Elizabeth Warren and I Had to “Quit” Teaching Because We Were Pregnant
In 1971, Elizabeth Warren and I were teachers having our first children. We both “quit” teaching because we were pregnant. In reality, we were both forced from our jobs by the practices of that era regarding pregnant educators.
I had been teaching high school English at a school in Skokie, Illinois since graduating from college in 1967. Back then, teachers who became pregnant were only allowed to work through their fifth month. Everybody cheated a bit on this because, well, they needed to make a living. At the time, I was the sole support of our family because my husband was in medical school. Granted, the timing of my pregnancy wasn’t great, as our son was due in early June, but I worked up to spring break, sometime in my seventh month. At that point, I guess you could say I “quit” because those were the rules back then.
What happened next was totally astonishing in retrospect. I was a pretty conscientious teacher and rarely took a sick or personal day. Thus, I had accumulated enough days to cover my loss of salary from April through June. Or I naively thought I had. The personnel office saw things differently. I was told pregnancy was not a disease. Nor was it an excuse for taking a personal day. I had to kiss those days I had EARNED goodbye.
Since we had zero income until my husband graduated in June and a baby on the way, there was only one recourse. I had to cash in my pension so we could live. That meant if/when I returned to teaching, I would have to repay that pension (probably plus interest). I never did this. By the time we had that kind of money to spare, I had a second child and was not in a position to teach high school again. Even if it had been financially possible to pay back the pension, in those days child care was an informal system and would have gobbled up a good part of my salary. So, I became what was known as a stay-at-home mom, had a third child, and returned to the work force after a ten-year hiatus.
Of course, we know that Elizabeth Warren took a different path. She went to law school when her first child turned two, and earned her J.D. in 1976. For a time, she practiced law from her home, specializing in bankruptcy and commercial law, with a focus on distressed companies, women, the elderly and the working poor. She divorced, remarried, became a professor, and then entered politics. Still, we share the experience of discrimination against pregnant women back in the early seventies.
Of course, folks on social media disposed to dislike Warren’s politics have questioned the veracity of her claim that she was fired from her teaching job for being pregnant. As I see it, being forced to resign a job or not being offered a contract because you are pregnant is the same as being fired. I have never known this to happen to an expectant or new father. Having a baby should never mean the end of a woman’s career.
I never understood what schools were so afraid of back in 1971 when pregnancy was not a disease but at the same time it was not appropriate for high school students to be taught by a visibly pregnant woman. I was too young and cowed by authority to speak up then, but in hindsight I wish I had. I can attest to Elizabeth Warren’s truth because it happened to me. Nevertheless, we persisted and hopefully, if our granddaughters have children, being pregnant won’t derail their careers.