Mrs. Lora Wagner
In 1914, Lora Wagner was among the small group of New York City teachers who challenged the policy against employing mothers as teachers (“mother-teachers”). Lora worked right up until her due date, a violation of school rules, and gave birth just 13 hours after leaving school with plans to return to work within days. She wrote to Mayor John Mitchel, asking him to advise the Board of Education to change the policy that automatically suspended female teachers after they gave birth.
From The New York Times:
“The opponents of the mother-teacher have failed to prove that maternity makes her less efficient. There should be one rule for all. Only a few months ago we granted a year’s leave of absence to a teacher to go West to tend to a sick foster father… Is it a crime to have children?”
Dr. Ira S. Wile
A mass rally was held at Washington Irving High School featuring Charlotte Perkins Gimore, and Fola La Follete (daughter of Belle Case La Follette). Although the mayor supported “mother-teachers” he did not overrule the school board. It was not until 1915 when the courts ruled in favor of Bridget Peixotto that female teachers in New York City were allowed to give birth without being suspended for neglect of duties.
New York City then adopted a policy of mandatory two year maternity leave once a teacher realized she was pregnant. This was a step forward in that it allowed women to return to their jobs unlike the earlier policy, although the leave was unpaid. In 1937, the required leave was reduced to 18 months with the option to extend leave by choice or return early if economically necessary. It wasn’t until a 1973 EEOC ruling that the length of maternity leave became a personal choice for teachers in New York City.
Curiously, Lora Wagner seems to have managed to not take a two year maternity leave. According to Kindergarten-Primary Magazine she was back at work in March 1915 after giving birth to her son Hans on October 31, 1914. She taught at Tottenville High School on Staten Island and lived so close by that she would go home at recess to nurse. Lora employed a nurse to watch her son, explaining “I love my work and would not give it up unless I had to. I get along very well and am much better and happier than I would be doing housework, which I hate.”