Alice Marsh, the UFT's first legislative rep in Albany, was the only child of a working single mother who insisted she go on to high school while the rest of her elementary school graduating class went off to work.
Alice remembers her mother saying: "I want Alice to support herself and not have to depend on any man." The two had a rough time making ends meet — her mother even pawning her wedding ring for $3 to buy material for Alice's party dress.
Like many young women of her day, Marsh enrolled in a two-year teacher training program. Not long after her appointment in 1929 she joined the Teachers Union, one of the few female grade school teachers to do so. Though Marsh had not grown up in a home where unionism or politics was table talk, she recalls being smitten after listening to socialist Norman Thomas speak on the radio.
"The socialists presented a very good program to the worker," she said. "At that time workers were underpaid and the bosses were getting filthy rich. No social security, no social programs, nothing. When you got hurt on the job, it was tough luck, kid. Workers were looking for a way out."