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. 

Hawaii’s chalkboard champion Takashi Ohno: Teacher and legislator


Often talented educators go on to serve their communities in the political arena. This is the case with Takashi Ohno, a third grade teacher from Kalihi, Hawaii, who is currently serving in the Hawaii House of Representatives.

Takashi was born on Kodiak Island, Alaska. His father was originally from Japan, and was employed in Alaska’s fishing industry. After graduation from high school, Takashi attended  Linfield College, a small liberal arts institution located in McMinnville, Oregon, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in education. He earned his master’s degree from Chaminade University, a private university in Honolulu, Hawaii.

After completing his education Takashi accepted a position as a third grade teacher at Mayor Joseph J. Fern Elementary in Kalihi, Hawaii. As an educator connected with Teach for America, Takashi is a firm believer in education. “Education is life’s equalizer,” he once said, “and we need to compensate and retain master teachers that excel in their profession.”

In 2012, Takashi was elected to the Hawaii State House of Representatives representing District 27. He is currently serving his second term there. He is a part of several legislative committees, including Agriculture; Economic Development and Business; Tourism; Veterans, Military, and International Affairs; and Culture and the Arts; Education; and Higher Education. “I work so that all children one day will receive an excellent education,” Takashi once expounded.

Takashi Ohono: a true chalkboard champion.

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.


Elementary school teacher and former First Lady of New Jersey Jean Byrne

18522023-largeThere are many examples of talented teachers who have also made a mark in the political world. Such is certainly the case with Jean Featherly Byrne, an elementary school teacher who also became the First Lady of New Jersey.

Jean was born in Newark, New Jersey, on October 17, 1926. Her parents were George and Jane (Crysler) Featherly. She was raised in nearby West Orange. After she graduated from West Orange High School, Jean enrolled in Bucknell University, where she earned her bachelor’s degree. Although she majored in Spanish, she garnered academic awards in English composition and literature. She later earned her master’s degree in education from New York University.

Jean taught second grade at an elementary school in West Orange, New Jersey. She also taught in schools in Harlem and Manhattan. Jean married Brendan T. Byrne in 1953. In those days, women teachers were not allowed to work when they were in the family way, so when Jean became pregnant with her first child in 1954, she was forced to resign from her teaching position. Jean and her husband had a total of seven children together.

Jean became the First Lady of New Jersey when her former husband, Brendan Byrne, was elected governor in 1974. The couple served their state until 1982. During her tenure as First Lady, Jean concentrated her energy on issues related to education and health care. One of her daughters was born with Down’s Syndrome, so Jean advocated tirelessly for research into the condition. She was a lifelong advocate of quality education and civil rights.

Jean and Brendan were divorced in 1993, and Jean settled in Princeton, New Jersey. She passed away from babesiosis, a tick-borne disease which affects the red blood cells, on August 9, 2015. She was 88 years old.


Annie Blanton: Texas Teacher and Politician

imgresI find stories about teachers engaged in political activity fascinating. One of the most interesting of these stories is that of Annie Webb Blanton, a teacher and suffragist who also just happens to be the first woman in Texas elected to statewide office.

Annie was born on August 19, 1870, in Houston, one of seven children of Thomas Lindsay and Eugenia (Webb) Blanton. Her twin sister, Fannie, died as a child. As a young girl, Annie attended school in Houston and La Grange. After graduating from La Grange High School in 1886, she taught in a rural school in Fayette County. When her father died in 1888, Annie relocated  to Austin, where she taught in both elementary and secondary schools. As she worked to support herself, Annie continued her studies at the University of Texas, where she graduated in 1899.

Shortly after her graduation from college, Annie was selected to serve on the English faculty of North Texas State Normal college, now known as the University of North Texas. She served in this capacity from 1901 to 1918. While there, she became active in the Texas State Teachers Association. She earned a reputation for being a strong believer in equal rights for women. During this time she also wrote a series of grammar textbooks. In 1916, Annie was elected president of the teacher’s union, the first woman to occupy the position.

In 1917 Texas suffragists found a strong supporter  in Governor William P. Hobby, so they through their considerable energy into his  1918 bid for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. In that election, the suffragists also  encouraged  Annie  to run for the office of  state superintendent of public instruction. The campaign was a bitter one, with false accusations made against the veteran teacherr, but in the 1918 primary, Texas women were allowed to vote for the first time, so Annie was elected by a wide margin. Her victory in the general election in November made her the first woman in Texas elected to statewide office.

During her tenure as state superintendent, Annie inaugurated a  system of free textbooks, revised teacher certification laws, raised teachers’ salaries, and made improvements to  rural education. Annie was reelected in November 1920, when voters also passed the Better Schools Amendment, which she had proposed as a means of removing constitutional limitations on tax rates for local school districts. She served as state superintendent through 1922.

When  her term ended, Annie  returned to the University of Texas, where she received her master’s degree in 1923. She taught in the UT education department until 1926, then took a leave of absence to earn her Ph.D. from Cornell University. After returning to the University of Texas in 1927, she remained a professor of education there for the rest of her life.

During her lifetime, Annie published a number of books about education, including Review Outline and Exercises in English Grammar (1903), A Handbook of Information as to Education in Texas (1922), Advanced English Grammar (1928), and The Child of the Texas One-Teacher School (1936). In 1929 she founded the Delta Kappa Gamma society, an honorary society for women teachers, which in 1988 had an international membership of 162,000. She also was active in national educational groups and served as a vice president in the National Education Association in 1917, 1919, and 1921.

Annie Blanton never married, and she had no children of her own. She died in Austin on October 2, 1945, and was buried in Oakwood Cemetery. Public schools are named for her in Austin, Dallas, and Odessa, and a women’s dormitory at the University of Texas at Austin has also been named after her.

Annie Blanton: a true chalkboard champion.