Breaking into the boys' club: How women educators succeeded in male-dominated jobs

Lyanne Melendez Image
Monday, May 16, 2022
How women educators succeeded in male-dominated jobs
San Francisco women educators reflect on how Title IX benefitted them in succeeding in male-dominated jobs in SFUSD.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- We often think of Title IX as equal female representation in varsity sports. But, in reality, it has gone much farther than the gym or the locker room.

Former Interim Superintendent Gwen Chan looks at an old picture taken in the 60s at what is now Harvey Milk Elementary when mostly men dominated the San Francisco School District.

"I started in 1967 at Marina Junior High. The administrators were mostly men, yes and many were former coaches," expressed Chan.

"They had kind of an old boys club," reveals Dorothy Vaio who started her teaching career in 1948.

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Many coaches became principals. That was the pathway to career advancement and a way to get a top administrative position.

"Women weren't being promoted in the administrative field as the men were," said Vaio.

There were exceptions. Radio Host John Rothman was a student at George Washington High School. He graduated in 1966.

"The principal of George Washington High School was the second woman principal in San Francisco. She took over in 1962 and retired in 1970. Her name was Ruth Adams and she was amazing," said Rothman who today is the President of the school's alumni association.

Then came Title IX, signed by the late President Richard Nixon in 1972.

Things didn't exactly change overnight but those like Chan started to get noticed.

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By 1985 she was an assistant principal at Washington High School and then in 1992, principal at Lincoln. It wasn't long before she was called to work at district headquarters.

She listed her titles.

"Assistant Superintendent of High Schools, Chief Development Officer, Deputy Superintendent, and then Superintendent. I was very fortunate," said Chan.

That was 2007. Chan also became the first Chinese American to lead the district.

"I'm grateful for what the school district afforded me in terms of experience and security," she added.

Other women like Mayme Chinn fought for equal pay as administrators.

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"She was all of 4 feet 8 inches and standing up to the old boys club, 'hey I do the same work, I should get the same page," said Chan.

Vaio remembers. "She got her raise and she also got a lot of respect. She was tiny but she was mightly."

Those were just a few of the many women who benefited from Title IX. The act also brought gender equity into the classroom.

"Courses that were most commonly typically boys, typically girls. became co-ed. Science classes. Back in the day you had shop or mechanics or home economics, all of those had to become co-ed," said Keasara Williams, who is the Executive Director of the Office of Equity and the Title IX Coordinator for San Francisco Unified.

Both genders had to learn to adjust to these new opportunities.

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"Some of the boys came in thinking they were just going to eat all the time, but no, they had to learn about nutrition, ha, ha, dishwashing techniques and so on. It was fun," said Chan as she laughed.

One can argue that allowing both girls and boys to engage in many kinds of educational and recreational activities made them more well-rounded and empathetic individuals.

"Students are learning what's the appropriate way to talk to each other to treat each other and that there's not just one way of doing things than the traditional way of doing things because anyone can do anything they want," said Williams.