Will Elizabeth Warren take a DNA test to prove she got fired from her teaching job over a pregnancy? The top-tier Democratic presidential hopeful got forced into responding to a debunking of her oft-told talk of gender victimhood after documentary evidence emerged to challenge it. Warren told CBS News late yesterday that she stands by the version of the story in her autobiography:
In an exclusive interview with CBS News on Monday evening, Warren said she stands by her characterizations of why she left the job.
“All I know is I was 22 years old, I was 6 months pregnant, and the job that I had been promised for the next year was going to someone else. The principal said they were going to hire someone else for my job,” she said.
Warren has repeatedly said that her principal “showed [her] the door” after discovering she was pregnant at the end of the 1971 school year. The episode is pivotal to her life story, in that it dashed her dreams of remaining a public school teacher and launched her reluctantly down the path to public service.
Warren also doubled down on Twitter this morning to maintain her narrative:
This was 1971, years before Congress outlawed pregnancy discrimination—but we know it still happens in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. We can fight back by telling our stories. I tell mine on the campaign trail, and I hope to hear yours.
— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) October 8, 2019
Even CBS News wonders just how true this is. They spoke to women who worked in the school system at the time, who claimed that pregnant women were often pressured to leave positions after the fifth month of pregnancy. However, they also report on the documentary evidence gathered by the Free Beacon that shows the school board voting to reappoint her to the post, based on local news reporting in 1971:
In fact, the school board minutes show that the board voted by unanimous roll call to extend Warren a “provisional certificate” in speech pathology.
Local newspaper reports from 1971 also present reasons for her leaving the school alternative to what she describes on the trail. The Paterson News, a local paper, reported that summer that Warren was “leaving to raise a family.” The next month, a story about the school board hiring a replacement said Warren had “resigned for personal reasons,” even though the board had voted to “appoint” Warren to the same speech pathology job that April, according to an earlier report.
Mediaite says “new details” in the CBS report support Warren’s account, however:
However, she told CBS News that neither her principal nor the school board were aware she was pregnant at the time her contract was renewed: “She had been hiding her pregnancy from the school.”
Of note, Warren’s daughter, Amelia, was born on September 2, 1971, meaning Warren would’ve been between four and five months pregnant at the time of the school board vote. The Massachusetts senator went on to tell CBS News: “I was pregnant, but nobody knew it. And then a couple of months later, when I was six months pregnant and it was pretty obvious, the principal called me in, wished me luck, and said he was going to hire someone else for the job.”
That’s just part of the same story, however, which just has Warren duplicating her earlier version. The other details from Mediaite don’t actually support Warren’s specific claim either. Those focus on the other teachers’ claims that such discrimination was possible, and some documentary evidence that it was well known enough to be news when Congress outlawed it.
But no one argued that this kind of discrimination didn’t happen at all, just that it doesn’t appear to have happened with Warren. With this in mind, let’s go back to the 2007 interview Warren gave to UC Berkeley in its “Conversations with History” series to hear her pre-political-career version of events. In this version, Warren tells Harry Kreisler that she went to get the required education for a permanent certificate but got disillusioned with the effort, choosing instead to raise a family while waiting for inspiration to strike. It picks up shortly before the 6-minute mark:
For a while? I mean, you actually pursued that career?
I actually did. I was married at nineteen and graduated from college after I’d married, and my first year post-graduation I worked in a public school system with the children with disabilities. I did that for a year, and then that summer I didn’t have the education courses, so I was on an “emergency certificate,” it was called. I went back to graduate school and took a couple of courses in education and said, “I don’t think this is going to work out for me.” I was pregnant with my first baby, so I had a baby and stayed home for a couple of years, and I was really casting about, thinking, “What am I going to do?” My husband’s view of it was, “Stay home. We have children, we’ll have more children, you’ll love this.” And I was very restless about it.
If you get the chance, watch the interview from the beginning. This conversation is all about female empowerment and the obstacles to it, including the limitation of women’s career choices to teaching and nursing. If indeed one of those obstacles was getting fired for being pregnant, it would seem very peculiar that Warren didn’t make that point in this 2007 interview thirty-six years later. The anecdote Warren started telling in 2014 would have fit perfectly into this discussion, and yet it appears nowhere in it — despite Warren now calling that episode “pivotal to her life story,” as CBS notes.
The obvious conclusion from that weird lacuna, combined with the contemporary documentary evidence showing that the school board offered to extend her employment, is that Warren cooked up this story about being fired. It looks every bit as authentic as Warren’s continued insistence about her Native American heritage. It highlights once again Warren’s lack of authenticity and urge to grasp onto identity politics and victimology as a campaign argument.
And if we lived in an era that valued truth over narrative, this could actually make a difference. Warren’s current position in the Democratic field — hell, Biden’s position, for that matter, and arguably Trump’s on the other side — tells us where our values actually are. The new scrutiny from the media over this tale is certainly welcome, but don’t expect much more than a narrative shift about the woes of women in 1971 to emerge as the main story of this tall tale. We’re all about “fake but accurate” and larger truths these days.