New York’s high-school student strike of 1950

StudentstrikebrooklynpubliclibraryIt all started with a proposed teacher pay raise.

In 1950, New York City high school teachers called on Mayor William O’Dwyer to increase their 2-5K yearly salaries by $600.

O’Dwyer balked, offering no more than $200. In response, teachers stopped supervising extracurricular activities. So O’Dwyer’s administration suspended sport teams, clubs, and other school groups.

With their extracurriculars gone, students were angry.

To protest O’Dwyer, they staged a student strike over three days in late April, ditching their morning classes or not showing up at all.

SchoolstrikeheadlineInstead, thousands of high-school kids (mostly from Brooklyn) marched to City Hall in Lower Manhattan, with the number of strikers swelling on the third day.

“Carrying banners on which their pro-teacher sentiments were scrawled in lipstick, they held up subway trains, wrecked automobiles, and dared police to break them up and were prevented only by hasty police action from forcing their way into the office of Mayor O’Dwyer, who had refused to discuss higher salaries,” wrote Life on May 8.


Of the strikers, The New York Times reported, “The vast majority of the youngsters were laughing and good-natured, and moved when they were asked. A few tried to stand their ground and spoke sharply to the police about ‘democracy’ and ‘people’s rights.'”

Studentstrikelifemagazine2By that third afternoon, the police had cleared out the students, and most returned to class the next morning.

School officials claimed the strikes were organized by “subversive elements,” according to Life. The teachers insisted they had nothing to do with it and denounced the striking students.

Was it worth it? Well, it took another 18 months for the city and the teachers to reach a pay compromise, and extracurriculars didn’t resume until September 1951, according to an excellent piece on the strike from Brooklynology.

[Top photo: Brooklynology/Brooklyn Public Library; Life magazine]

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4 Responses to “New York’s high-school student strike of 1950”

  1. penelopebianchi Says:

    It looked like they were mistreating the horses also! Shame on them! Children and horses! Are you kidding?

    The internet would have put a stop to this…..I think!! am I right? It is exposing these terrible things……..and the internet has done this….that will put a stop!


  2. The Rich Usually Prefer the Way Things Are « gratuitousblahg Says:

    […] at the time.  The salary range for public school teachers in 1950 was in the low thousands, as that article you found showed. It ranged from $2,000 and change to […]

  3. Bernard Baumrin Says:

    I was one of the leaders of the 1950 strike
    Which started with the Stuyvesant football
    team. We first went out We’d morning and
    Then dragged Stuyvesant
    Students and then the Seward Park HS
    student. It’s a longish story. The strike
    number estimates are deliberately all of the Manhattan Brooklyn and Bronx schools were
    Closed by Friday when the actual number at
    City Hall was close to 100,000.

  4. The Brooklyn high school pants protest of 1942 | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] the only Brooklyn high school student protest. In 1950, thousands of students across the borough walked out of class to support teacher pay […]

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