Urban Reform and the Schools: Kindergartens in Massachusetts, 1870–1915

  • Marvin Lazerson


In the decades after the Civil War, no individual did more to popularize the kindergarten in America than Elizabeth Palmer Peabody. Her advocacy was an “apostolate,” kindergartening a religion, a “Gospel for children.” All children, Peabody and her associates believed, were self-centered. In their earliest years they discover their bodies, senses, and power to act. Without an agency external to the family in which socialization among peers and to society’s mores occurs, childhood would thus ultimately become self-destructive. It was here that the kindergarten became necessary, allowing the child “to take his place in the company of his equals, to learn his place in their companionship, and still later to learn wider social relations and their involved duties.” “A kindergarten, then,” Peabody wrote, “is children in society—a commonwealth or republic of children—whose laws are all part and parcel of the Higher Law alone.”1


Kindergarten Teacher Moral Culture School Report Kindergarten Class Kindergarten Education 
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  1. 1.
    Elizabeth Peabody, Lectures in the Training Schools for Kindergartners (Boston: D. C. Heath & Co., 1893), pp. 4, 22, 66–67, 88; The American Institute of Instruction, Proceedings and Addresses (Boston, 1871), p. 7; New England Journal of Education I (January 2, 1875), 1;Google Scholar
  2. Mary Mann, “The Home,” Kindergarten Magazine I (September 1888), 133–36 and (October 1888), 165–68;Google Scholar
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  4. On Elizabeth Peabody, see Ruth M. Baylor, Elizabeth Palmer Peabody: Kindergarten Pioneer (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1965).Google Scholar
  5. An early and still useful history of the kindergarten is Nina C. Vandewalker, The Kindergarten in American Education (New York: Macmillan Co., 1908).Google Scholar
  6. For more extensive documentation of the materials in this article, see Marvin Lazerson, “The Burden of Urban Education: Public Schools in Massachusetts, 1870–1915” (Ph.D. diss., Harvard University, 1969), ch. 2.Google Scholar
  7. 2.
    Peabody and Mann, Moral Culture, pp. 10–15; Peabody, Lectures, pp. 4–5; Angeline Brooks, “The Theory of Froebel’s Kindergarten System,” in The Kindergarten and the Schools, Anne Page et al. (Springfield: Milton Bradley Co., 1886), p. 47; Mrs. Elizabeth P. Bond, “The Kindergarten in the Mother’s Work,” National Education Association, Journal of Proceedings and Addresses (1885), p. 359.Google Scholar
  8. 5.
    Lucy Wheelock, “The Purpose of the Kindergarten,” Journal of Education (July 2, 1891), p. 36; Angeline Brooks, “Philosophy of the Kindergarten,” in The Kindergarten, Kate Douglas Wiggin, ed. (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1893), pp. 119–21, 131; Alice W. Rollins in ibid., p. 2; Peabody and Mann, Moral Culture, pp. 34–51; Nora A. Smith, The Children of the Future (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin & Co., 1898), pp. 67–100.Google Scholar
  9. 7.
    G. Stanley Hall, Aspects of Child Life and Education (New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1921), pp. vi, 11;Google Scholar
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  12. 9.
    Ibid., pp. 300–21; Strickland and Burgess, Hall, pp. 16–18, 53–58. For examples of the antiurban bias of kindergarten supporters, see Peabody, Lectures, pp. 1–23; Ellise B. Payne, “The Problem of the City Kindergarten,” NEA, Proceedings (1896), pp. 510–14; Edwin P. Seaver in Massachusetts Board of Education, Report of the Committee Appointed to Investigate the Existing System of Manual and Industrial Education (Boston: Massachusetts Board of Education, 1893), p. 29. Hall was later to break with the kindergartners over their overformalization of play.Google Scholar
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  14. 10.
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  15. 11.
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  17. 12.
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  18. 14.
    Laura Fisher, “The Kindergarten,” U.S. Bureau of Education, Annual Report of the Commissioner (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1904), p. 692; Kindergarten News III (January 1893), 5; Massachusetts Board of Education, Annual Report of the Board and Secretary, 1897–98 (Boston: Massachusetts Board of Education, 1898), p. 197 (hereafter cited as Annual Report);Google Scholar
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  20. 15.
    Diary of Nora Smith, January 6, 1893, Denison House Papers, folder 3, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe College; Pittsfield Sun in Kindergarten Review IV (October 1898), 118–21; Smith, Children of the Future, pp. 52–55; Vandewalker, Kindergarten, pp. 108–11. See also Allen F. Davis, Spearheads for Reform: The Social Settlements and the Progressive Movement, 1890–1914 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1965), pp. 43–45, andGoogle Scholar
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  22. 16.
    Pauline Shaw to “My Dear Children,” November 30, 1916, Women’s Rights Collection, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe College; The Journal of Education XIV (September 29, 1881), 205; Boston Evening Transcript, February 10, 1917 (copy in Schlesinger Library). For biographical information on Mrs. Shaw, see Pauline Agassiz Shaw: Tributes Paid Her Memory (Boston: privately printed, 1917).Google Scholar
  23. 18.
    Francis W. Parker, “The Kindergartens of Boston,” Kindergarten Magazine I (March 1889), 334–35; “Kindergartens: The Need of Their Establishment.” “Establishment and Support” [1874–1875?] (printed copy of letter in Harvard College Library).Google Scholar
  24. 19.
    Alice M. Guernsey, “Schools and Homes,” Journal of Education XVIII (July 12, 1883), 53; Parker, “The Kindergartens of Boston,” p. 335.Google Scholar
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  26. 20.
    Lucy Wheelock, “A Lily’s Mission,” Voice from the Old Bowrey and Five Points Mission Monthly, October 1, 1889, Lucy Wheelock Papers, Wheelock College; Laliah Pingree in Boston, Documents of the School Committee (1885) (Boston: City of Boston, 1886), no. 4, pp. 51–52 (hereafter cited as School Documents). Similar to the Wheelock story is Annie I. Willis, “A Midsummer Story: The Charity Kindergarten,” Journal of Education XXXVI (July 14, 1892), 55–57.Google Scholar
  27. 23.
    Cambridge, School Report (1889), pp. 28–30; ibid. (1900), p. 41; ibid. (1901), p. 50; Fall River, School Report (1912), p. 25; Amalie Hoffer, “Brookline Schools—Well-Equipped, Well-Developed, Well-Poised,” Kindergarten Magazine IX (December 1896), 282, 285, 288;Google Scholar
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  29. 24.
    Massachusetts Board of Education, Annual Report (1884–1885), pp. 90–91; ibid. (1894–1895), pp. 189, 191–92; Massachusetts, Documents of the House of Representatives (1909) (Boston: Massachusetts General Court, 1910), no. 577, no. 1462, no. 1538.Google Scholar
  30. 25.
    Massachusetts Board of Education, Annual Report (1890–1891), pp. 56–57; ibid. (1899–1900), p. 129; ibid. (1913–1914), p. 198. While Boston and Worcester contained over half (9,451 of 18,118) the public school kindergarten children in Massachusetts in 1912, their proportion of total day public school students was only about 25 percent. The United States Bureau of Education estimated that 1,500 children, seven to eight percent of the total enrollment, were registered in nonpublic school kindergartens-tuition charging, charity, and parochial—in 1912. While the figure is probably too low, compared to the 17–18 percent of all Massachusetts school children enrolled in nonpublic day school classes, it does suggest that when children went to kindergarten, they were more likely to do so under public auspices than at a later period in their school life. United States Bureau of Education, “Kindergarten in the United States,” Bulletin (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1914), no. 6, pp. 28–29, 66–67;Google Scholar
  31. Massachusetts Board of Education, Annual Report (1911–1912), pp. 57, 61, xlix.Google Scholar
  32. 27.
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  33. Boston Finance Commission, Report on the Boston School System (Boston: City of Boston, 1911), p. 167. Only Springfield’s kindergartens contained more kindergarten pupils per teacher than elementary pupils, while Lynn, the seventh city, had no official kindergarten classes. Whereas Boston averaged 43 elementary school pupils per teacher, it had only 26 for the kindergarten. Comparable figures in Lowell were 37 to 19, Cambridge 38 to 25, Worcester 34 to 22, and Fall River 33 to 22. Lawrence dropped its experimental kindergarten in 1898 due to financial pressures. (Lawrence, School Report [1898], pp. 15–16.) Kindergarten advocates recognized their difficulties and attempted to persuade the public that the educational benefits were either worth the costs or compromised their methods to cut costs. See Eastern Kindergarten Association, Does the Kindergarten Pay? (Boston, 1909) and Vandewalker, The Kindergarten, pp. 184–85.Google Scholar
  34. 28.
    Massachusetts Board of Education, Annual Report (1914–1915), pp. 48–49.Google Scholar
  35. 29.
    International Kindergarten Union, The Kindergarten (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin & Co., 1913), pp. 242, 295–301. This is an excellent summary of conflicting tendencies in the kindergarten movement just before World War I.Google Scholar
  36. 30.
    Massachusetts Board of Education, Annual Report (1914–1915), pp. 49–50.Google Scholar
  37. 36.
    Massachusetts Board of Education, Annual Report (1914–1915), pp. 49–50; Francis Parker quoted in Kindergarten Magazine (April 1889), p. 381; Boston, School Documents (1914), no. 11, pp. 39–41.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© John L. Rury 2005

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  • Marvin Lazerson

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