Charl Williams and the National Education Association

  • Wayne J. Urban


Charl Ormond Williams began her career in education by working her way through the ranks in the rural schools of West Tennessee, from teacher to principal to normal school instructor to county superintendent. Moving, then, from the local to the national stage, Williams served as a notable leader of the cause of women teachers in the National Education Association (NEA) for over a quarter of a century. Williams was neither the founder of a particularly notable progressive school nor was she identified with pedagogical innovation that commonly has been or is referred to as progressive. Yet, her work as a successful, change-oriented rural school teacher and administrator prior to coming to the NEA, her long career as a prominent staff member of the NEA, her links to various women’s groups in pursuit of her NEA activities, her defense of public education as a cornerstone of American democracy, her political savvy and experience as both a lifelong Democrat from the South and a nonpartisan advocate of NEA causes, and her constant devotion to the cause of women as teachers and administrators in the public schools all mark her as a worthy candidate for inclusion in a volume on “founding mothers.”1


Political Connection Federal Department National Education Association Professional Relation Teaching Force 
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  1. 2.
    Mary Hoffschwelle, Rebuilding the Rural Southern Community: Reformers, Schools, and Homes in Tennessee, 1900–1930 (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1998), pp. 43, 65, 81.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Charl Ormond Williams and Carroll Van West, eds., The Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture (Nashville: Rutledge Hill Press, Tennessee Historical Society, 1998), pp. 1063–64. Crump had helped Williams in supporting African American education. In turn, he and his political machine received substantial electoral support from African Americans in elections. See Hoffschwelle, Rebuilding the Rural Southern Community, p. 81.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    The best history of the NEA in its early years, though by no means an adequate one, is Edgar B. Wesley, NEA: The First Hundred Years (New York: McGraw Hill, 1957).Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    Wayne J. Urban, Why Teachers Organized (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1982), chap. 5;Google Scholar
  5. Erwin Stevenson Selle, The Organization and Activities of the National Education Association: A Case Study in Educational Sociology (New York: Bureau of Publications, Teachers College, Columbia University, 1932), p. 59.Google Scholar
  6. 7.
    Charl O. Williams, “The Call to Service,” NEA Journal 10 (October, 1921): 135.Google Scholar
  7. 8.
    Charl Williams, “Tenure—An Important Problem,” NEA Journal 10 (November, 1921): 151–152.Google Scholar
  8. 9.
    Charl Williams, “The Democratic Awakening and Professional Organization,” Journal of Addresses and Proceedings of the National Education Association 60 (1992): 208–210 (hereafter cited as NEA Proceedings). Google Scholar
  9. 10.
    Charl Williams, “Actual Results of the Year,” NEA Proceedings 60 (1922): 482–484.Google Scholar
  10. 11.
    Charl Williams, “The Hope and The Result of American Education,” NEA Proceedings 60 (1922): 378–381; idem, “The Improvement of the Teaching Profession Through Tenure Legislation,” NEA Proceedings 60 (1922): 685–688.Google Scholar
  11. 16.
    Marjorie Murphy, Blackboard Unions: The AFT & the NEA, 1900–1980 (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1990), p. 115.Google Scholar
  12. 19.
    See David Tyack, Robert Lowe, and Elisabeth Hansot, Public Schools in Hard Times (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1984), andGoogle Scholar
  13. Edward A. Krug, The Shaping of the American High School, 1921–1940 (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1972).Google Scholar
  14. 21.
    Charl Ormond Williams, ed., Our Public Schools (Washington, D.C.: National Congress of Parents and Teachers, 1934); idem, compiler, Schools for Democracy (Chicago: National Congress of Parents and Teachers, 1939).Google Scholar
  15. 25.
    Charl Ormond Williams, “How Professional Are Teachers?,” Peabody Journal of Education 16 (September 1938): 118.Google Scholar
  16. 28.
    Willie A. Lawton and Charl Ormond Williams, “National Seminar on Building Stronger Professional Organizations,” NEA Proceedings 78 (1940): 104–105.Google Scholar
  17. 29.
    Joe A. Chandler and Charl Ormond Williams, “National Seminar on Making the Teaching Profession More Effective Thru [sic] Local, State, and National Associations,” NEA Proceedings 80 (1942): 70.Google Scholar
  18. 30.
    Charl Ormond Williams, “Field Service,” NEA Proceedings 79 (1941): 876.Google Scholar
  19. 31.
    Ibid.; Charl Ormond Williams, “Field Service,” NEA Proceedings 80 (1942): 479.Google Scholar
  20. 33.
    Charl Ormond Williams, “Yes, Mr. Rawlings,” NEA Journal 32 (March 1943): 82.Google Scholar
  21. 34.
    Charl Ormond Williams, “The Legend of Miss Bonny,” The National Elementary Principal 23 (June 1944): 41–42.Google Scholar
  22. 35.
    Charl Ormond Williams, “Professional Institutes,” NEA Journal 35 (January 1946): 29.Google Scholar
  23. 37.
    Charl Ormond Williams, “Background of the Conference,” Proceedings of the White House Conference on Rural Education (Washington, D.C.: National Education Association of the United States of American, 3, 4, and 5 October 1944): 27, 28.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Alan R. Sadovnik, Susan F. Semel 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • Wayne J. Urban

There are no affiliations available

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