Chalkboard Hero Golda Meir: American Teacher and Israeli Prime Minister

uewb_07_img0479Many people have heard of Golda Meir, the “Iron Lady of Israeli Politics” who served from 1969 to 1974 as the Prime Minister of Israel. But did you know that Golda was also a teacher?

Golda was born Golda Mabovitch in Kiev, Ukraine, on May 3, 1898. Her parents were Moshe and Blume Mabovitch, and Golda was one of eight children born to the couple. Five of her siblings died in infancy; Golda was the middle child of three surviving daughters. When she was a young child, her father immigrated to the United States; the rest of the family followed him three years later. The Mabovitches settled in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

As a youngster, Golda attended the Fourth Street Grade School where she graduated as the valedictorian of her class. She then enrolled in North Division High School, against the wishes of her parents, who believed that girls should get married, not pursue an education or a profession. In her freshman year, Golda moved to Denver, Colorado, to live with her older sister, Sheyna, and at that time she transferred to North High School. In Denver Golda met a Morris Myerson, and she fell in love. Despite this romance, in 1915, Golda returned to her parents’ home in Milwaukee, and the following year she graduated from North Division High School.

After her high school graduation, Golda enrolled at Wisconsin State Normal School to pursue a three-year degree in education. During her training, the neophyte educator taught young children reading, writing, and history three days a week at a folkshule, a Yiddish school at the Jewish Center of Milwaukee. She also gave numerous lectures on Zionism, a movement to establish a homeland for the Jewish people.

In 1917, Golda married her long-time boyfriend Morris Myerson. Later, she modified her surname to Meir. In 1921, the fourth year of their marriage, Golda and Morris emigrated to Palestine, where the couple quickly joined a kibbutz. Over the next five years, Golda and Morris had two children: a boy named Menachem in 1924, and daughter named Sarah in 1926.

Unfortunately, Morris contracted malaria, so the family left the kibbutz and moved to Jerusalem, where Golda accepted employment in a government job. She worked as the secretary of the Working Women’s Council, and represented the council at a number of international labor meetings. In 1929 Golda was named a delegate to the world Zionist Organization. In the next decade, Golda organized illegal immigration of Jews to Palestine when it became obvious that they faced persecution by the Nazis. In 1946, at the end of WWII, Golda was appointed the acting head of the Jewish Agency’s political department, a position she held until Israel was founded on May 14, 1948. The former teacher was among the signers of Israel’s Declaration of Independence.

Golda began her political career in Israel as that country’s representative to the Soviet Union. When she was elected to the first Israeli Parliament, she returned to Israel, where she was appointed minister of labor and social insurance. While serving in this capacity, she endeavored to solve the most important problems Israel faced at the time: housing and employment for 700,000 new immigrants. In 1947, David Ben Gurion, then Prime Minister of the fledgling country, appointed Golda his Foreign Minister, Israel’s second most powerful position. The only female foreign minister then serving in the world, Golda nevertheless conducted herself in a very informal way. She flew tourist class, hand-washed her own underwear, shined her own shoes, and entertained foreign dignitaries in her kitchen wearing an apron and serving them her homemade pastries.

In 1966, sixty-year old Golda decided to retire from public service, but her political party persuaded her to become their secretary general and the secretary of the unified Labor Party. When Prime Minister Levi Eshkol died suddenly in 1969, her party prevailed upon her to become Israel’s next Prime Minister. She guided her country through the difficult period of the Yom Kippur War. However, the former teacher was suffering from lymphatic cancer, and because of her declining health and political pressures, she decided to resign in 1974.

Golda Meir passed away on December 8, 1978, at the age of 80. At the time of her passing, Golda was recognized as one of the first women to lead a nation in the modern era.