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Labor History Articles

Jacqueline B. Vaughn

Webtrax Admin

A tribute to the life of the president of the Chicago Teachers Union, now deceased.

We have gathered to celebrate the induction into the Union Hall of Honor of the Illinois Labor History Society, of one who was for almost ten years the Chicago area's most visible union leader in this age of the nightly news on TV.

As the leader and spokesperson for the Chicago Teachers Union, the late Jacqueline B. Vaughn was a frequent vision on the screen, addressing the issues and interests of both teachers and students in her calm yet firm voice. Clearly and succinctly, with dignity and style, she presented the union's position through the years while school crisis after crisis seized the public's attention.

What those of us who were not among her colleagues at union headquarters could not have known, however, are things about her gift for consensus building among members of the leadership team; and, indeed, among the men and women in the trenches, the teachers and support staff within the schools.

Nor could we be aware of her interests, at both the structural and content level, in educational reform that would bring about a better learning environment in the classroom, and better instruction to the students.

It was her vision that captured $1,000,000 worth of attention from the MacArthur Foundation in support of the Chicago Teachers Union's Quest Center. The Center gives teams of personnel at individual schools a place to design their own more effective methods to structure the teaching process, on the one hand, and student learning on the other.

More than 2,000 CTU members have attended Quest Center classes and conferences. There are now over forty-five schools with individually structured educational environments in place, tailored to fit their particular educational goals.

Jacque, as she liked to be called, came to the union leadership from the classroom. She began her collective bargaining apprenticeship in 1968 under the presidency of John Desmond. She went through no less than nine strikes as a member of the bargaining team. She was elected vice-president of the CTU in 1972, and became its president on July 9, 1984.

This extraordinary woman was able to be wife, mother, and labor union executive in a host of leadership capacities. She became a vice-president of the American Federation of Teachers as far back as 1974. She was elected president of the Illinois Federation of Teachers in 1989, and undertook leadership responsibilities for its 70,000 members state-wide.

Still, she found time to serve on policy boards of public and private agencies and organizations; and, of course, the Pilgrim Baptist Church where she was among the most devoted and active of members.

Jacque Vaughn was unstoppable. Even her illness, debilitating though it was, could not keep her sidelined from the tense contract negotiations of 1993. The essential elements of the contract were saved, despite the intense "take-away" pressures that besieged the union from many sides.

As President Tom Reece, whom she called her "right arm" has observed, "she left us footprints, not only behind her, but leading ahead. We intend to follow them."

So can we all.

November 19, 1994