Ella Flagg Young and the Chicago Schools

  • Jackie M. Blount


Ella Flagg Young stands as a towering figure in the history of American public schooling. She caught the national eye in 1909 when the contentious Chicago School Board selected her to be superintendent, making her the first women to hold such a position in a large urban school system. She also became the most powerful and best-paid woman executive in the country. A year later, newly enfranchised women teachers elected her president of the National Education Association (NEA), a change that shocked the established power structure of the organization and created permanent meaningful places at the table for women members. Earlier in her career, Young joined the faculty of the newly established University of Chicago, quickly becoming an influential professor who was widely sought by students, many of whom also taught in Chicago schools. At the University of Chicago she worked alongside John Dewey, earning his deepest respect and helping him clarify some of his most enduring ideas about democracy in education. Young provided long-standing leadership to the schools of the entire state by serving on the Illinois State Board of Education for around 20 years before becoming its president in 1910. She maintained an active scholarly agenda in her later years. She edited a series of monographs for the University of Chicago Press and also edited two important educational journals, The Elementary School Teacher and The Educational Bi-Monthly, each of which stimulated rich discussion among teachers and scholars alike. As principal of the Chicago Normal School, she pioneered a number of rigorous, socially progressive, and intellectually demanding methods for preparing teachers to work in nearby schools. In addition to these strenuous activities, she also assumed substantial leadership in a variety of social, political, and professional organizations throughout her adulthood. Taken together, Young’s contributions to public schooling are remarkable, both for their broad extent and their depth.


School Board Normal School ELementary SchooL Teacher Chicago School National Education Association 
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Copyright information

© Alan R. Sadovnik, Susan F. Semel 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jackie M. Blount

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