MARYLHURST — This November marks 100 years since passage of the Oregon School Bill, officially known as the Compulsory Education Bill.

This vote, with a margin of 53% to 47%, ended parents’ rights to decide how to educate their children, ages 6-18, including their enrollment in private schools.

Also directly and adversely affected by this bill were the Sisters of the Holy Names. This group of religious educators, who had resided in Oregon since its statehood in 1859, operated a teacher certification school along with primary and secondary schools in Portland, Eugene, Salem, The Dalles, Medford, Grand Ronde and St. Paul. Their combined enrollment was 865 students.

The Compulsory Education Bill, sponsored by Klan-affiliated Scottish Rite Masons in 1922, stipulated all Oregon school children must attend public schools. The rationale was based on the belief that all faiths, races and social classes should attend public schools together in order to fuse the various racial, ethnic and religious elements of the state’s population.

Responding to the bill’s threat to their professional and economic well-being, the Holy Names Sisters took legal action, directed by John Kavanaugh, who asserted that the bill destroyed the sisters’ educational mission and economic worth, a violation of their 14th Amendment rights. At the same time, the sisters launched “a blizzard of press releases,” according to the National Catholic Welfare Conference.

In 1925, the U.S. Supreme Court declared the Compulsory Education Bill unconstitutional. Chief Justice Louis Marshall referred to the case, Pierce v. Society of Sisters, as “a landmark on our Constitutional history.”

Paula Abrams, constitutional lawyer and author, records that religious and educational leaders at the time hailed the case as the Magna Carta of education.

According to Abrams, “The Pierce opinion rests on the premise that . . . parents be able to teach their children according to their beliefs. Without this liberty, the State has the power to ‘standardize’ its citizens, forcing them to conform to an identity forged primarily by government.”

Sister Maiers, a longtime university professor, resides at Marylhurst.

Sources — Holy Names Heritage Center archivist, Sarah Cantor; unpublished paper by Christine Mary [Katherine] King; and “The First Seventy-five Years in Oregon” by Mary Elizabeth West [S. Mary Evangeline].