Cover for Lyons: Teachers and Reform: Chicago Public Education, 1929-1970. Click for larger image

Teachers and Reform

Chicago Public Education, 1929-1970

Measuring the impact of the Chicago Teachers Union on public education in Chicago

Drawing on archival as well as rich interview material, John F. Lyons examines the role of Chicago public schoolteachers and their union, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), in shaping the policies and practices of public education in Chicago from 1937 to 1970. From the union's formation in 1937 until the 1960s, the CTU was the largest and most influential teachers' union in the country, operating in the nation's second-largest school system. Although all Chicago public schoolteachers were committed to such bread-and-butter demands as higher salaries, many teachers also sought a more rigorous reform of the school system through calls for better working conditions, greater classroom autonomy, more funding for education, and the end of political control of the schools. Using political action, public relations campaigns, and community alliances, the CTU successfully raised members' salaries and benefits, increased school budgets, influenced school curricula, and campaigned for greater equality for women within the Chicago public education system.

Examining teachers' unions and public education from the bottom up, Lyons shows how teachers' unions helped to shape one of the largest public education systems in the nation. Taking into consideration the larger political context, such as World War II, the McCarthy era, and the civil rights movements of the 1960s, this study analyzes how the teachers' attempts to improve their working lives and the quality of the Chicago public school system were constrained by internal divisions over race and gender as well as external disputes between the CTU and the school administration, state and local politicians, and powerful business and civic organizations. Because of the obstacles they faced and the decisions they made, unionized teachers left many problems unresolved, but they effected changes to public education and to local politics that still benefit Chicago teachers and the public today.


"Lyons's monograph is clearly written, impeccably organized, and . . . cogently argued. Grounded in an impressive array of archival, print, and oral sources, Teachers and Reform is an important contribution to the field."--Journal of Illinois History

"This powerful book is a detailed account of 40 years in the history of Chicago schools. . . . Recommended."--Choice

“Extremely useful for labor historians interested in the institutional development of the nation’s first and most prominent teachers’ union. . . . Lyons's book offers a roadmap to how one city got us here, laying out, in as clear a manner as possible, the dense thicket of issues at stake and at play in the teacher union movement.”--H-Urban

“This book is one the best histories of public-sector unionism yet. It is an excellent study of teachers’ unions in Chicago and also a fine piece of local political history, with interesting interpolations of race, gender, and education policy issues as well.”--American Historical Review

"In his engaging case study ... Lyons captures the seedy side of school politics and the ambiguous, often disappointing role that unions have played in educational reform."--The Journal of American History

"A masterful scholarly study of Chicago teacher unionism."--Labour/Le Travail

"A straightforward, well-written study of education in a major U.S. city."--H-Education

"Teachers and Reform provides an excellent narrative of teachers' unionization in Chicago from 1929-70. Lyons makes effective connections between city politics and the rise of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) and between the rise of black political consciousness and the crisis of the CTU."--James R. Barrett, author of William Z. Foster and the Tragedy of American Radicalism

"A welcome contribution to the historical literature on teachers' unions that speaks also to contemporary teacher unionism. The focus on the Chicago Teachers Union and its major early leader, John Fewkes, during and after the Depression corrects an imbalance in the literature that has favored the Chicago Teachers Federation and Margaret Haley. Lyons's thorough analysis of the CTU raises important questions about the contours of union conservatism and its interaction with race and collective bargaining."--Wayne J. Urban, associate director and professor, Education Policy Center, University of Alabama


John F. Lyons is an associate professor of history at Joliet Junior College.

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