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Rood, Florence (1873–1944)

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Black and white photograph of Florence Rood, c.1920s.

Florence Rood, c.1920s.

Florence Rood was one of the first Minnesota women activists in the Farmer Labor movement. She worked to improve the treatment of teachers and was active in their local and national organizations. Many of the successful struggles in which she participated informed the public of the importance of education and laid the groundwork for improved working conditions for educators.

Florence Rood was born in rural Iowa, the fourth of six children. She attended a Congregational Church. The family valued education, and Rood was reading even before she attended school. She decided at an early age to become a teacher.

In June 1888, the Roods moved to St. Paul. After a time at Franklin School, she entered St. Paul High School (later renamed Central High). She graduated in 1892 after only three and a half years.

Rood taught at rural schools in Iowa and North Dakota and then returned to St. Paul to attend the Normal School, a teacher-training institution. She graduated in1894. She then taught at St. Paul’s Webster School for nineteen years. Teachers, administrators, and Normal school students alike came from around the state to observe her methods with kindergarten students.

In 1898, Rood helped start the Grade Teachers’ Organization (GTO), a group that represented St. Paul teachers, who were predominately women. In June 1904, a group of kindergarten teachers applied for increases of pay before the Board of School Inspectors. The St. Paul Globe reported that Miss Florence Rood, the directress of Webster School, explained that kindergarten teaching required an education equal to that of grade teachers. Therefore, she argued, they deserved equal pay.

During 1909, Rood, as a GTO lobbyist, successfully fought against a proposed state law that would have started a merit-based pay system. Under such a system, salaries are based on education level and seniority. The battle against merit pay had to be waged more than once. When the Minnesota Legislature passed an enabling act on pensions, Rood led a group of fellow teachers to take advantage of it. Together, they devised a St. Paul teachers’ pension plan that went into operation in 1910.

In 1913, Rood was hired by the Normal School and became the head of its kindergarten department, where she developed its first kindergarten/elementary program. Between 1916 and 1917, she was supervisor of kindergarten for St. Paul schools.

In 1918, St. Paul grade school teachers joined the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and formed Local 28 of the St. Paul Federation of Women Teachers. Rood became a key leader. The new four-hundred-member group soon affiliated with the St. Paul Trades and Labor Assembly.

Rood believed in democratic supervision, a practice that empowered teachers and supervisors as co-workers who cooperated to improve classroom teaching. She was elected to the national AFT executive council in 1919. Four years later, she became the group’s second woman president.

In 1920, Rood left teaching to become secretary-treasurer of the St. Paul Teachers’ Retirement Fund Association. She managed the plan continuously for two decades while staying politically active. In September 1920, she started writing a column for the St. Paul Union Advocate called "The Distaff: A Department Devoted to Women's Views on Matters of Public Concern." She also served on the newspaper’s first board of directors.

Rood was also active in the Working People’s Non-Partisan League and served on its executive committee in 1921. In 1922, she became the first woman to preside over a meeting of the St. Paul Trades and Labor Assembly.

Rood and other teachers pushed for legislation to grant tenure to elementary- and high-school teachers. They sponsored large meetings in 1917. They finally succeeded in 1927 and helped secure the passage of a tenure law for St. Paul, Minneapolis, and Duluth.

Rood became active in the Farmer Labor Party, held statewide positions, and founded the Ramsey County Farmer-Labor Women’s Association. She was appointed a member of the state board of education by Governor Floyd Olson in 1933. Olson re-appointed her in 1936, but the State Senate refused to confirm the appointment, saying that she was a radical.

Rood continued to head the St. Paul Teacher’s Retirement Association until 1939. She died in 1944 and is buried in Roselawn Cemetery.

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“America Loses Educational Leader in Death of Florence Rood.” American Teacher, May 1944.

Bridgman, Elizabeth Klein. Pioneers in Progress: Chorus for American Women. [Minneapolis]: American Association of University Women, 1957.

“F.-L. Women’s Meet Bars 14 St. Paulites.”St. Paul Pioneer Press, March 25, 1938.

“Florence Rood: A Pioneer Teacher Union Leader.” Weekday Minnesota, April 11, 2007.

Florence Rood: An Appreciation. [St. Paul]: St. Paul Federation of Women Teachers, 1944.

“Miss Florence Rood, Veteran Teacher Dies.” St. Paul Pioneer Press, April 14, 1944.

Rood, Florence. “Picture Incomplete She Says.”St. Paul Dispatch, September 14, 1933.

O’Connor, Paula. "Grade-school Teachers Become Labor Leaders: Margaret Haley, Florence Rood, and Mary Barker of the AFT." Labor’s Heritage 7, no. 2 (Fall 1995): 4–17.
http://bft.al.aft.org/grade-school-teachers-become-labor-leaders

P2895
Florence and Marjorie Rood and family papers, 1878–1944
Manuscript Collection, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul
Description: Poetry (undated) of St. Paul teachers Florence and Marjorie Rood and various family papers.
https://mplus.mnpals.net/vufind/Record/008076674

St. Paul Federation of Teachers Collection Papers, 1898–1970
Walter P. Reuther Library, Wayne State University, Detroit
Description: Minutes, correspondence, reports, memoranda, and other records of the federation, with an emphasis on the strike period of 1946–1947.
https://reuther.wayne.edu/files/LR000417.pdf

Related Images

Black and white photograph of Florence Rood, c.1920s.
Black and white photograph of Florence Rood, c.1920s.
Photograph of Florence Rood at her high school graduation, 1892
Photograph of Florence Rood at her high school graduation, 1892
Original application for the charter of the St. Paul Federation of Women Teachers
Original application for the charter of the St. Paul Federation of Women Teachers

Turning Point

In 1920, Rood leaves teaching to become secretary-treasurer of the St. Paul Teachers’ Retirement Association.

Chronology

1873

Florence Rood is born on a farm near Osage, Iowa.

1888

The Rood family moves to St. Paul.

1892

Rood graduates from Central High School.

1894

Rood graduated from St. Paul’s Normal School and begins teaching kindergarten.

1898

Rood helps start the Grade Teachers’ Organization (GTO).

1909

Rood leads a successful fight against merit-based pay.

1918

Rood becomes a charter member of the St. Paul Federation of Women Teachers, Local 28.

1919

Rood is elected to the AFT Executive Council.

1920

Rood leaves teaching and becomes secretary-treasurer of the St. Paul Teachers’ Retirement Association.

1921

Rood serves as a member of the Executive Committee of Working People’s Non-Partisan League.

1923

Rood becomes president of the American Federation of Teachers.

1927

Rood helps pass a teachers’ tenure bill.

1933

Floyd B. Olson appoints Rood to the State Board of Education.

1939

Rood leaves the St. Paul Teachers’ Retirement Association.

1944

Rood dies on April 13.