3 Women Pioneers in Education

Posted by Kaitlin Smith on March 27, 2022


Here at Facing History, we see awareness months as opportunities to deepen our knowledge of and attention to the histories and contemporary experiences of historically marginalized communities. However, the focus on celebrating these communities over one particular month can further marginalize the very experiences we are hoping to elevate. With this in mind, what follows is an invitation to engage with important themes raised by Women’s History Month this March and throughout all of the months of the year.

As Women’s History Month draws to a close, we have an opportunity to reflect upon the wide array of women who have shaped the educational landscape for the better in the United States and around the world. Though there are countless figures one might highlight, the three below are among those that we can learn from and whose legacies continue to shape the contemporary educational landscape.

Margaret Haley

Leader of the Chicago Teachers Federation dedicated to ensuring that teachers (a workforce that remains dominated by women) are respected and compensated fairly. Pushed for the professionalization of teaching through increased professional development and opportunities for teachers to shape the management of schools. Worked closely with collaborators including fellow teacher-labor leader Catherine Goggin.

For more, see PBS’ profile of Haley and our essay “Teaching in the Light of Women’s History”

Maria Montessori

Italian physician and educational pioneer whose methods have made a lasting impact on education around the globe and is reflected in the rise of Montessori Schools. She devised new methods for working with students who have learning differences, challenging the prevailing rhetoric of the day which held that one’s intelligence is fixed and that some people are unteachable. Her legacy includes popularizing the use of student-driven learning models, furniture built for the stature of young learners, and allowing time for students to play during the school day.

For more, see “Maria Montessori challenged and changed how kids are taught, and remains influential today” and “The Legacy of Maria Montessori”

Mary McLeod Bethune

African American educational pioneer, activist, political leader, and entrepreneur who cofounded a Black boarding school that would become Bethune-Cookman College (now University). The first in her family to be born free from enslavement, she was instrumental in establishing standards for Black colleges and universities around the nation, and had a decisive impact beyond the field of education. Bethune rose to become president of the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs and the National Council of Negro Women; vice president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; and a senior-level advisor during the Roosevelt Presidency where she served as a voice for Black youth and adults.

For more, see “Mary McLeod Bethune” 

Are there other women heroes in education who you’d like to highlight? Tell us about it in the comments!

Facing History invites educators to use our Teaching Idea The Equal Rights Amendment: A 97-Year Struggle in the classroom.

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Pictured above: Margaret Haley, Mary McLeod Bethune, and Maria Montessori (left to right).

Topics: Teachers, Women's History Month

At Facing History and Ourselves, we value conversation—in classrooms, in our professional development for educators, and online. When you comment on Facing Today, you're engaging with our worldwide community of learners, so please take care that your contributions are constructive, civil, and advance the conversation.


Welcome to Facing Today, a Facing History blog. Facing History and Ourselves combats racism and antisemitism by using history to teach tolerance in classrooms around the globe.

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