On the campaign trail, Elizabeth Warren often tells the story of how she was fired from her first teaching job in 1971 because she was pregnant, a pivotal moment that ultimately put her on a path to Harvard, the United States Senate, and quite possibly the presidency. But recently, several media outlets have questioned the veracity of these claims.
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.
Fresh out of the University of Houston, Warren was hired by the Riverdale Board of Education in New Jersey as a speech pathologist for the 1970-1971 school year. Since she began her campaign for the presidency, she has repeatedly said that she was "shown the door" after just a year as a result of her pregnancy.
"By the end of the first year I was visibly pregnant, and the principal did what principals did in those days: wished me luck, showed me the door, and hired someone else for the job," she said at a town hall in Oakland in June.
The "showed me the door" anecdote came up often on the campaign trail until recently. And now some outlets have found a 2007 interview Warren gave in which she presents the story in a different light.
In an interview that year at the University of California, Berkeley, Warren gave the first known public account of her time at Riverdale.
"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," Warren said in 2007. "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."
Asked by CBS News why she told the story differently at Berkeley a decade ago, Warren said her life since her election to the Senate in 2012 caused her to "open up" about her past. "After becoming a public figure I opened up more about different pieces in my life and this was one of them. I wrote about it in my book when I became a U.S. Senator," she said in a statement from her campaign.
Warren's changes in phrasing when discussing her dismissal have sparked questions about her story's veracity. Fox News has cited the 2007 interview as a contradiction with her more recent statements. The Washington Free Beacon reported on a transcript from contemporaneous local school board meetings, also obtained by CBS News, which said Warren was rehired that spring and that the board "accepted with regret" her "resignation" the following summer.
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.
Warren told CBS News she stands by her characterization of getting "shown the door" because of her pregnancy and called it an "accurate description."
"When someone calls you in and says the job that you've been hired for for the next year is no longer yours. 'We're giving it to someone else,' I think that's being shown the door," Warren told CBS News.
In her 2014 memoir, published after she became a Massachusetts senator, Warren gave a similar account of her departure from Riverdale Elementary.
Warren also told CBS News that she was, in fact, officially offered the job for the following year as the school board minutes indicate. "In April of that year, my contract was renewed to teach again for the next year," Warren said. She also said she had been hiding her pregnancy from the school.