In 1960, Si Beagle was one of the city's few supervisors to go out on strike, walking the picket line alone at Bronx's JHS 113. "I had no choice. How could I look in the mirror and rationalize it. Here Mr. Big Shot. Talks, talks, talks, but he ends up a scab."
Born in Eastern Europe, at 8 years old he boarded a steam ship for the 10-day Atlantic crossing, arriving on Ellis Island in 1911.
Born Alexander Beigel he changed his name after the principal at Eastern District HS graduation exercises summoned someone named "Bagel" to come forward. Like most of New York's college-bound Jews in those days, he went to City College. "City took me out the world of the shtetl into a different world of drama, music, history, political theory, logic," he said in a voice cracking with emotion. "Had City College not been free I would have been a bricklayer or something else."
As a child he was steeped in a world of left-wing politics and protest, recalling how he joined his older sister, an organizer for the Waistmakers Union, on the picket lines as a young teen. Appointed as a teacher in 1926, he immediately joined the old Teachers Union where he would stay until the early 1940s when he switched to the rival Teachers Guild, the forerunner of the UFT. After his retirement in 1968, Beagle nurtured the union's post-retirement education programs, which eventually were named after him, the Si Beagle Learning Center.