Elsie Ripley Clapp and the Arthurdale Schools

  • Sam Stack


Written in Kentucky during the darkest days of the depression, Elsie Ripley Clapp described her pedagogy and her democratic conception of the community school. Deeply influenced by her association with and reading of John Dewey, Clapp believed that the depression only worsened the loss of community in American society and that the school could serve as a means to restore community life. In our own era, where discussion of community abounds, Clapp’s work in progressive education provides insight into linking the school and community in preparing children for active participation in a democratic society. Her work presents a challenge to those who see education as merely the imparting of information and learning defined as a point in time, easily assessed by pencil and paper tests. Learning for Clapp was both an individual and a social process, grounded in human experience—the foundation of community and democracy as ethical association. Yet, her work also brings attention to the progressive paradox—the contradiction between democratic theory and actual school practice. As a biographer, my goal is to tell her story in the context of her historical time frame and life experiences. Through studying Elsie Clapp, a teacher and administrator, contemporary educators can gain a clearer understanding of the difficulties women leaders faced. Through this study of Elsie Clapp and other leaders in progressive schools, a renewed dialog about the purpose of American education in a democratic society will ensue with the goal of improving practice.2


Teacher College Community School Nursery School Democratic Theory English Department 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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  1. 1.
    Elsie Ripley Clapp, “A Rural School in Kentucky,” Progressive Education 10 (March 1933): 128.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    See Ronald Cohen and Raymond Mohl, The Paradox of Progressive Education: The Gary Plan and Urban Schooling (Port Washington, N.Y.: Kennidat, 1979), andGoogle Scholar
  3. David B. Tyack, The One Best System: A History of American Urban Education (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1974), pp. 130–132. These works attempt to articulate the paradox between democratic theory and practice.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Elsie Ripley Clapp, Community Schools in Action (New York: Viking, 1939); and The Use of Resources in Education (New York: Harper and Row, 1952). Although Clapp lived until 1964 these projects were considered by her to be her best work and the culmination of a productive career as an educator.Google Scholar
  5. 2.3
    See Lawrence Cremin, The Transformation of the School: Progressivism in American Education 1876–1957 (New York: Vintage, 1964), pp. 204–205. The City and Country School is also discussed inGoogle Scholar
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    Elsie Ripley Clapp, “Social Education in a Public School,” Childhood Education 9 (October, 1932): 24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Ibid., p. 12. See also John Dewey, “My Pedagogic Creed,” in The Early Works 1882–1898: Early Essays, vol. 5 (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University, 1975), pp. 86–96.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., p. 25. Clapp studied with William Zorach (1887–1966) and seems years ahead of Dewey in understanding “art as experience” and its communicative capacity. See William Zorach, Art Is My Life: The Autobiography of William Zorach (Cleveland: World Publishing, 1967).Google Scholar
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    See John Dewey, Art as Experience (New York: Perigee, 1934).Google Scholar
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    John Dewey, “Creative Democracy—The Task Before Us,” in The Essential Dewey: Volume I. Pragmatism, Education, Democracy, eds. by Larry Hickman and Thomas Alexander (Bloomington: University of Indiana, 1998), pp. 340–344.Google Scholar

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© Alan R. Sadovnik, Susan F. Semel 2002

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  • Sam Stack

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