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The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture


The eleven teachers who met in Guthrie, Oklahoma Territory, in October 1889, six months after the Land Run of 1889, did not know that they were establishing an organization that would last more than a century. They called themselves the Oklahoma Teachers' Association (OTA). In 1906 the Indian Territory Teachers' Association (1884–1906) joined OTA and became known as the Oklahoma Education Association (OEA) in 1918.

During the Territorial Era OTA worked with the legislature to establish a bond issue system, to write school codes, and to form school districts at the township level and a high school at the county level. An official magazine, Oklahoma School Herald, was initiated in 1892 and continued until 1919 when Oklahoma Teacher magazine replaced it. Over the years OEA has worked to increase teachers' salaries and school funding, to provide a teachers' retirement plan, and to furnish a better education for the students. The association has also fought for compulsory attendance, uniform textbooks, and school consolidation.

Since the association's first president, Frank Terry, was elected in 1889, OEA has had many teacher activists. In 1903 OTA became involved with the National Education Association (NEA), and Alice Robertson, the first secretary of the Indian Territory Teachers' Association, became vice president of NEA in 1905. Susan Fordyce of Shawnee High School served as the first woman president in 1917. Frederick D. Moon of the Oklahoma Association of Negro Teachers was a spokesperson for African American teachers after their organization merged with OEA in 1955. Clyde Howell had a long tenure as executive secretary from 1923 to 1948. In 1948 Ferman Phillips, superintendent of Atoka schools, replaced Howell and brought a new militancy, resulting in the adoption of four Better Schools Amendments. Kate Frank, the first president of the Department of Classroom Teachers (1934–37) and OEA president (1937–38), was fired from her teaching job. She appealed to the NEA for help in her defense, and as a result, the Kate Frank/DuShane Unified Legal Service Program was created in the early 1930s.

For the school year 1957–58 OEA president Edna Donley was selected as national teacher of the year and in 1960 served as the first director of professional services. Gladys Nun, president from 1967 to 1968, led teachers to resign en masse to influence the state legislature. Charles Holleyman, first American Indian president, served from 1968 to 1969. In 1972 Glenn Snider helped establish the Human Relations Award and teacher control of OEA. During the late 1970s and early 1980s Claude Dyer, president of the Tulsa Classroom Teachers' Association and NEA board member, fought tirelessly for fair school funding.

During the 1950s a new OEA headquarters building was constructed at 323 East Madison, near the Capitol building in Oklahoma City. The association called for a baccalaureate degree as the minimum requirement for a teaching certificate, and along with Gov. Raymond Gary, pushed for the passage of the second Better Schools Amendment. In 1957 Oklahoma required that every teacher hold a college degree.

In 1965 OEA imposed sanctions against the state for failing to provide adequate funding for public schools, and the Midwest City Classroom Teachers negotiated the first professional agreement in Oklahoma. In 1968 OEA once again imposed sanctions on the state, making the it the first association to take such action twice, and OEA's Delegate Assembly was established. In 1970 OEA helped pass the Professional Negotiations Act, allowing teacher locals to negotiate contracts with school boards.

In 1973 the association endorsed its first candidate for governor, David Hall. In 1974 members approved statewide unification with the NEA, and in 1980 OEA helped secure the Education Reform Act, beginning the first teacher-mentor program and teacher designed staff development. In 1985 teachers won a voice in their own evaluations, and in 1987 OEA secured due process for support employees.

Under the leadership of Pres. Kyle Dahlem OEA secured passage of the landmark Educational Reform Act of 1990, providing a $560 million appropriation to be spent over five years for school reforms. By 2000 the forty-thousand-member organization was instrumental in getting fully paid, individual health insurance for all school employees.

Carolyn Crowder


Oscar W. Davison, "Early History of the Oklahoma Education Association," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 29 (Spring 1951).

Joe Hubbell, "A History of the Oklahoma Education Association, 1945–1965" (Ph.D. diss., Oklahoma State University, 1970).

Joe Hubbell, "William C. Canterbury and the First Year of the Oklahoma Education Association," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 58 (Spring 1980).

Joe Hubbell, "Women in Oklahoma Education," in Women in Oklahoma: A Century of Change, ed. Melvena Thurman (Oklahoma City: Oklahoma Historical Society, 1982).

"Oklahoma Education Association," Vertical File, Oklahoma Room, Oklahoma Department of Libraries, Oklahoma City.

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The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
Carolyn Crowder, “Oklahoma Education Association,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry?entry=OK042.

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