Jan Cleere Special for the Arizona Daily Star
Cora Louise Boehringer was born in 1874 in Morrison, Illinois, where her German immigrant parents had settled shortly after arriving in the United States at the end of the Civil War.
Louise, as she was known, became a strong advocate for education and school reform.
While still in the Midwest and after teaching rural schools for several years, Louise became principal of Genesee Normal School in Illinois and later served as principal of State Normal School in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. She then accepted the position of supervisor of the new normal school in Springfield, Missouri.
Louise recognized that she was able to supervise schools with great success. Moving from teaching to supervising, she returned to school and earned a degree in supervision from Teachers College in New York, as well as a degree from Columbia University in New York in 1911.
By 1908, Louise had filed a 40-acre homestead claim in Yuma County, and in 1912 she moved permanently to her ranch in southwestern Arizona.
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The school system in Arizona at the time differed greatly from the Midwestern institutes familiar to Louise. The school year lasted about six months, and a female teacher’s salary was about $82 a month, compared to a male teacher who earned about $118.
The teachers were not attracted by the low salaries and the lack of financing of the schools. Louise was the perfect candidate to help reform Arizona’s education system.
In 1913, Louise ran for superintendent of schools in Yuma County against a man who was accused or hanging out with one of the female teachers. Winning her opponent and two other candidates hands down, her election made her the first woman to hold public office in Arizona. She held this position for four years.
Louise immediately set out to improve student education by adding much-needed curricula and more modern equipment to the state’s poorly run schools. When she was invited to speak at the National Education Association convention in 1913, her accomplishments in Arizona schools attracted national attention.
Hoping to improve the school system to a higher standard, Louise ran for the position of state superintendent of education in 1916 and had the distinction of being the only candidate to hold a college degree. She was defeated but continued to seek this position, running again in 1922 and 1940, but she never gained enough support to achieve the position.
Undaunted, Louise embarked on another path to academic success. She returned to school to focus on writing and journalism, subsequently purchasing the periodical Arizona Teacher in 1917.
She wrote, edited, published, and funded this manual, which became the official publication of the Arizona State Teachers Association for more than 20 years. She also edited the Arizona Parent-Teacher Bulletin as well as the National Altrusian Edition, a publication for women executives.
Louise successfully ran for a seat in the Arizona House of Representatives in 1920, serving two one-year terms.
Chairing the education committee, she was instrumental in initiating and developing statewide educational reforms, such as establishing the state school board and securing permanent funding. for the Arizona education system.
He is also credited with passing Bill 170, known as the Nameless Child Bill, which provided financial and educational support to illegitimate children.
According to a 1923 article in the Arizona Daily Star, Bill 170 had been debated in the Legislature for several years but had little support. The bill provided that “every child born in the State of Arizona is a legitimate child, requiring that his father, whether married to the mother or not, give him his name and assume responsibility for the care and upbringing of the child. of her child. The child is also entitled to the rights of the children of the father by a legitimate wife and must share the inheritance or property left by his father.
Louise was instrumental in getting the bill passed by the House of Representatives and then personally delivering it to the Senate.
‘I went with this bill,’ she said, ‘and stood over every man in this senate and looked him straight in the eye when he was ready for his vote. , and it was adopted at four o’clock in the morning on the last day of the sitting. »
“Women,” Louise argued, “may think they can stand up and read pretty little speeches about what to do about legislation for women and children, but they will never get anything passed. in this way. They will have to learn that they have to be on the battlefield and fight to get bills passed. After their passage, they will have to be on the ground to protect what they have suffered.
Realizing that women needed their own platforms on which to voice their causes, Louise founded the Yuma Chapter of the Business and Professional Women’s Club.
In 1921, she was elected the first state president of the National Federation of Business and Professional Women’s Clubs and also served as the organization’s national vice president.
She served as president of the Arizona Council of Administrative Women in Education and president of the Arizona State Federation of Women’s Clubs. She founded the Phoenix and Tucson branches of the National League of American Pen Women.
In 1928, new President Herbert Hoover appointed Louise to the Arizona State’s Best Homes Committee, which provided communities with information on improving housing conditions. She became director of curriculum for the Department of Education in 1933, a position she held for six years.
At the age of 75, Louise moved from Arizona to Seattle, Washington, where she died on September 11, 1956.
Known as the “mother of Arizona’s education system”, Louise was inducted into the Arizona Women’s Hall of Fame in 2008. She saw the need for education reform and spent her life to improve the lives of Arizona children. And although she left the classroom for higher positions, she once said, “There is no greater opportunity in life than to teach.
Jan Cleere is the author of several historical non-fiction books on the first peoples of the Southwest. Email him at Jan@JanCleere.com.