Teacher, feminist, and environmental activist Ruth Chickering Clusen

Clusen_9Throughout our history, many accomplished educators have also distinguished themselves as civic leaders and political activists. Such is certainly the case with Ruth Chickering Clusen, a high school teacher who also served as the president of the League of Women Voters and as an assistant secretary in the US Energy Department.

Ruth Chickering was born in 1922 in the little town of Bruce, Rusk County, Wisconsin. Upon her high school graduation from Eau Claire, she enrolled at the University of Wisconsin, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in secondary education. Even before graduating from college, Ruth was working as a teacher. She spent her first two years teaching on the Blackfoot Indian Reservation in Montana, and she taught in public schools in the Green Bay area from 1947 to 1958.

Ruth met her future husband, Donald Clusen, when he was interviewed by her father for a teaching position at the old Wisconsin School for Boys in Waukesha County.They married a few years later, and settled with their two daughters in Green Bay, where Donald had accepted a position as a teacher at the state reformatory.

Ruth served as the president of the League of Woman Voters. She served in this capacity from 1974 to 1978. During those years, Ruth worked to bring environmental issues to national attention. She was especially concerned with water purity, particularly the condition of Green Bay, where water pollution was pervasive. Ruth also campaigned for women’s rights, working tirelessly but unsuccessfully to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. During the election year, she moderated debates between candidates Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford.

Once Carter was elected president, he appointed Ruth Assistant Secretary of Energy, a position she held from 1978 to 1981. There she worked to reduced fossil fuel consumption at the Energy Department. For her efforts, Ruth was inducted into the Wisconsin Conservation Hall of Fame in 2001.

After leaving the Energy Department, Ruth returned to her roots as an educator. She became a member of the Board of Regents for the University of Wisconsin, where she worked from 1983 to 1992.

This chalkboard champion passed away March 14, 2005, in Bellevue, Wisconsin, from complications due to Alzheimer’s Disease. She was 82 years old.


Lolo Letalu Matalasi Moliga: Former teacher and current governor of American Samoa

It often happens that talented educators go on to become effective politicians. One excellent example of this is Lolo Letalu Matalasi Moliga, a high school teacher who is currently serving as the governor of American Samoa in 2012.

Lolo was born in 1949 in Ta’u, Manu’a, in the Territory of American Samoa. His father was Moliga Sa’ena Auauan Moliga, a High Chief from Ta’u. His mother was Soali’i Galea’i, a native of both Olosega and Fitiuta.

Following his graduation from Manu’a High School, Lolo enrolled in Nebraska’s Chadron State College, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in education. He earned his master’s degree in public administration from San Diego State University in 2012.

After his graduation from Chadron, Lolo went back to his native Samoa and accepted a position as a teacher. Later he became the principal of Manu’a High School. He also served as the elementary and secondary education administrator for the American Samoan Department of Education. In addition, he became the director of the ASG Budget Office and served two terms as the chief procurement officer for American Samoa. Lolo’s talents as a politician were so evident, he was elected to the American Samoa House of Representatives for four terms and then was elected a senator. While in that governing body, he served as the Senate’s president. Then-serving Governor Togiola Tulafono appointed Lolo president of the Development Bank of American Samoa. As if all this wasn’t enough, Lolo is also the owner of his own construction firm.

In the 2012, Lolo was elected the 57th governor of American Samoa in a runoff election. Part of his effort as governor has been to increase the number and qualifications of the Department of Education teachers who staff the territory’s schools and to upgrade school facilities. He has also worked to reduce injuries to students while they are participating in sports programs. “I wanted to make sure that we provided the best possible options for our island,” Lolo explained. “This is not something small, it is affecting our people’s lives.”

Lolo resides in American Samoa with his wife, Cynthia Malala, and their four children.


Elaine Goodale Eastman: The New England Teacher that Advocated for Her Native American Students

imgresElaine Goodale Eastman, originally from Massachusetts, was a talented teacher who established a day school on a Sioux Indian reservation in the territory of South Dakota. She believed very strongly that it was best to keep Native American children at home rather than transport them far away from their families to Indian boarding schools. She hadn’t taught on the reservation very long when she was promoted to the position of Superintendent of Indian Education for the Two Dakotas. In this capacity, she travelled throughout the five Dakota reservations, visiting the more than sixty government and missionary schools within her jurisdiction, writing detailed evaluation reports on each school she visited.

It was because of her work that Elaine just happened to be visiting the Pine Ridge Reservation when the tragic Wounded Knee Massacre took place. As a result of this tragedy, more than two hundred men, women, and children from the Lakota tribe were killed, and another fifty-one were wounded. In addition, twenty-five government soldiers were also killed, most by “friendly fire,” and another thirty-nine were wounded. Following the massacre, she and her fiance,  physician Charles Eastman of the Santee Sioux tribe, cared for the survivors and wrote detailed government reports to accurately describe what happened.

In her later years, when America was experiencing a back-to-nature revival, Elaine and her husband operated Indian-themed summer camps in New Hampshire. Read more of the life story of this fascinating educator in Theodore D. Sargent’s biography The Life of Elaine Goodale Eastmanor an encapsulated version in  Chalkboard Champions: Twelve Remarkable Teachers Who Educated America’s Disenfranchised Students, both available on amazon.


Gladys Kamakuokalani Brandt: A Chalkboard Champion for Native Hawaiian Culture

brandtThis beautiful lady is teacher Gladys Kamakuokalani Brandt, a Native Hawaiian old enough to have attended the funeral services in 1917 of Queen Liliuokalani, the last reining monarch of Hawaii, and still young enough to witness the unprovoked attack upon Pearl Harbor in 1941 which precipitated World War II. Gladys began her career as a teacher, working in public schools and eventually becoming an instructor at the prestigious Kamehameha Schools, a private institution set up to educate Native Hawaiian students.

As a youngster, Gladys was deeply ashamed of her Hawaiian heritage, so much so that she rubbed her face with lemon juice to lighten her complexion. By the time she became the principal of Kamehameha Schools, however, she had resolved to fight tirelessly for the inclusion of courses to preserve Native Hawaiian culture. She supported instruction in Hawaiian language, song, and the controversial standing hula dance which had been forbidden by the school’s trustees. The story of her work is an inspirational one.

Equally inspirational is the story of the dedication and sacrifice of Hawaii’s teachers in the days and weeks following the bombing. From serving as ambulance drivers, setting up shelters for survivors, teaching their students how to use gas masks, taking their students into the sugar cane fields to harvest the crops, and re-establishing some semblance of order for their students when school resumed, their deeds are truly remarkable. You can read about Gladys and her fellow Hawaiian teachers in my first book, Chalkboard Champions: Twelve Remarkable Teachers Who Educated America’s Disenfranchised Students.

Teacher, explorer, cartographer, and cultural anthropologist Prentice Downes



Many fine educators have distinguished themselves in areas outside the field of education. One such individual was high school teacher Prentice G. Downes, known to his friends by the nickname “Spike.” In addition to his career as an educator, Prentice made a name for himself as an explorer, cartographer, cultural anthropologist, and writer.

Prentice was born 1909 in New Haven, Connecticut, the son of an Episcopal clergyman. After his 1928 graduation from Kent School in Kent, Connecticut, Prentice enrolled at Harvard University. Once he was ready to begin his career as a teacher, he accepted a position at Belmont Hill School, a prestigious New England prep school for boys located in Belmont, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston.

Prentice was well-known for hurrying back to class in unkempt condition each fall. Between 1936 and 1947, the native of Concord, Massachusetts, made several summer-long expeditions into the sprawling uncharted wilderness of subarctic Canada. Working on a shoestring budget, Prentice would round up a canoe, gear, food, and a local traveling associate. Then he would set out for the great unknown. He was notorious for cutting trips close to the wire, rushing back to Boston bearded, tanned, and garbed in threadbare bush clothes just in time for the beginning of school.

This intrepid teacher traveled by canoe to explore subarctic areas in the Great Barren Lands and learn about the lifestyles of the Native American tribes. During his travels, Prentice kept extensive journals recording a disappearing people and a landscape unknown to all but the Canadian natives at that time. He recorded not only daily events, but also the stories and traditions of the peoples he encountered, particularly people of the Cree and Dene tribes.

In 1939, Prentice traveled from the Brabant Lake area to the Cochrane River, starting at the town of Brochet on Reindeer Lake. Without the aid of maps, the intrepid teacher relied completely on local legend to find his way to the Thlewiaza River and his final destination, the Hudson Bay outpost on Nueltin Lake. Based on this trip, Prentice wrote the travelogue Sleeping Island: The Story of One Man’s Travels in the Great Barren Lands of the Canadian North. First published in 1943, this classic adventure story received a stellar review from the New York Times for its engaging descriptions of the expedition across a rugged landscape of lakes and rivers in northern Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and present-day Nunavut. Besides the polished and captivating writing style, Sleeping Island stands out because it documented ways of life that no longer exist.

In his later years, Prentice delivered lectures about his travels for Harvard’s Institute of Geographical Exploration. Additionally, he was commissioned by the US government to map portions of the Aleutian Islands in Alaska. He also became a member of the prestigious Royal Geographical society.

This chalkboard champion passed away in 1959 at the young age of 50.