The Only Teacher on the Ballot


Kathleen Sullivan returned from Europe to teach students with special needs at the John Marshall School in the working class neighborhood of Dorchester, MA, in the early 1970s.

Boston came with a new set of obstacles largely shaped by the Boston School Committee’s refusal to acknowledge racial imbalance in Boston’s public schools and the refusal to follow the Racial Imbalance Act of 1965. Decisions made by people living outside of Boston strongly affected parents and students. On May 9, 1973, Kathleen Sullivan wrote a response to “Saving Boston’s Schools,” an editorial in the Boston Globe. She agreed with the Globe’s stance that schools needed more resources, that citizens needed to get more involved, and taxes in the city were far too high. She called the Racial Imbalance Law disastrous for the city, because it forced integration at the expense of education.[2] In this editorial, Sullivan voiced her concerns that the Boston School Committee continuously voted against practical solutions to problems in the schools. She believed that parents needed to have the final say as to where their children went to school not the government. 

Historically, BSC members used their positions as a stepping stone to a career in politics, and Sullivan began to worry that they cared less about education and more about their own careers. She announced her candidacy in mid June 1973, because she wanted to “restore order in the city’s junior high and high schools,” consolidate several school departments to save money within the schools, and improve reading programs for children with special needs.[3] Her campaign heavily focused on education and improving the city's schools.

During the 1973 campaign, the incumbents emphasized their opposition to the Racial Imbalance Law to win voters’ support. John J. McDonough believed the law would destroy the city. A year earlier, Paul R. Tierney took a pro-integration stance, but said that busing would not be how he would like to achieve integration. He saw the law as impractical. Paul Ellison and John Kerrigan both favored using suburbs to help integrate Boston Public Schools. Out of the final ten running for Boston School Committee, only Kathleen Sullivan worked as a public school teacher in Boston. Thus, her experience with education came directly from the city’s schools unlike the other candidates. [4]


William Hallissey "Billy" Sullivan Jr., Kathleen Sullivan's father, with Boston's Mayor, Raymond Flynn and Governor Michael Dukakis in 1985. Kathleen Sullivan wrote to Dukakis ten years earlier regarding the city's deficit caused by desegregation. 

"Isn't She Billy Sullivan's daughter?"

Sullivan’s father, William Hallisey “Billy” Sullivan Jr, founded the Boston Patriots in 1960, which became the New England Patriots during an AFL-NFL merger in 1970. During his daughter’s campaign for Boston School Committee, Sullivan held fundraisers for her, and Patriots football players campaigned for her.[5]

Name recognition certainly helped, but throughout the campaign, Sullivan focused heavily on the changes she wanted in the city’s schools and her role as a teacher. Her campaign proved successful—in close second to John Kerrigan. She held a rally after hearing the results and her students attended. She opened with, ““I’d like to thank everyone before it gets too late. I want my students full of pep and ready to learn tomorrow. I’m not officially a winner yet so I can’t declare tomorrow a school holiday, and you kids have to get some sleep.”[6] This passion for education propelled her to reforming the schools for the students attending them.



[1] Gail Jennes, “For Ex-Mayor Joe Alioto, It’s Love, Honor and Campaign for New Wife Kathleen Sullivan,” People Magazine, September 18, 1978.

[2] Kathleen Sullivan, “What Schools Are About,” The Boston Globe, May 9, 1973, 18.

[3] Gail Jennes, “For Ex-Mayor Joe Alioto, It’s Love, Honor and Campaign for New Wife Kathleen Sullivan,” People Magazine, September 18, 1978.
“Candidate Announces for School Panel,” The Boston Globe, June 15, 1973, 14. 
“School Committee: Who’s Running, What’s at Stake,” The Boston Globe, November 4, 1973, A-6.

[4]Judith Brody, “Tierney view to vote today on imbalance,” The Boston Globe, February 15, 1972.
“School Committee: Who’s running, what’s at stake,” The Boston Globe, November 4, 1973, A-6.

[5] David Farrell, “Billy goes all out on daughter’s behalf,” The Boston Globe, September 30, 1973, A-3.

[6] Jeff McLaughlin, “Teacher Kathy Sullivan learns how to win,” The Boston Globe, November 7, 1973, 34.

The Only Teacher on the Ballot