WASHINGTON — Senator Elizabeth Warren is defending her account of losing her first job as a public school teacher in 1971 because she was pregnant, a story whose accuracy has been questioned by recent news reports.
“When I was 22 and finishing my first year of teaching, I had an experience millions of women will recognize,” she said on Twitter on Tuesday. “By June I was visibly pregnant — and the principal told me the job I’d already been promised for the next year would go to someone else.”
The anecdote is a staple of Warren’s campaign stump speech and appeared in her first book in 2014. She has described her dismissal as the moment that put her on a career path to Harvard Law School, the US Senate, and now a run for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Warren said she would have stayed in her job as a public school teacher “forever” had the principal of Riverdale Elementary School in Riverdale, N.J., not shown her the door after she became “visibly pregnant.”
“I still remember that first year as a special needs teacher,” she said on the presidential debate stage last month. “I could tell you what those babies looked like. I had 4- to 6-year-olds.”
Back then she added, her pregnancy “meant that the principal said to me — wished me luck and hired someone else for the job.”
But the Washington Free Beacon, a conservative news website, reported Monday it had obtained school board records that contradict Warren’s story.
The records show the Riverdale Board of Education hired Warren as a part-time speech pathologist in August 1970 for the upcoming school year. Minutes of the board’s meeting on April 21, 1971, say that Warren was among several non-tenured teachers offered contracts for the next school year.
Minutes from a school board meeting on June 16, 1971, say that a resignation from Warren effective at the end of that month was “accepted with regret.”
The report came after a story from Fox News said that Warren gave a different version of her departure when she first appeared to have gone public with that experience, in a 2007 interview at the University of California Berkeley.
“I went back to graduate school and took a couple of courses in education and said, ‘I don’t think this is going to work out for me,’” she said in a YouTube video of the interview, which was part of the “Conversations with History” series run by the school’s Institute of International Studies. “I was pregnant with my first baby, so I had a baby and stayed home for a couple of years.”
A CBS story Monday also linked to articles from a local New Jersey newspaper at the time that said Warren was “leaving to raise a family” and had “resigned for personal reasons.”
“All I know is I was 22 years old, I was 6 months pregnant, and the job that I had been promised for the next year was going to someone else,” she said. “The principal said they were going to hire someone else for my job.”
She said the school board approved her contract when she was only four months pregnant. She was shown the door later, she said, when she could no longer hide her pregnancy and it was not against the law to fire women over their pregnancies.
Warren emphasized that point on Twitter on Tuesday.
“This was 1971, years before Congress outlawed pregnancy discrimination — but we know it still happens in subtle and not-so-subtle ways,” she tweeted.
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act was enacted in 1978. The June 16, 1971, school board minutes published by the Washington Free Beacon also said in an entry immediately after the one about Warren’s resignation that a contract had been approved to hire another teacher named Judy Linares for the same two-day-a-week job that Warren had as a “speech correctionist.”
Asked by CBS about her 2007 account, Warren said she only became open about her experience after her election to the Senate in 2012.
Multiple New Jersey news articles from around the time Warren was employed as a speech pathologist said that forced maternity leave and pregnancy dismissals were common practices. In some cases, school boards argued that laying off pregnant women was a necessary protection for their health.
“Employers have used several methods to get rid of pregnant workers,” read an article in a Trenton paper from 1972. “Some women have been fired, some forced to resign, some made to take maternity leave at four or five months of pregnancy.”
New Jersey outlawed the practice in June 1972.
The CBS story also quoted two retired teachers, Trudy Randall and Sharon Ercalano, who worked at Riverdale Elementary at the time as saying that while they didn’t remember anyone at the school being explicitly fired because of pregnancy, a non-tenured employee who got pregnant would have had little job security.