Marietta Johnson and the Organic School

  • Joseph W. Newman


The founder of the school that historian Lawrence Cremin described as “easily the most child-centered of the early experimental schools”1 deserves a special place among the “founding mothers and others” discussed in this book. A member of the same generation as John Dewey and Jane Addams, Marietta Johnson caught the same spirit of social reform and put it to work at the School of Organic Education, which she established in 1907 in the Utopian community of Fairhope, Alabama. In the early twentieth century, as women emerged as leaders in educational reform across the United States, Johnson became one of the first to gain national, even international recognition.2


Educational Reform Experimental School Organic School Organic Education Conversion Experience 
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  1. 1.
    Lawrence A. Cremin, The Transformation of the School: Progressivism in American Education, 1876–1957 (New York: Vintage Books, 1964 [1961]), p. 152.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    For a history of the school from Johnson’s lifetime to the present, see Joseph W. Newman, “Experimental School, Experimental Community: The Marietta Johnson School of Organic Education in Fairhope, Alabama,” “Schools of Tomorrow,” Schools of Today: What Happened to Progressive Education, in Susan F. Semel and Alan R. Sadovnik, eds. (New York: Peter Lang, 1999), chap. 3.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Joyce Antler, “Feminism as Life Process: The Life and Career of Lucy Sprague Mitchell,” Feminist Studies 7 (Spring 1981): 134. See also idem, Lucy Sprague Mitchell: The Making of a Modern Woman (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1987).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Carol Gilligan, In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1982)Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Sources of biographical information on Johnson include Paul M. Gaston, Women of Fair Hope (Athens, Ga.: University of Georgia Press, 1984), chap. 2;Google Scholar
  6. Robert H. Beck “Marietta Johnson: Progressive Education and Christian Socialism,” Vitae Scholasticae 6 (Fall 1987): 115–159; and Johnson’s own semiautobiographical account, Thirty Years with an Idea (University, Ala.: University of Alabama Press, 1974). The Marietta Johnson Museum, 10 South School Street, Fairhope, Ala. 36532, has reissued Thirty Years with an Idea and Youth in a World of Men, Johnson’s other book (see note 69), as a combined volume titled Organic Education: Teaching without Failure (Montgomery, Ala.: Communication Graphics, 1996).Google Scholar
  7. 13.
    Nathan Oppenheim, The Development of the Child (New York: Macmillan, 1898), pp. 7–11.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 16.
    John Dewey, The School and Society (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1899).Google Scholar
  9. 17.
    C. Hanford Henderson, Education and the Larger Life (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1902).Google Scholar
  10. 27.
    Henry George, Progress and Poverty: An Inquiry into the Causes of Industrial Depressions, and of Increase of Want with Increase of Wealth (New York: W. J. Lovell, 1879).Google Scholar
  11. 30.
    Upton Sinclair, The Jungle (New York: Doubleday, 1906); idem, Autobiography (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1962), p. 162.Google Scholar
  12. 39.
    Gaston, Women of Fair Hope, pp. 78, 81,100–101 ; Margaret Mead, Backberry Winter: My Earlier Years (New York: Washington Square Press, 1972), pp. 68–69.Google Scholar
  13. 41.
    See, e.g., Charol Shakeshaft, Women in Educational Administration (Thousand Oaks, Calif: Corwin, 1989), andGoogle Scholar
  14. Jackie M. Blount, Destined to Rule the Schools: Women and the Superintendency, 1873–1995 (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1998). The museum has a large collection of videotaped interviews with students, teachers, parents, and others involved with the Organic School from its founding to the present. Dorothy Cain, who conducted most of the interviews, emphasized the close connection between school and community during our talk on 31 October, 1994.Google Scholar
  15. 50.
    John Dewey, Democracy in Education: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Education (New York: Macmillan, 1916); Gaston, Women of Fair Hope, p. 85.Google Scholar
  16. 52.
    Quoted in Mary Lois Adshead, “Marietta Johnson: Visionary,” Alabama Heritage 58 (Fall 2000): 31.Google Scholar
  17. 53.
    John Dewey and Evelyn Dewey, Schools of To-Morrow (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1915), Preface, p. 17; Gaston, Women of Fair Hope, p. 85.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Alan R. Sadovnik, Susan F. Semel 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • Joseph W. Newman

There are no affiliations available

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