Dr. Wanda Jean Green
Learning Life's Lessons
in and out of the classroom
She stands tall and proud in her beautiful home, surrounded by the things she loves.
This includes plants, some as old as 60 years, but all loved and spoken to (harshly if need be). It includes books and videos of her many travels.
She remembers hearing commercials on the radio when she was a child inviting her to "Join the Navy and See the World". She knew the invitation wasn't meant for her - a lowly girl and a black girl at that. Women weren't allowed in the Navy until 1942.
But it inspired her - she decided to see the world with or without the navy, and she did. She's been everywhere in the world, except Australia and has no desire to go there. You will also find pictures of her family and her precious daughter R. Michelle Green as well as books on careers to give to her students.
She is Dr. Wanda Jean Green PhD and her story is a fascinating one.
Born in Toledo, Ohio February 6, 1929, Wanda Jean Liggens was committed to education and learning from day one. She was a self-proclaimed "nerd" with a special love of science and mathematics. She even took summer school classes just for the fun of it.
Dr. Wanda Jean Green in front of some of her plants
Her childhood was not that of a textbook happy family. She describes her mother as being way ahead of her time especially in the area of desegregation. Gunckel School was a poor overcrowded school in Toledo. Students from grade 1-9 were all in the same room.
Wanda's mother took 9 women and 14 students and had them change clothes every two hours, the school superintendent couldn't tell one from the other and by the end of the day thought there were so many student he had no choice but to take the 8th and 9th graders and send them to Jr. high.
Her mother's plan had worked because the superintendent never looked at the children's faces, and Wanda started making mental notes of lessons to be used later in life.
School was hard for Wanda; not the learning part but the social aspect. She was not only a black student but also the daughter of this rebellious woman. She was punished by being given low grades.
One teacher that she respected and whose class she knew she excelled in, gave her a "C". She was eventually told point blank that the teachers had been warned not to give Wanda Liggens anything higher than a "C" or there would be trouble.
So, at age 14, her mother put her on a train to Denver Colorado. When she got there she knew she was too young for the High School, but she avoided the question of age and was accepted. She is sure to this day that the assistant principal knew her age but never said anything. She graduated from Emmanuel Training High School in Denver, after skipping the 11th grade.
Of course, money was hard to come by, so she worked from 4 to midnight every day after school. Her aunt stood outside with her lunch so she could make it to her job at the Drug Store in the 15 minutes she had in between school and work.
When she returned to Toledo from Colorado things at home were not wonderful and she was told of her parents divorce. She did not speak to her father for almost eight years. Then one day she saw her mother and father talking and laughing together and she decided that if her mother could forgive him there was no reason she couldn't as well.
She knew realistically her chances of going to college were thin, but she couldn't give up her craving for more education. At that time, all of the black people in her area went to the same Church. Doctors, Dentists, Teachers, Lawyers, they were all there.
And Wanda believed "someone in this world has to know how to get me into college." So she went to that church and asked everyone and anyone for assistance. Some people told her she was a fool, but at least one person paid attention.
Ella P. Stewart, a local pharmacist, asked her one day if she was afraid to work. There was a college in Harper's Ferry, West Virginia, Storer College, that would take her, but she needed to be willing to work while she was there.
Of course she was willing to work. Ella Stewart bought her train ticket, and her mother gave her 15 cents. Wanda was barely 16 years old and she was on her way to college, and she was scared.
Once she got there she met Dean Johnson, who, in addition to running the school, taught chemistry. She was able to work in the chemistry lab and then teach a lab class.
Wanda was a little "rough around the edges". Having been raised with four boys she wasn't used to "acting like a lady" She would jump over the bushes to get to a class on time - whatever it took to get her work and schooling done.
Dean Johnson encouraged her to attend the University of Toledo and get her chemistry degree. He promised her a job as soon as her degree was obtained.
So, with all "A's" in her courses at Storer, she went off to Toledo University. She met another snag when she got there. Storer was not an accredited college and they wanted her to re-do her freshman year.
Wanda was beside herself. Not only did she not have the money to pay for an extra year of college, but also she wanted to hurry up and get her degree because she had a job waiting for her.
Wanda mustered up every ounce of courage she had and asked for a hearing before the Academic Committee. She surprised even herself when she offered to take a "C" for every "A" she had earned and a "D" for her one "B". A week later she received her answer - they had consented to her plan!
Dr Green at her PC
The Dean of the Chemistry Department fought her. He wouldn't let her, a black woman from an unaccredited school, enter his program. She literally bullied her way into the Presidents Office and made her case to him.
By the time she got back home there was a call waiting for her, from the President of the School, telling her to go see Dean Hickerson, the Head of the Arts and Science Department. He gave her papers to sign, which was her "ticket to class".
The chemistry professor was still not happy, but no longer had a choice. He was not ashamed to say he did not want blacks or women in chemistry. Her class was filled with men, mainly returning WWII vets - about 65 in all. In the front row were another woman, a handicapped man, a 15 year old and her.
She studied hard and did all of the assignments, but yet everyday when the professor asked her a question it was something she hadn't studied and didn't know. This got to be very embarrassing.
One night while studying she glanced ahead a few chapters and realized he was asking her questions 2-3 chapters ahead of what they were learning. So she started reading and studying above the standard assignments. She was finally able to answer his questions.
But he soon changed his plan and moved up another chapter. For every extra chapter she read, he quizzed her on one past that. Finally one day she broke down in class. She told him she knew what he was doing and that she thought it was unfair and then she walked out - in tears.
The 65 or so men from her class came to get her and told her "it will never happen again". The next day in class the Professor asked her a question far beyond what they were learning. A voice from the back of the room "suggested" he reconsider his question and murmurings throughout the room let him know that everyone agreed. The Doctor withdrew his question.
Wanda graduated from the University of Toledo in 1950 with a BS in Chemistry. Although she had been promised a job at Storer College, the school had closed by the time she graduated. She went to work at Leland College in Baker, Louisiana as a chemistry teacher.
It was during this time that she met and married one of her students, Reginald Green. In 1953 they had a daughter, Michelle Renee Green. Her marriage ended when her husband took off for California. She returned home to Toledo with her daughter and attended the University of Toledo once again. In 1954 she received her BA in Secondary Education.
While teaching a chemistry lab at the University of Toledo she received a note from Dean Hutchinson to contact a Miss Ziska. When she did, Miss Ziska offered to put her name up for a position all over Cleveland. Within 6 months she received an offer from Dr. Grimes, the head of the Math Department at Rawlings Jr. High.
He explained that she was hired, but she must first meet with the Deputy Superintendent of Cleveland Schools, Dr. E. E. Butterfield. Dr. Grimes took her to meet Dr. Butterfield and left her alone with him. She stood in front of his desk as he cavalierly picked up the Plain Dealer and began to read his morning paper. He continued to read, she continued to stand and the clock continued to inch forward.
Finally, twenty minutes had gone by and she turned to leave the room. Dr. Butterfield asked her to have a seat. He explained that she was going to be dealing with hoodlums and thugs and patience was mandatory. He wanted to know how long she could hold her temper.
To do this day, every time she sees the Plain Dealer she remembers Dr. Butterfly's "stress interview". She also learned that she could hold her temper for twenty minutes and applied that knowledge to future happenings.
In 1954 she was hired as a Math teacher at Rawlings and continued to work in the Cleveland Public School system for the next 38 years, under the direction of fourteen different superintendents. She retired in 1992.
Her relationship with the school board was always confrontational. She's not sure where she got the courage ("The Lord provided what I needed") but she always questioned authority. She was not willing to accept some of the low standards set for students - especially black students.
She told her students "the name of the game is learning". She would not warehouse her children or waste her time on discipline. They children knew that in her classroom they were expected to act like ladies and gentlemen and come out of her class "smarter than when they came in". She accepted no less.
She was appointed Guidance Counselor at Rawlings in 1960. There were numerous attempts to fire her, because she never looked at her job as a teacher or a guidance counselor as a political stepping-stone.
She found the children to be willing and interested in learning, once they were given a chance, and she was very vocal about the school board's refusal to understand that.
In 1968 she was transferred to East High School as one of three assistant principals. This was not a promotion, at that time East High was not in the "elite" group of Cleveland Public Schools. Transfer there brought her many discipline problems. At this time she was a year short of completing her doctorate at New York University and had no choice financially, academically and professionally but to accept the position.
After only 1 year at East High she took part in a developmental program at Wilson Junior High and it was during this time that she was appointed as principal of Empire Junior High School. This was significant in a number of ways.
She was the first female appointed as principal of a co-ed secondary school. It was also significant because she never saw herself as an administrator and didn't know anything about Empire Junior High. Of course, she accepted the challenge and continued to work 14-17 hour days.
During this time (1969) Wanda Green became Doctor Wanda Green as she received her PhD from NYU in Guidance and Administration. She received little support for this accomplishment from her family - none came to Madison Square Garden to see her receive her degree. They felt, in part, that she was leaving her roots as she climbed the academic ladder.
But right there, front and center was her fifteen-year-old daughter, R. Michelle, her strength and inspiration. It was her daughter who prodded her to follow through with her thesis and her daughter who typed her final paper. It was her daughter who forced her to face her fears and conquer learning French. It was, and still is, her daughter, that brings her hope and happiness on a daily basis.
Dr Wanda Green in her lovely home
From June 1972 to 1978 Dr. Green was the Director of Guidance and Counseling for the Cleveland Public Schools. From there she moved to various positions including an Associate Administrator of Desegregation, until she retired in August 1987 as Chief of research and Analysis.
Dr. Green feels that the Cleveland Public School system (and basically all public school systems) is used parasitically for the good of politicians. She works to this day at Emmanuel Baptist Church in a Saturday program she started. She prepares students for State Proficiency tests, primarily in Math, English and Science.
Dr. Green believes she has been blessed by having so many people willing to take a chance on her. From the administrator in Denver who didn't question her age, to the Dean at Toledo who gave her the "ticket to class" to the WWII vets in her Chemistry Class who wouldn't allow the professor to ask inappropriate questions to her daughter who wouldn't let her give up, Dr. Green has had many "guardian angels".
Another such angel came as a result of what could have been a tragedy. At age 5 Wanda was hit by a hit and run driver. The driver made arrangements with a lawyer to send her and her family money until she turned 21.
He bought the home she and her parents lived in, undoubtedly the only 5 year old in Toledo Ohio who owned their own home. She never met him, never even knew his name. But he was instrumental in allowing her to get the education that made her what she is today.
Her father always told her and her brothers "I gave you a good name. You'd better bring it back home that way".
Dr. Greens' family must be proud. She has touched the lives of many students, black and white. She has raised a wonderful daughter and they are mutually proud of each other.
She made the administration of public schools in more than one district stand up and take notice. She continues to inspire children with the importance of learning and actually shows them how to enjoy their education and use it.
She is a strong, powerful, kind woman with the best interest of children uppermost in her mind.
That makes her a very special person indeed.Profiled by Debbie Hanson
Do you know somebody with an interesting story to tell?
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