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Albert Shanker Papers

Identifier: LP001932

Scope and Content

Important Subjects: Asian Refugees - Thailand; Ethics; International Teacher Unions; Mathematics; Metaphysics; Philosophy; Collective Bargaining - Teachers; Teacher Unions; Teaching - New York (State) – New York City;

Important Names: Edward Kennedy; Elijah Jordan; John Lindsay; Mario Cuomo

Series Description: Series I, Education: The series contains materials about the education of Shanker 1928 - late 1950s. There are items from PS 4 and Stuyvesant High School. Shanker kept most of his class notes, syllabi and other related materials to his higher education. When Shanker became more focused on his studies there are more materials from his classes including the syllabuses, notes, and tests. There are plenty of materials about his study at Columbia University (1949-1953), Hunter College, 1954 and New York University, 1955-1957. At the end of this series the files are of various dissertation notes, book reviews and his personal study of the philosopher Elijah Jordan.

Subseries A- Writings, notes, tests, reserach by Shanker and others: Has Shanker’s notes and other related materials to the philosopher E. Jordon. Materials related to or writings by Shanker for school. There are notes on specific philosophical themes and philosophers, and tests that do not match up with transcripts. Articles or writing by other people. There are assumed notes for dissertation loose, in spiral notebooks and on 3 x 5 cards. There are a few tests that Shanker took that he kept as well.

Subseries B- Miscellaneous Materials: Box 7 contains the transcripts from Columbia and his correspondence and various activities at the University. Report cards from Hunter College (1954), New York University (1957) and selective service physical exam (1955).

Series II, Teaching: A series that contains Shanker’s life during his tenure as a teacher in the New York City public school system. The series contains materials related in securing a job in New York City, certification, pay and other related official documents (1950s). Correspondence with principals and assistant principals are of special interest. Journal writings are class assignments from his students, are diaries about their everyday lives with Shanker helping with their writing skills (1956). No proper names can be used. The series is arranged chronological except for the journal writings.

Series 3, Union: The series covers Al’s career from firebrand unionist to education reformer heading the American Federation of Teachers. The bulk of this series is 1960s through the mid 1970s with very few information pertaining to the 1980s and 1990s. The international information is minutes from meetings that were compiled after Shanker’s death by AFT staff and Eadie Shanker.

Subseries A- Ocean Hill-Brownsville Strike: Considered one of the most divisive strikes in modern labor history, Ocean Hill – Brownsville pitted the young United Federation of Teachers against the community of Ocean Hill. The strike lasted a majority of 1968 with the UFT walking out 3 times during the year. The issues were over community control, decentralization and honoring due process for teachers. The strike turned ugly when racism entered the picture. This series contains newsletter, memos, telegrams, speeches and commentaries about the strike. It is arranged chronologically. More archival information about this strike and decentralization of New York City can be found in the UFT records at New York University, Wagner Library or ask the Reuther Library’s reference archivist for a copy of the finding aid.

Subseries B - International: Shanker not only believed firmly in the US trade union movement but also the democratic international trade union movement. Eadie Shanker and AFT staff sent the materials after Shanker’s death. They are minutes and reports from the International Federation of Free Teacher Unions. There is also some information about Shanker’s trip to Thailand in 1978 concerns refugees, his trip to Warsaw in 1988 and other trips or issues about democracy worldwide.

Series IV, Interviews and Publications: The series contains interviews conducted with Shanker, mostly oral histories about the formation of the UFT and Where We Stand. Speech notes are what he would use at the podium to give his long oratories. Article notes are notes and rough drafts for various articles and Where We Stand. The series also contains other publications that Shanker held onto.

Series V, Correspondence: This is a unique series since it covers so much of Shanker’s life in a very short series. There is a letter to his wife Eadie, correspondence from teachers from Urban-Champaign while he was in New York City trying to make ends meet. There are letters from Senators, Mayors and Presidents that are notes of thanks usually. This series runs the depth of Albert Shanker’s interests and involvements. The series is arranged alphabetically, except for the first four folders.

Series VI, Honors and Awards: Albert Shanker received numerous awards, honorary degrees and other citations for his work with education, the labor movement and his commitment to democracy everywhere in the world.

Series VII Miscellaneous: Contains various materials from birthday cards to poetry.

Series VIII, Memorial: The series is a mix of articles, newspaper clippings, get well and condolence letters/cards as well as the planning of the memorial service in Washington DC. There is also a folder on tributes to Al Shanker as in the like of naming conference rooms, buildings, etc.

Oversize: Oversize boxes are copies of newspaper clippings, articles and the like covering the mid 1960s to 1975. A majority of the clippings are about decentralization in New York City, Ocean-Hill Brownsville Strike and the fiscal crisis of 1975. This group of boxes also contains placards, birthday cards and other newspaper clippings or entire issues of importance to Shanker’s life.


  • 1928 - 2003
  • Majority of material found within 1949 - 1968


Language of Materials

Material entirely in English.


Collection is open for research.


Proper names from the student journals cannot be used.

Refer to the Walter P. Reuther Library Rules for Use of Archival Materials. Restrictions: Researchers may encounter records of a sensitive nature – personnel files, case records and those involving investigations, legal and other private matters. Privacy laws and restrictions imposed by the Library prohibit the use of names and other personal information which might identify an individual, except with written permission from the Director and/or the donor.


Albert Shanker is considered one of the most important labor leaders of the late 20th century. From a substitute math teacher, Shanker rose to national prominence as the president of the American Federation of Teachers. Shanker gained national attention first as a militant strike leader of the New York City teachers in the 1960s and later as the elder statesman on education, trade unionism and human rights. President Clinton called him "one of the greatest educators of 20th century."

Albert Shanker was born on September 14, 1928 and raised in Long Island City, Queens, New York by Russian immigrant parents. His father delivered papers and his mother worked as a sewing machine operator in the garment sweatshops.

Shanker attended Stuyvesant High School where he flourished in math and chemistry, headed the school’s debating team and graduated in the top fifth of his class.

At the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Shanker majored in philosophy. He joined an interracial group that organized sit-ins and led the campus Socialists study group. He graduated with honors and enrolled in a doctorate program in philosophy at Columbia University.

Shanker completed all but his dissertation at Columbia University before running out of patience and money. He took a job as a substitute teacher at PS 179 in East Harlem. Shanker quickly became active with the Teachers' Guild and by 1959, resigned as a math teacher to become a full time organizer for the Guild, which in 1960 became the United Federation of Teachers (UFT). Shanker was pivotal for the next eight years in changing the nature of teacher unions. By 1964 Shanker became president of the UFT, which represented just over 45,000 New York City schoolteachers, a position he held till 1986. In 1967, Shanker led a three-week strike that included basic trade union issues but also various education reforms such as class size, and discipline. Shanker entered the national spotlight during a volatile period of strikes in 1968 that divided New York City. At the center of the issue was community control of the school district called Ocean Hill – Brownsville. Shanker favored community control, however when union members were dismissed without due process, Shanker took the city's teachers out on strike three different times for a total of 55 days. Both strikes sent Shanker to jail.

The following year, the UFT won the right to represent paraprofessionals in the city. In 1972, he worked with Tom Hobart, to merge the National Education Association’s New York affiliate with the AFT state affiliate, to create the New York State United Teachers. In the spring of 1975, New York City faced bankruptcy and needed $7 billion in loans. The city laid off thousands of city employees, including 15,000 teachers. The UFT struck for five days over the issue of class size. Various unions in New York City agreed to use strike funds and retirement pensions to buy city bonds to save the city. Shanker asked the UFT's Teachers' Retirement System to invest and on October 17, 1975, the UFT bought $150 million in city bonds.

Shanker became president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) in 1974. Under his leadership the membership of the AFT almost tripled and the role of organizing changed in which the union included paraprofessionals, health care workers and public employees.

Shanker initiated an experiment on December 13, 1970. On that day, his first Where We Stand column was published in the New York Times. The idea came from Arnold Beichman, a friend of Shanker’s, who suggested that he place an ad in the same place every week in the Sunday New York Times. This would allow Shanker to have a weekly forum to convey his ideas to the public. Twenty-six years later and about 1,300 columns later, the ‘Shanker column’ became an institution in the Sunday New York Times.

In 1983 National Commission on Excellence in Education released the report “A Nation At Risk”. Although he was initially skeptical, Shanker realized the report was not an attack on public education, but instead, showed that public education should be saved. In response, he led the AFT into a new era, and made himself into a statesman for education. Two years later, at the National Press Club in Washington DC, Shanker issued a “call for professionalism” in the teaching profession. He advocated higher standards for teachers through a national teacher examination. Other education reforms spearheaded by Shanker during the 1980s were a simpler system to remove unproductive teachers and a peer review evaluation program.

By the 1990s, Shanker was a respected American statesman. He spoke around the world to government officials, school superintendents, business leaders and union leaders. As a senior vice president of the AFL-CIO, Shanker called on the union movement to develop new organizing methods that would increase professional employee union membership, and attract the new workforce of the 21st century. The education agenda that Shanker laid out in his weekly columns and his constant traveling was to promote the idea that teachers are professionals, which included a national test, peer review, charter schools with heavy school employee input, as well as standards for students. To honor his life-long devotion to education Shanker was named fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1996. To date, he is the only labor leader to sit beside Nobel laureates and Pulitzer Prize winners.

Shanker insisted on tougher standards for civil and human rights. Throughout his life, he insisted that “When men and women are imprisoned, tortured and killed because they dare to speak, write or organize, it makes no difference whether they were silenced by leftist or rightist dictators. The action must be condemned.”

Cooking was one of Shanker’s many hobbies. Other passions were stereo equipment, classical and jazz music, wines, and African folk art.

On February 22, 1997, Shanker died of cancer. He was the longest sitting president of the AFT from 1974-1997. Albert Shanker was one of the most powerful and respected American labor leaders of the late-twentieth century. Considered canny, a maverick and a tough negotiator, Shanker was also well respected and sought after for his wisdom in the development of public education, on civil rights and on trade unionism.

Brief Chronology of the Life of Albert Shanker:

9/14/28 Born to immigrants from Czarist Russia, Morris, who delivered newspapers, and Mamie, a garment worker.

1946 Graduated from Stuyvesant HS, was head of the debate team. Enrolled in the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. Graduated with honors with degree in philosophy.

1949. Enrolled in doctoral program in philosophy at Columbia University. Would complete all coursework. Married Pearl Sabbath; they would have son, Carl.

1952 To earn money to complete dissertation, took teaching job as a per diem substitute at PS 179 in East Harlem. Following year took regular sub position at JHS 126 in Queens.

1959 Left job teaching at JHS 88 in Manhattan to become full-time Teachers Guild organizer.

1960 Guild merges with High School Teachers Association to form UFT. Soon after, UFT strikes for one day to demand collective bargaining rights.

1961 NYC teachers choose UFT as collective bargaining agent. Second marriage. Edith (Eadie) Gerber; they would have three children, Adam, Jennie and Michael.

1964 Elected UFT president.

1967 Leads three-week strike for smaller classes, more money for education. Goes to jail for 15 days for violating state law prohibiting strikes by public employees.

1968 Leads long Ocean Hill-Brownsville strike over due process rights for members.

1969 Goes to jail for another 15 days for his role in 1968 strike ... Brings paraprofessionals into UFT.

12/19/70 Begins "Where We Stand" column in The New York Times.

1972 As head of the American Federation of Teachers' New York statewide organization, worked with Tom Hobart, president of the National Education Association's statewide affiliate, to form NYSUT. After serving as co-president with Hobart, Shanker became NYSUT executive VP until 1978.

1973 Elected VP and executive council member of AFL-CIO.

1974 Elected AFT president.

1975 NYC dismisses some 15,000 teachers. Teachers return to school in September to find over 50 children in a class. UFT Delegate Assembly recommends a strike... Strike lasts five days. Shanker later plays key role in saving NYC from bankruptcy by asking the Teachers' Retirement System to invest $150 million in Municipal Assistance Corp. bonds.

1976 Elected delegate to Democratic National Convention; also 1980, 1984, 1988, 1996.

1983 Embraces Reagan administration's "A Nation at Risk" report, which condemned the state of American education and called for higher standards.

1985 First floats idea of a rigorous national teacher's exam in speech at National Press Club ... Resigns UFT presidency; succeeded by Sandra Feldman January, 1986.

1986 Visiting professor Hunter College.

1987 Visiting professor, Harvard College; also in 1988, 1989, 1990.

1993 Founding president Education International, the union formed by merger of AFT/NEA international affiliates.

1996 Announces AFT's "Lessons for Life" campaign, which calls for higher standards of student conduct and achievement ... Named fellow of American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

2/22/97 Dies of cancer.


6.5 Linear Feet (13 MB, 3 OS)


Albert Shanker is considered one of the most important labor leaders of the late 20th century, as the longest sitting president of the American Federation of Teachers. He was considered a leader in the development of public education, civil rights, and trade unionism. His papers reflect mainly his college years and early career as a teacher in New York City.


Arranged in 8 series – Series 1 (Boxes 1-7), Series 2 (Boxes 7-8), Series 3 (Boxes 8-10), Series 4 (Boxes 10-11), Series 5 (Boxes 11-12), Series 6 (Box 12), Series 7 (Box 12), Series 8 (Box 13), and oversize (Boxes 14-16). Folders are arranged chronologically, execept for series 5-8 which are arranged alphabetically.

Series 1 and 3 are each further subdivided into two subseries.


Eadie Shanker donated Albert Shanker’s Personal collection to the Walter P. Reuther Library in October 1999. The shipment contained 14 oversized boxes. Over the years Eadie Shanker has sent materials to be added to the personal collection.

Related Materials

AFT President’s Office: Albert Shanker Collection; AFT President’s Office: 1960-1974; AFT Inventory Collection: Parts one and two; AFT Oral History Collection


Photographs, ephemera and other like materials have been placed in the Reuther Library’s Audiovisual Department. Books from the personal collection have been placed in the Reuther Library’s library stacks.

Processing History

Processed and finding aid written by Daniel Golodner in 2006.
Guide to the Albert Shanker Papers
Processed by Daniel Golodner.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Walter P. Reuther Library Repository

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Detroit MI 48202 USA