,” Teachers College Record 97 (1996): 588–624.

16. James D. Anderson, The Education of Blacks in the South, 1860–1935 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1988), 256–62.

17. Metzger, Academic Freedom; Mary O. Furner, Advocacy and Objectivity: A Crisis in the Professionalization of American Social Science,1865–1905 (Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1975); and Laurence R. Veysey, The Emergence of the American University (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1965).

18. Veysey argued that these professors were in the minority. This assertion does not, however, negate the growing criticism of college administration and professorial life. Veysey, Emergence of the American University, 393–94.

19. See, for example, Joseph Jastrow, The Life of a College Professor (Madison, WI: Tracy, Gibbs and Company, 1898); Joseph Jastrow, “The Academic Career as Affected by Administration,” Science, n.s., 23, no. 589 (1906): 561–74; Joseph Jastrow, “Academic Aspects of Administration,” Popular Science Monthly 73 (October 1908): 326–39; and Joseph Jastrow, “The Administrative Peril in Education,” Popular Science Monthly 81 (November 1912): 494–515.

20. Veblen’s critique was largely written before 1910. Thorstein Veblen, The Higher Learning in America: A Memorandum on the Conduct of Universities by Business Men (1918; reprint, with an introduction by Louis M. Hacker, New York: Sagamore Press, 1957), 202. For a discussion of tenure, see 117–19.

21. J. E. Creighton, “The Government of American Universities,” Science, n.s., 32, no. 815 (August 12, 1910): 193–99; James P. Munroe, “Closer Relations Between Trustees and Faculty,” Science, n.s., 22, no. 574 (1905): 849–55; Stewart Paton, “University Administration and University Ideals,” Science, n.s., 34, no. 882 (November 24, 1911): 693–700; and Karen Christine Nelson, “Historical Origins of the Linkage of Academic Freedom and Faculty Tenure” (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Denver, 1984), 50–56.

22. Claude Charleton Bowman, “The College Professor in America: An Analysis of Articles Published in the General Magazines, 1890–1938” (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Pennsylvania, 1938), 20–33.

23. John Jay Chapman, “Professorial Ethics,” Science, n.s., 32, no. 809 (July 1, 1910): 5–9, 7.

24. Joseph Jastrow, “The Professorial Question,” Science, n.s., 32, no. 812 (1910): 112–14.

25. George Cram Cook, “The Third American Sex,” Forum 50 (1913): 445–63.

26. James McKeen Cattell, University Control (New York: Science Press, 1913), 31, 36.

27. Ibid., 38–44.

28. Ibid., 61.

29. Mark Beach, “Professional versus Professorial Control of Higher Education,” Educational Record 49 (Summer 1968): 263–73; and Metzger, Academic Freedom, 194–206.

30. Daniel H. Pollitt and Jordan E. Kurland, “Entering the Academic Freedom Arena Running: The AAUP’s First Year,” Academe 84 (July–August 1998): 45–52; Nelson, “Historical Origins,” 63–64, 68–71; John M. Mecklin, My Quest for Freedom (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1945), 160; Metzger, Academic Freedom, 200–202; Robert P. Ludlum, “Academic Freedom and Tenure: A History” Antioch Review 10, no. 1 (1950): 11–13; and Howard Crosby Warren, “Academic Freedom,” Atlantic Monthly 114 (November 1914): 695.

31.  “A National Association of University Professors,” Science, n.s., 39, no. 1004 (1914): 458–59.

32. Ibid., 459.

33.  “The Professors’ Union,” New York Times, January 21, 1916.

34. Nelson, “Historical Origins,” 68. Cattell’s dismissal was perhaps the most celebrated during the period because of his stature and his open conflict with Nicholas Murray Butler, and it helped emphasize the lack of protections for heterodox faculty members. See Carol S. Gruber, Mars and Minerva: World War I and the Uses of the Higher Learning in America (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1975), 187–206; Metzger, Academic Freedom, 224–28; and William Sumnerscales, Affirmation and Dissent: Columbia’s Response to the Crisis of World War I (New York: Teachers College Press, 1970), 71–102.

35. Ludlum, “Academic Freedom and Tenure,” 16.

36. Weatherly to Dewey, December 7, 1914; and Warthin to Lovejoy, December 17, 1914, AAUP Records, Series Historical Files (hereafter cited as AAUP Historical Files), Box 4, Special Collections and University Archives, George Washington University.

37. Despite these misgivings, Ziwet would become a member of the organization after its founding. Alexander Ziwet to William H. Hobbs, May 25, 1914, William H. Hobbs Papers, Box 1, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan.

38. John Dewey, “American Association of University Professors Introductory Address,” Science, n.s., 41, no. 1048 (1915): 147–51.

39. Frank Thilly, “Address of the President to the Members of the Association,” Bulletin of the A.A.U.P. 3, no. 2 (1917): 7–10.

40.  “The Association Not a ‘Union,’” Bulletin of the A.A.U.P. 3, no. 3 (1917): 3.

41.  “The Professors’ Union,” New York Times, December 9, 1917.

42. Wayne J. Urban, Why Teachers Organized (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1982), 134–40; Murphy, Blackboard Unions, 83–87.

43. Little mention of the inclusion of Wilson Normal School was made at the time, but as the AFT worked to organize college faculty a few years later, Wilson Normal was included among the normal school, college, and university locals. “Teachers’ Union Near,” Washington Post, May 5, 1916; L. V. Lampson, “A Letter to the Unorganized,” American Teacher 8, no. 9 (November 1919): 206–8; and F. G. Stecker, “The November Message,” American Teacher 8, no. 9 (November 1919): 210–12.

44. V. B. Turner, “The American Federation of Teachers,” Monthly Labor Review 9, no. 2 (August 1919): 247–55; and Lester, “The American Federation of Teachers in Higher Education,” 52.

45. Rayford W. Logan, Howard University: The First One Hundred Years (New York: New York University Press, 1969), 139–84.

46. Walter Dyson, Howard University: The Capstone of Negro Education (Washington, DC: The Graduate School Howard University, 1941), 96.

47. Logan highlights the significance of the latter combined with the international difficulties just after World War I. Logan, Howard University, 187–88.

48. Dyson, Howard University, 397.

49. For evidence of the campaign against Durkee, see Logan, Howard University, 231–40, and the weekly front-page accusations against Durkee signed “Alumnus” that appeared in The Afro-American newspaper for much of 1925.

50. Logan, Howard University, 187–92.

51. Lester, “The American Federation of Teachers in Higher Education,” 52–53; Turner, “The American Federation of Teachers,” 247–55; Freeland G. Stecker to James W. Good, February 20, 1920; Stecker to Francis W. Warren, February 20, 1920, American Federation of Teachers Inventory Part I, Series VI: Old Correspondence (hereafter cited as AFT Part I, Series VI), Box 5, Folder 33, Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Wayne State University; “Report of the Committee on Resolutions of the Fourth National Convention of the American Federation of Teachers,” American Teacher 9, no. 1 (January 1920): 7–12.

52. LHS to Walter Dyson, April 15, 1919, AFT Part I, Series VI, Box 5, Folder 33.

53. Dyson, Howard University, 86–87.

54. Ibid., 88.

55. The only evidence that the union provided any lasting outcome came from a Washington Post article in the mid-1920s. The article noted, “At present the faculty council, originally affiliated with the American Federation of Labor, has won recognition as a bargaining body with the university administration similar to that of the teachers council in public schools.” No other mention of this result, including in the writings of local secretary Dyson, could be found. Under Durkee, the institution was centralized, and in 1923, a “General Faculty” was organized. There is no evidence that this new body was related to Local 33. “602 Howard Students Strike on 20-Cut Rule,” Washington Post, May 8, 1925; Logan, Howard University, 199.

56. Harvey to Stecker, June 18, 1921, AFT Part I, Series VI, Box 5, Folder 33.

57. Dyson, Howard University, 87.

58. John V. Ross to Charles B. Stillman, January 19, 1919, AFT Part I, Series VI, Box 9, Folder 41.

59. “The Faculty and Labor,” Daily Illini, January 26, 1919.

60. Untitled constitution, March 22, 1919, Illinois Federation of Teachers and Union of Professional Employees File, 48/1/11, Box 1, Folder AFT Constitution and Questionnaire, 1919–1920, University of Illinois Archives. Although “Federation of Teachers of the University of Illinois” appears on the constitution and some other documents, “Associated Teacher of the University of Illinois” was used more frequently in the press and in AFT correspondence.

61. “Report on the Questionnaire of the ‘Federation of Teachers of the University of Illinois,’” p. 1, Record Series 48/1/1, Box 1, Folder AFT Constitution and Questionnaire, 1919–1920, University of Illinois Archives.

62. Harold N. Hillebrand to F. G. Stecker, February 5, 1921, AFT Part I, Series VI, Box 9, Folder 41.

63. The Governor reduced this appropriation by over a million dollars before he signed it. David Kinley, The Autobiography of David Kinley (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1949), 114–16; Unsigned letter to Henry Blumberg, June 30, 1921, AFT Part I, Series VI, Box 9, Folder 41; and “A Statistical History of the American Federation of Teachers, 1916–1939,” American Federation of Teachers Inventory Part I, Series I: President’s Department, Box 72, Folder Statistical history of the AFT, Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Wayne State University.

64. See, for example, “The Unionizing of Professors,” Nation 109, no. 2825 (August 23, 1919): 237; “Illinois University Teachers’ Union,” Christian Science Monitor, March 28, 1919; and “The Teachers’ Union,” Washington Post, April 28, 1919.

65. See, for example, W. C. J. to the Editor, “Independent Education or Labor?” Daily Illini, January 28, 1919; Grad to the Editor, “The Faculty and Wederated [sic] Labor,” Daily Illini, January 29, 1919; Associated, letter to the editor, “Academic Dignity and the Labor Union,” Daily Illini, January 30, 1919; Aubrey J. Kempner, “The Faculty Union,” Daily Illini, February 15, 1919; W. C. J. “Laboring Under Labor,” Daily Illini, February 18, 1919; “In Answer to W. C. J.,” Daily Illini, February 19, 1919; and “The University Professor as a Labor Unionist,” Urbana Daily Courier, January 29, 1919.

66. C. V. Boyer to Charles Stillman, February 4, 1919; Charles Stillman to C. V. Boyer, February 6, 1919; John V. Ross to Charles B. Stillman, January 19, 1919, AFT Part I, Series VI, Box 9, Folder 41; and Aubrey J. Kempner, “Annuities and the University,” Daily Illini, February 8, 1919.

67.  “Teachers Plan for Future Union,” Champaign Daily News, February 18, 1919; and Aubrey J. Kempner, “The Faculty Union,” Daily Illini, February 15, 1919.

68.  “Is Teaching Labor?” Harvard Crimson, May 26, 1919. Available at: http://www.thecrimson.com/article.aspx?ref=409194 (accessed August 11, 2007).

69. Lester, “American Federation of Teachers in Higher Education,” 56–57; and Kathleen Ann Murphey, “Boston Teachers Organize 1919–65” (Ed.D. dissertation, Harvard University, 1981), 36–57, 77–82.

70. As quoted in Untitled pamphlet, n.d. [December 1919], p. 3, AFT Part I, Series VI, Box 13, Folder 71.

71. Ibid., 4.

72. “College Teachers in Strikeless Union,” New York Times, December 9, 1919.

73. Lester, “American Federation of Teachers in Higher Education”; and Harry A. Overstreet, “Organized Teachers and Organized Labor,” American Teacher 9, no. 3 (March 1920): 54–58.

74. Herman Defrem, “From Local No. 71,” American Teacher 8, no. 10 (December 1919): 235–36.

75. Ibid.; Stecker to J. Vincent Crowne, October 11, 1919 and December 6, 1919, AFT Part I, Series VI, Box 13, Folder 71; and “Thinks Professors Must Avoid Strikes,” New York Times, December 10, 1919.

76. Defrem to Stecker, Nov 22, 1921, AFT Part I, Series VI, Box 13, Folder 71.

77. Defrem to Stecker, January 19, 1922, AFT Part I, Series VI, Box 13, Folder 71.

78. “Faculty Will Consider Instructors’ Union Plan,” Daily Illini, January 26, 1919; and “A Statistical History of the American Federation of Teachers, 1916–1939.”

79. Orson L. Manchester, “Work and Pay of the Normal School Teacher,” as cited by Helen E. Marshall, Grandest of Enterprises: Illinois State Normal University, 1857–1957 (Normal: Illinois State Normal School, 1956), 269–70.

80. Marshall, Grandest of Enterprises, 266–71; and Charles A. Harper, Development of the Teachers College in the United States with Special Reference to the Illinois State Normal University (Bloomington, IL: McKnight & McKnight, 1935), 277–94.

81. Freeland G. Stecker to Alma Allison, January 27, 1922, AFT Part I, Series VI, Box 13, Folder 79.

82. Unsigned [E. Stillman] to Pearlie [Pearl Salter], January 13, 1920, AFT Part I, Series VI, Box 13, Folder 76.

83. Pearl [Salter] to E [Stillman], n.d. [January, 1920]; and Unsigned [E. Stillman] to Pearlie [Pearl Salter], January 13, 1920, AFT Part I, Series VI, Box 13, Folder 76.

84.  “A Statistical History of the American Federation of Teachers, 1916–1939.”

85. Upon the receipt of Local 79’s charter, Gould unsuccessfully requested that Whitewater be granted the lower number, in part because the two groups had agreed to apply for charters at the same time but at the instigation of Whitewater faculty. Lucius T. Gould to Stecker, May 17, 1919, AFT Part I, Series VI, Box 13, Folder 79.

86. Benjamin B. James, “Monthly Report,” July 1919, pp. 3, 2. AFT Part I, Series VI, Box 13, Folder 80.

87. See correspondence in AFT Part I, Series VI, Box 13, Folder 80, especially Freeland G. Stecker to Benjamin B. James, January 20, 1921; James to Charles B. Stillman, December 6, 1921; and Stillman to James, December 7, 1921.

88. W. P. Roseman, “Whitewater, No. 80,” American Federation of Teachers Semi-Monthly Bulletin 2, no. 4 (November 5, 1922): 1, 4.

89. Henry G. Lee to Freeland G. Stecker, August 22, 1923; Stecker to Lee, August 31, 1923; James to Stecker, November 16, 1925, AFT Part I, Series VI, Box 13, Folder 80; and “A Statistical History of the American Federation of Teachers, 1916–1939.” The AFT national criticized this and the other Wisconsin normal school locals for its failure to take initiative, instead hoping that the national would direct its activities. See, for example, Stecker to Lee, August 31, 1923, AFT Part I, Series VI, Box 13, Folder 80; and Stecker to Alma Allison, October 8, 1921, AFT Part I, Series VI, Box 13, Folder 79.

90.  “A Statistical History of the American Federation of Teachers, 1916–1939.”

91. Josephine F. Murphy to Charles B. Stillman, Sept 2, 1919, AFT Part I, Series VI, Box 13, Folder 79. See also Lucius T. Gould to Stecker, September 4, 1919, AFT Part I, Series VI, Box 13, Folder 79.

92. Lester, “American Federation of Teachers in Higher Education,” 59; and Murphy to Stillman, Sept 2, 1919, AFT Part I, Series VI, Box 13, Folder 79.

93. Edith White to L. V. Lampson, February 18, 1920, AFT Part I, Series VI, Box 13, Folder 79.

94. Alma Allison to Stecker, October 6, 1921; C. H. Sears to Mildred Brown, November 16, 1921; and Edith E. White to Florence Hanson, December 10, 1926, AFT Part I, Series VI, Box 13, Folder 79.

95. The most complete account of Kirkpatrick’s dismissal is the lengthy report of the AAUP investigating committee led by Arthur O. Lovejoy. “Report of the Committee of Inquiry on Conditions in Washburn College,” Bulletin of the A.A.U.P. 7, nos. 1–2 (January–February 1921): 66–128. A less critical examination based solely on materials in the Washburn Archives is James Frederick Zimmerman, “The Washburn Story,” 1915–1925, June 1968 revision, pp. 10–18, unpublished manuscript, Washburn University Archives, Mabee Library.

96. “Union at College! Professors at Washburn Join Organized Labor,” Topeka Journal, June 30, 1919, Clippings File- Investigation by the American Association of University Professors, Washburn University Archives, Mabee Library.

97. “Report of the Committee of Inquiry on Conditions in Washburn College,” 106–9; P. P. Womer to A. O. Lovejoy, August 25, 1919; Lovejoy to Womer, August 29, 1919; and Womer to Lovejoy, September 5, 1919, President’s Office-General Office Files-Womer, Parley P., Investigation by the American Association of University Professors, ca. 1917–1923 (hereafter cited as Washburn President’s Office Files), Folder 1, Washburn University Archives, Mabee Library.

98. AFT records report that all members of the local were fired, but the situation was more complex. For example, President Womer attempted to fire chemistry professor L. F. Pierce in 1919 but relented. The following year, Pierce resigned on his own accord, citing Womer’s autocracy, salary concerns, the college’s failure to invest in his department, and the “general state of affairs in the college.” L. F. Pierce to Womer, May 25, 1920, Washburn President’s Office Files, Folder 2. For a sensational local account of the series of departures, which included over half of the faculty in a three-year span, see “Just One More Mass Exodus,” Washburn President’s Office Files, Folder 2.

99. F. G. Stecker, “The November Message,” American Teacher 8, no. 9 (November 1919): 210–12; and Freeland G. Stecker to Alma Allison, January 27, 1922, AFT Part I, Series VI, Box 13, Folder 79.

100.  “University Professors in a Union,” Missouri Mule, November 22, 1919.

101. When the number of members was updated later that month, 19 of 39 members were full professors. H. Wade Hibbard to Charles B. Stillman, November 10, 1919, Hibbard to Stillman, November 26, 1919, AFT Part I, Series VI, Box 18, Folder 126.

102. H. Wade Hibbard, “Principles,” American Teacher 8, no. 10 (December 1919): 237. An earlier version of this statement was written to help unify the local and reach out to potential members on campus. H. Wade Hibbard to Charles B. Stillman, December 5, 1919, AFT Part I, Series VI, Box 18, Folder 126.

103. Harry G. Brown to F. G. Stecker, November 25, 1920, AFT Part I, Series VI, Box 18, Folder 126.

104. Both the Edinboro (Edinboro Public and Normal School Teachers’ Union) and Winona (Winona Teachers’ Federation) locals included public school teachers and normal school faculty. See the applications for charters in AFT Part I, Series VI, Box 18, Folders 122 and 131.

105.  “A Program of Educational Reform,” American Teacher 9, no. 8 (November 1920): 188; Ernest Shaw Reynolds to Charles B. Stillman, June 24, 1919; Reynolds to Stecker, April 9, 1920, AFT Part I, Series VI, Box 16, Folder 96; and J. W. Howard to Stecker, April 13, 1922, AFT Part I, Series VI, Box 18, Folder 120.

106.  “Montana Teachers Union,” New York Times, December 7, 1919.

107.  “By-Laws of the Federation of Teachers in the State University of Montana, Local Number 120 of the American Federation of Teachers,” AFT Part I, Series VI, Box 18, Folder 120; and “Montana Teachers’ Union,” New York Times, December 7, 1919.

108. J. R. Parker to Stecker, November 5, 1920; E. L. Currier to Stecker, March 9, 1921, AFT Part I, Series VI, Box 20, Folder 181.

109. J. H. Underwood to Stillman, January 26, 1921, AFT Part I, Series VI, Box 18, Folder 120.

110. Jesse H. Bond to J. Colby, December 2, 1920, AFT Part 1, Series VI, Box 18, Folder 134.

111. Jessie W. Boyce to Stecker, November 2, 1920; Anna Mae Brady to L. V. Lampson, November 14, 1920; and Ella Stan to Stecker, June 27, 1921, AFT Part 1, Series VI, Box 18, Folder 138.

112. Metzger, “1940 Statement,” 19.

113. J. M. Coulter, “To the Members of the Association,” Bulletin of the A.A.U.P. 4, no. 1 (1918): 3.

114. William MacDonald, “The Blight of Intolerance,” Nation 108, no 2809 (May 3, 1919): 691–92.

115.  “The Unionizing of Professors,” Nation 109, no. 2825 (August 23, 1919): 237.

116. Ex-Academicus, “Democracy in Academe,” American Teacher 13, no. 10 (December 1919): 225–26.

117. Bird Stair, “The Teachers’ Union,” Socialist Review 8, no. 4 (March 1920): 240.

118. Lovejoy, “Annual Message of the President,” 22–28.

119. Eliot R. Clark et al. to the Editor, Bulletin of the A.A.U.P. 6, no. 4 (April 1920): 14–18.

120. Lovejoy to Winterton C. Curtis, March 29, 1920, Box 4, AAUP Historical Files.

121. Winterton C. Curtis, “Unionization from the Standpoint of the University Teacher,” Educational Review 60 (September 1920): 91–105; Arthur O. Lovejoy, “Teachers and Trade Unions,” Educational Review 60 (September 1920): 106–19.

122. Metzger, Academic Freedom, 196n5.

123. Defrem, “From Local No. 71,” 236.

124. Bird Stair, “The Teachers’ Union,” Socialist Review 8, no. 4 (March 1920): 238–41.

125. In January 1920, Smoot declared that he would “never vote for the appropriation of another dollar to the institution” if students were allowed to read Albert Rhys Williams, Seventy-Six Questions on the Bolsheviks and Soviets. Howard University president Durkee assured Congress that the institution was loyal and removed the offending work. Logan, Howard University, 189–92; Dyson, Howard University, 430–31.

126. Ernest Shaw Reynolds to Stecker, April 9, 1920, AFT Part I, Series VI, Box 16, Folder 96.

127. “The Week,” Nation 108, no. 2809 (May 3, 1919): 675. See also William McDonald, “The New United States, XI. The Blight of Intolerance,” Nation 108, no. 2809 (May 3, 1919): 691–92; and “The Unionizing of Professors,” Nation 109, no. 2825 (August 23, 1919): 237.

128. “University Faculty Votes to Form a Union,” Christian Science Monitor, February 21, 1919; “Illinois University Teachers’ Union,” Christian Science Monitor, March 28, 1919.

129. “The Teachers’ Union,” Washington Post, April 28, 1919.

130. “Professor as Labor Unionist,” Urbana Courier, January 29, 1919; Champaign Daily Gazette, February 20, 1919.

131. “U. of C. Teacher Union is Next, Dr. Goode Hints,” Chicago Daily Tribune, June 15, 1919.

132. “Oppose Professors’ Union,” New York Times, Dec 11, 1919.

133. Lester, “The American Federation of Teachers in Higher Education,” 24.

134. Ibid., 62.

135. Arnold, The Politics of Faculty Unionization, 1–2.

136. These include both explicit discussions of the history of unionization, such as that offered in Philo A. Hutcheson, and Gary Rhoades’s lament about the lack of understanding of historical faculty power relationships when looking at modern unions. Hutcheson, A Professional Professoriate; Rhoades, Organized Professionals, 4.

137. “The University Professor as a Labor Unionist,” Urbana Daily Courier, January 29, 1919; Rhoades, Managed Professionals, 9 (emphasis in original).

138. William R. Brown, Academic Politics (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1982), 130.

139. Rhoades, Managed Professionals, 276.

140. Urban, Why Teachers Organized, 106–7, 134–53; and Murphy, Blackboard Unions, 90–98.

141. Murphy, Blackboard Unions, 92–103, 107–8.

142. Marc Bousquet, How the University Works: Higher Education and the Low-Wage Nation (New York: New York University Press, 2008), 96–97.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 112 Number 3, 2010, p. 876-913
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 15897, Date Accessed: 5/26/2022 7:15:26 AM

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About the Author
  • Timothy Cain
    University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
    TIMOTHY REESE CAIN is an assistant professor in the Department of Educational Organization and Leadership at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His historical research examines issues of academic freedom, campus speech, and faculty unionization in the first half of the 20th century, including his recent article, “For Education and Employment: The American Federation of Teachers and Academic Freedom, 1926–1941” in Perspectives on the History of Higher Education (2007).
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