Sullivan's Influence Elsewhere

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The results from the Boston School Committee Election in 1977: Elvira Palladino was defeated, John O'Bryant joined the BSC in the coming year.

Sullivan’s influence on the Boston School Committee became fairly evident during her time on the committee. The only moderate from 1974 until 1975, she was soon joined by David Finnegan, another moderate, in 1976. In 1978, John O’Bryant, a black teacher, became the first African American to serve on the Committee since the early 1900s. Like Sullivan, O’Bryant had a degree in education and taught in Boston Public Schools, and he also grew frustrated with lack of focus on education. [1] Like Sullivan, he valued education, and he reflected the changes in the motivation people had for running for BSC. Uner the direction of members like Sullivan and O'Bryant, the Boston School Committee evolved from a stepping stone to a political career to an entity focused on improving public education.


Boston's results from the Democratic State Primary in 1978. Kathleen Sullivan Alioto placed third.

"The lineup for my campaign is that my father is the head coach, my brother Patrick is the general manager, I'm the quarterback, and my husband is the linebacker."

Somehow while earning an advanced degree in Education at Harvard, serving as a member of the Boston School Committee, and visiting schools, Kathleen Sullivan found the time to marry the former mayor of San Francisco, Joseph Alioto, and campaign for US Senate. During her 1973 campaign for BSC, she noticed the joblessness of the people in Boston. Building on that knowledge, economic issues decame one of Sullivan’s primary concerns during her Senate run in 1978.[2] In 1977, the Boston Globe published pieces emphasizing the potential Sullivan had for a long career in politics. Her appeal made her a strong competitor for the Senate seat. That summer, Frank Sinatra appeared at a campaign fundraiser for Sullivan. Around the same time, she announded that she was expecting a child; perhaps because of widespread gender bias that implied a conflict between motherhood and a political career, her campaign proved more challenging. She placed third in that year's democratic primary.


Kathleen Sullivan with husband, Joseph Alioto in 1978.

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The BSC election results from 1979. Jean Sullivan McKeigue took fifth place in the election succeeding her sister on the committee after Kathleen Sullivan decided not to run that year.

In 1979, Sullivan opted not to run for reelection; however, her sister ran for BSC instead. A teacher and activist, Jean Sullivan McKeigue ran a campaign of promising to improve the school budget and ending the presence of the federal court in Boston public schools.[3] She earned reelection multiple times and led the BSC in its restructuring in the early 1980s.

Kathleen Sullivan moved on to to finish her thesis Boxed In, the Boston School Committee in Crisis in 1980. There, she detailed the how the BSC had evolved over time and why when it came to approving a long-range desegregation plan in December 1974, the committee had voted 3-2 against it. Her time promoting education and reforming the Boston school system from the inside propelled her into a long career in education and politics spanning San Francisco, New York City, and Boston.


[1] “John D. O’Bryant, 60, First Black to Serve on Boston School Board,” New York Times, July 5, 1992.

[2] Norman Lockman, “Sullivan-Alioto Enters Race for Brooke seat,” Boston Globe, May 31, 1978, 1. 

[3] David Rogers, “McKeigue Runs for Committee,” Boston Globe, March 20, 1979, 29.


Sullivan's Influence Elsewhere