Women’s History Month

Texas A-F-T celebrates Women's History Month

Recognizing Important Texans

March is Women’s History Month, an important time for educators and students to celebrate the achievements, brilliance, and legacies of the women who transformed society and paved the road for the struggle for equality that continues today.

Each week of Women’s History Month, Texas AFT will highlight a Texan woman from our communities and current or retired Texas school employees, all nominated by our local leaders.

We believe to #TeachTheTruth, we must recognize and lift up the contributions of the wonderfully diverse population of our state, our country, and our world.

For more ways to bring Women’s History Month into the classroom, check out the free lesson plans and resources available to AFT members through Share My Lesson.

Veronica Ruiz

Our Children’s Cheerleader

Veronica Ruiz

Nominated by Veronica Hernandez, president of Socorro AFT

On the first day of school every year, Veronica Ruiz, a history teacher at Puentes Middle School in Socorro ISD, asks her eighth-graders one simple question: “Are you ready to be the best in the district?”

Ruiz loves her students and does just about everything to ignite their love of learning, from skits to pneumonic devices to singing and dancing. But she also takes pride in the rigor and challenge of her class. 

“When students find out they are going to have me as their eighth-grade history teacher, they aren’t initially up for the hard work this class takes,” she says, “but once they get to know me and see that I really care about them and their learning, they love the class.”

For the past 10 years, Ruiz’s students have had the highest scores on the social studies STAAR assessments in Socorro ISD. 

Ruiz started in the district as a substitute in 2007 and worked as a paraprofessional before becoming a fifth-grade teacher at Horizon Heights Elementary. In her 10 years at Puentes, she’s been named Employee of the Month three times, a recognition of her commitment not only to her students but to her colleagues.

Outside of the classroom, Ruiz has also served as a cheerleading coach and currently coaches track. While the athletes she mentors have won several district, conference, and national championships, she’s equally proud of her work in developing students to be role models themselves.  

She is likewise dedicated to her work with her union, Socorro AFT, of which she is vice president — along with being an active building representative for members at her campus. 

“These positions are very important to me,” Ruiz says. “I am in this fight to better public education and to help our teachers and students.” 

Isabel & Manuela Hernández

Unsung Labor Heroes

Isabel & Manuela Hernández

Nominated by Veronica Hernandez, president of Socorro AFT

In October 1919, less than a year before the ratification of the 19th Amendment, a group of El Paso women took a stand for their own rights as workers. The 1919 El Paso Laundry Strike was sparked by the efforts of Mexican and Mexican-American women to organize their workplace, Acme Laundry. 

Isabel and Manuela Hernández, along with several other female co-workers, had just established a local chapter of International Laundry Workers’ Union (ILWU) at Acme. In retaliation, they were fired. 

After management refused to rehire the women and raise wages for all workers, 200 female employees went on strike. That strike soon grew to 600 as other female laundry workers and laundry wagon drivers joined in solidarity. 

Even though, at the time of the strike, these women comprised between 60-80% of the workers in the El Paso area’s industrial laundries, they made just $4-6 per week, a salary much lower than their white counterparts in other cities.

Their demands included an increase in pay, better working conditions, recognition of their union, and reemployment of Isabel and Manuela Hernández. While the women had the support of the El Paso Central Labor Council and several local newspapers, they were forced to contend with strike-breaking employees from other outfits, as well as hostility in other media outlets and even among other male union members. 

Though the strike failed to win the workers’ demands, the actions of Isabel and Manuela Hernández and their fellow laundry workers lit a spark for the rights of employees, of Mexican and Mexican-American people, and of women. 

Linda Bridges

‘A Giant of the Texas Labor Movement’

Linda Bridges

Nominated by Nancy Vera, president of the Corpus Christi Federation of Teachers

Linda Bridges was a lifelong labor leader who became president of the Texas American Federation of Teachers, a position she served in until her death in 2015. 

Bridges’ attitude and commitment to the cause can be best summed up in one of her most memorable moments. In the wake of severe cuts to public education funding and thousands of teacher layoffs, Bridges was asked by a reporter at the Capitol why Texas AFT continued to show up at the Legislature and rally its members to fight for a seemingly hopeless cause. Her reply was quick and simple: “Because our kids are worth it.”

Bridges started her career in education as an elementary special education teacher in Corpus Christi ISD. She was elected president of her local union, Corpus Christi AFT, and served in that capacity for 24 years before being elected president of the statewide federation. Under her leadership, Texas AFT membership grew by nearly 20,000 public school employees. 

Texas educators and students have benefited immeasurably from Bridges’ dedication. Texas law may prohibit collective bargaining for educators, but in 1979, Bridges helped to pioneer elected consultation, a process in which teachers and school employees elect the organization that formally negotiates with a district on employee wages, benefits. and working conditions. 

The system she helped forge in Corpus Christi spread to several other districts in the state and has been heralded as a successful model for collaboration between school employees and district administration. 

Bridges served in numerous community and labor leadership posts through her career, including as a vice president for the national American Federation of Teachers and the vice president of the Texas AFL-CIO, of which Texas AFT represents the largest membership bloc.

Martha Sauceda

Forever Learner

Martha Sauceda

Nominated by Nancy Vera, president of the Corpus Christi Federation of Teachers

“Education is your freedom.” 

That is the mantra Martha Sauceda lives by, and those words guide her work as a proud member and executive board member with the Corpus Christi Federation of Teachers. 

Born and raised in Beeville, Sauceda left after high school graduation to accept a job as a custodian at Naval Air Station Corpus Christi. Since then, she has earned an education degree and has taught for 23 years. Currently, Sauceda teaches fifth-grade math and science at Lorenzo de Zavala Special Emphasis Elementary School. 

Sauceda’s resume is quite diverse. For nine years, she was a master teacher for the Department of Defense’s STARBASE-Atlantis youth program, which offers free summer STEM academies to elementary school children in areas near most major naval bases. 

Sauceda has also worked as a faculty trainer for a group shelter for immigrant minors, teaching shelter faculty about undocumented minors’ rights and steps to citizenship. 

Sauceda holds a degree in interdisciplinary studies from Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, as well as several certificates in robotics, computer-aided design, 3D printing, and welding. 

When she’s not teaching, Sauceda enjoys spending time with her family, her German Shepherd, Vinny, and her Chihuahua, Lily. She also enjoys building Lego sets, geocaching, and traveling. 

Her life goals are to complete El Camino de Santiago and to visit the Holy Land.

Candis Houston

An Educator’s Advocate

Candis Houston

Nominated by Denetris Jones, vice president of Houston Educational Support Personnel

Candis Houston is a former educator, proud mother, and the president of Aldine AFT. 

With 17 years of classroom experience as a business teacher, Houston’s commitment to public education runs deep. As she so often says, it is both a privilege and a serious responsibility to teach the next generation of small business owners and community leaders in the Houston area. 

Houston was elected president of Aldine AFT in 2015 and has fought fiercely and diligently ever since for the rights and protections of school support personnel. 

“I know that Texas school employees — from teachers to bus drivers to food service workers and beyond — deserve our gratitude and our respect,” Houston says. “I happily give myself to this work — to my community.”

Houston has used her voice on members’ behalf at every level, including by forging strong relationships with district administrators. She’s even given educators’ voices a bigger platform by running for state office on a public education-focused platform. In 2022, she came within 219 votes of unseating the incumbent for House District 142 in the Democratic primary election. 

Houston is a proud graduate of Texas public schools, as well as a proud public school parent. She has a master’s degree in educational leadership from Prairie View A&M University, as well as a bachelor’s in accounting from the University of Texas at Tayler. Before that, she earned an associate’s degree in business from Tyler Junior College. 

As proud as she is of her professional accomplishments, Houston’s biggest prides are her two daughters. 

Rita Runnels

A Teacher From Childhood

Rita Runnels

Nominated by Nikki Cowart, president of Cy-Fair AFT

“Students, please take out your books, and pencils, as I call the roll!” 

That’s how Aretta “Rita” Carden Runnels summoned her four siblings to play “school” as a child, demonstrating that she has been a passionate educator her entire life.  

Runnels’ love for education began as a young girl; her mother was an elementary school teacher, and her father was a college administrator. As she grew, she witnessed the profound impact teachers could have in society, and she knew that she wanted to have that same impact.

Her passion for education has been inspired by a quote from Benjamin Franklin: “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” 

Runnels earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in business from Prairie View A&M University. After graduation, she started teaching high school business classes in Aldine ISD. During her time at Aldine, Runnels was popular among students, staff, parents, and the community, and she was instrumental in starting Aldine High School’s first pep squad team. In 1992, she became the school’s assistant principal.

In 2008, Runnels retired from teaching in Cy-Fair ISD. Because of her strong advocacy for students and commitment to education, she served and held leadership positions on numerous teacher and parent committees. After retirement, she began working with Cy-Fair AFT in 2011 and became a dedicated organizer for educators in the Cy-Fair community. Her biggest priority is making a difference within Cy-Fair ISD and Texas AFT Retiree Plus. 

Runnels is currently the chair of Texas AFT Retiree Plus, a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated, a lifetime member of Prairie View A&M University Alumni, and a volunteer at her grandchildren’s schools. Even in retirement, Runnels is a passionate educator, dedicated to seeking opportunities to advocate within her Cy-Fair and Texas communities.