(This picture on the left is how he looked around the time he wrote them.)
I found this speech, for a speech it is, in my attic last week while searching for historical information for the Fourth Grader you see in the center of the picture below.
Because the boy has been working on the big Family Research Project, he asked me to help him learn about Margaret Shea Herlihy, the first person in our family to come to America, from County Kerry, in the 1850s. She was the pipe smoker I spoke of here, who managed to get passage out of Ireland for all four of her girls, got them settled in West Newton MA, contrived to marry them off to four likely young men, then talked them all into buying four small farms, offered for sale because their owners had been killed in what some in the South still call “the War of Northern Aggression.”
We made only a little headway the day last week that I went to this child’s house to help with the project perhaps. This was on account of the general level of bounciness in the house occasioned by a visit by me, their local grandma, (but really who can focus on writing history with a little goat sitting on your worktable with you?)
Finally though, we got to work – which means I watched while the boy laboriously printed, working his tongue around on the inside of his cheek the whole time.
It wasn’t until the weekend when I went back to my attic and found – and sat down to read – all ten pages of this speech from 1919.
And what a speech it was that this Michael Sullivan delivered at the graduation exercises of one of the city’s high schools – for, I should explain, he was at the time the Chairman of the Boston School Committee.
Give it a read and see if the issues he names aren’t still with us. I mean, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan could have written this first part:
“Some will say we cannot spend all of our money on education: there are other needs. Yes. That is true there are other needs, but they are secondary. You can afford to economize in every other department except education. In that, never, so long as the need exists. Roads can wait to be built. Streets can be paved. But time makes boys and girls into men and women and the days lost to them are lost forever. The education of boys and girls must not wait until the tax rate is lower, or until this public work is done or that public work is done. They must go on regardless of what else goes on.
And then this man from 1919 hones in on the topic of education for women, this in a time when our gender had still not secured the franchise:
“I think of what happened in Boston nearly a century ago: From the very settlement of Boston there was opportunity for boys to prepare for college so that we might have clergymen doctors and lawyers and it was nearly 200 years before the general high school for boys was established for those who did not want to go to college or could not, so that they not might have more education than the common schools as they were then called, furnished. So in 1821 the English High School was established.
“In 1826 it was thought desirable to open high school for girls and the first establishment provided for seventy-five girls. Three hundred girls presented themselves and for two years the school was carried on and then closed because the then Mayor of Boston said that no municipality could stand the expense of educating girls through the high school and it took twenty-six years to reestablish that school in Boston and then it was established as a training school for teachers.
“It was a deception, but it was done to make those who were afraid of spending too much money for education, believe that in this instance it was alright because we have to have teachers and girls were cheapest to have and therefore we would prepare them. And in a few short years it became what it now is: Girls High School, pure and simple, the first of its kind in the country and it has stood as an example and inspiration for thousands in the country that have since been established.
Yes, the taxpayers of that day were willing to educate girls because they would teach school cheaper and now it is about time that we paid those girls at least as much as we pay the cheaper cheapest labor municipalities employ. We got now to recognize the debt that this country owes to its teaching profession, especially the women we have to give them do credit for the 2 millions of men that they helped to make man who went across the ocean and help to win the war and we never again should be open to the charge of praying upon the services of exactly exemplary women who makes citizens of our children.
The necessary character that a woman must have to teach school and the exemplary life she must live in the community, regardless of the consideration is worth at least $1000 of the money of any municipality and I hope the day is in sight when we will all recognize that and at act in accordance therewith.
He says he hopes the day might be in sight when these women teachers would get the raise they deserve, and in fact he was the man who got it for them, as I had always been told by his children, my mother “Cal” and my lovely Aunt Grace. I guess I knew he did this, but more digging in my attic revealed that he did it just six months later, as this letter written to him by Calvin Coolidge in thanks, reveals.
So it’s the old story: The diligent idealists with their vision ‘see’ what should happen.
They dream the dream, and then, with luck they make it come true, so that the rest of us can live fuller and more abundant lives and hold little tea parties for our friends.