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Sat, 09.26.1903

Grace Lorch, Teacher and Activist born

Grace Lorch

*Grace Lorch was born on this date in 1903. She was a teacher and activist.

Grace Lonergan was born to William and Delia Lonergan in Boston, Massachusetts. She and her brother Thomas grew up in a working-class household where her father was a railroad worker, and her mother was a homemaker. Lonergan became a public school teacher in Boston at a young age, serving as President of the Boston Teachers Union and a Boston Central Labor Council member.

Grace Lonergan married her husband Lee Lorch in 1943 as he was about to leave for military service in World War II. Despite having been a teacher for two decades, she was dismissed due to an 1880s-era rule of the Boston School Committee that banned teachers from marrying. Although unsuccessfully, she was the first teacher to challenge a Boston school regulation that female teachers resign after marriage. Lorch appealed, but the committee upheld the rule in 1944. The publicity around Lorch's case led to a campaign to end the prohibition, which was successful nine years later when, in 1953, the legislature voted to end the ban on married female teachers.

The couple was an activist in the American Civil Rights struggle in the 1940s and 1950s. They and their infant daughter, Alice, moved into New York City's Stuyvesant Town and fought to desegregate the housing development bringing the issue to a head by allowing a black family to live in their apartment as guests. The controversy cost her husband his job as a math professor, and the family moved to the south, where her husband found work with historically black colleges. Two weeks after moving to Little Rock, Grace Lorch wrote a letter to the local school superintendent.

She asked that her eleven-year-old daughter be allowed to attend the neighborhood school. The letter said: "Since we live at 1801 High Street, located in a Negro neighborhood, this would be a Negro school," she wrote, adding that it "might also provide a useful and unobtrusive example of benefit to the process of integrating Little Rock schools."  The request was denied.

In 1957, the Lorches were involved in the Little Rock branch of the NAACP and were intimately involved in the Little Rock Nine's struggle to desegregate Little Rock Central High School. On their first day of school, the Nine were to arrive together; however, this instruction never reached fifteen-year-old Elizabeth Eckford, who arrived separately and found herself facing an angry mob threatening to lynch her. Having just dropped off her daughter at a nearby junior high, Grace Lorch arrived, rescued Eckford, and escorted her home.

Lorch's rescue of Eckford made her family a target. Dynamite was placed in their garage, harassed in the press, Alice faced bullying at school, and the Senate Subcommittee on Internal Security subpoenaed Grace. By 1959, Lee Lorch was blacklisted by the House Un-American Committee, and the family moved to Canada, where Grace died in 1974. Grace Lorch died on October 28, 1974, and is buried in Dudley, Massachusetts.

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