Read the title again. Do you know her? Do you know Mattie Whyte Woodridge? Are you even familiar with her name? I bet not. If you ask people in the street, strangers in malls, or students and teachers in schools whether they recognize her name, maybe some of them might answer they know her, but I presume most people do not.

You can’t see or read her own story in any Wikipedia. She doesn’t have her own bibliography on any page. She has not even been in many history-based publications, and I guess her name has never been talked about in schools. Every time we celebrate the Teacher Appreciation Week, her name is rarely mentioned, what she did is seldom remembered. In celebration of Teacher Appreciation Week and as, we thank and honor our teachers, let us also remember and honor Mattie May Woodridge, the one who originated it.

Mattie May Whyte Woodridge, Who is She?

The African American woman Mattie May Woodridge was born in Kosciusko in the year 1909 with her parents John Henry Whyte and Alice Neva Green Whyte. Her parents got divorced and her mother moved to Helena, Arkansas, where she graduated from the first colored high school, Eliza Miller High School. She had her Bachelor of Science degree from Fisk University and also had her Master’s Degree from Columbia University. She taught a school in Arkansas. She also became a principal of North End Elementary School in Elena in the year 1950. Aside from these, she is the person who affected a lot of people and made a positive change to the whole world. Mattie Whyte Woodridge is the one who founded the National Teacher Day in the year 1944.

Teacher Appreciation Week, How and When Did It Start?

Had you ever asked these questions to yourself before “Who started the Teacher Appreciation Day?” “How did it happen that it was now practiced all over the world?” “How did they make the whole world practice or celebrate such occasion?” Well, I do that often, I do ask myself where things originated from, and one of these is how and when did the Teacher Appreciation week start?

It took one action to change the whole world.

The year before 1944, they never had the celebration we had today. It was never on the calendars before. Teacher Appreciation Day or often called as Teachers’ Day for all the teachers did not exist before until such time came that Mattie May Woodridge took action. As a teacher herself, she knows that teaching is not an easy job and it is often not recognized. She realizes what lacks in the society, which are the things that need to be done. Things that really matter that are disregarded by the people. With that in mind, Mattie May Woodridge, a woman of valor, took a pen and a paper and wrote a letter to the Late Great First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. It took one action to change the world. One letter to create an impact.

Although the information on what is written in the letter is sparse, there’s one thing that letter emphasizes – support for Teachers’ Day. Teachers and educators should be recognized for the contributions they make, not just to their students, but to the whole society. Mattie May Woodridge wrote a letter to every governor in the union, every governor in the United States pointing out the need for a recognition to every teacher. A national day for teachers.

Mrs. Roosevelt then acted upon that request. She lobbied the 81st U.S. Congress, persuading the Congress to proclaim a National Teachers’ Day. A day set aside every year to acknowledge and honor the work of a teacher. A day to celebrate and appreciate the teachers. With the help of National Education Association (NEA) together with its state affiliates in Kansas and Indiana worked on this mission to make Woodridge’s advocate to be pushed through.

In 1953, the NEA and state affiliates helped to lobby the Congress to pass a joint resolution for the National Teacher’s Day. Like Mrs. Roosevelt, the NEA didn’t stop in persuading the Congress on considering Woodridge’s suggestion, to have a day for the nation to celebrate teachers. Mattie May Woodridge with the help and support of other people were successfully able to make the 81st U.S. Congress passed a joint resolution designating a National Teachers’ Day after decades of hard work.

Finally, during the year 1980, the Congress declared March 7th as National Teachers’ Day, but it was only for the year 1980. The NEA and the people throughout the country, however, continued to celebrate the National Teacher’s Day on the first Tuesday of March.

Until 1985, a voting was made by the NEA Representative Assembly to make that day as an official day of the National Teachers’ Day. In 1984, National Parent Teacher Association declared the first full week of May as Teacher Appreciation week and ever since, it has been observed the first full week of May as Teacher Appreciation week.

Mattie May Woodridge died at age 90 on the year 1999. She was somehow able to see the fruits of her once-an-idea led to a permanent establishment.

So as we celebrate the Teacher Appreciation week, let us also remember and honor Mattie May Woodridge, the one who originated it.