Elizabeth Palmer Peabody, the educator who opened the first English-language kindergarten in the United States, was born on May 16, 1804, in Billerica, Massachusetts. Long before most educators, Peabody embraced the premise that children’s play has intrinsic developmental and educational value.
Peabody was a teacher, writer, and prominent figure in the Transcendental movement, editing The Dial, the chief literary publication of the movement, for two years, beginning in 1841. From 1834-36, she worked as assistant teacher to Bronson Alcott at his experimental Temple School in Boston.
After the school closed, Peabody published Record of a School, outlining the plan of the school and Alcott’s philosophy of early childhood education, which had drawn on German models. When she opened her kindergarten in 1860—the first formally organized kindergarten in the United States, the concept of providing formal schooling for children younger than six was largely confined to German practice.
Through her own kindergarten, and as editor of the Kindergarten Messenger (1873-77), Peabody helped establish kindergarten as an accepted institution in U.S. education. She also wrote numerous books in support of the cause.
The extent of her influence is apparent in a statement submitted to Congress on February 12, 1897, in support of free kindergartens:
The advantage to the community in utilizing the age from 4 to 6 in training the hand and eye; in developing the habits of cleanliness, politeness, self-control, urbanity, industry; in training the mind to understand numbers and geometric forms, to invent combinations of figures and shapes, and to represent them with the pencil—these and other valuable lessons…will, I think, ultimately prevail in securing to us the establishment of this beneficent institution in all the city school systems of our country.
Hon. William Harris, Commissioner of Education, “Free Kindergartens,” circa 1897. African American Perspectives, 1818-1907
After Peabody, other educators, such as Wisconsin-born Mary Davison Bradford (1856-1943), pioneered local kindergarten programs. In her Memoirs, Mary Bradford recollects beginning her teaching career at age sixteen, dressed in a “brown and white striped calico dress” and armed with “the ability to put [her]self in the child’s place, and sense his point of view.”
Bradford started teaching in a small rural school in a district run jointly by Kenosha and Racine counties. Along the way to becoming Kenosha’s Superintendent of Schools, she instituted kindergartens, vocational training programs, breakfast programs for needy children, and a wide range of school reforms. Her memoirs, are part of the collection Pioneering the Upper Midwest, circa 1820-1910, chronicle the development of Wisconsin’s public school system.
- Search the collection The Nineteenth Century in Print: Books External on Elizabeth Peabody to retrieve the full text of Peabody’s books, Record of Mr. Alcott’s School, Exemplifying the Principles and Methods of Moral Culture (1835) and Guide to the Kindergarten and Intermediate Class(1877), published in one volume with Mary Mann’s Moral Culture of Infancy. Search the collection on education to retrieve many works expounding the educational theories and practices of the nineteenth century.
- Search on kindergarten in American Life Histories, 1936-1940 to explore Americans’ recollections of kindergarten days. After retrieving a list of hits, select any item and use the BEST MATCH link in the page header to jump to the segment of the piece pertaining to the subject of interest.
- The Library of Congress web site contains many photographs of kindergartens in the United States.
- At the same time that many school systems began to adopt formal kindergartens, many Americans living in rural regions continued to attend one-room schoolhouses. The Northern Great Plains, 1880-1920 External features several memorable photographs of these once commonplace schools; to find them, search the collection on school children.
- Search on school in the collection Buckaroos in Paradise, 1945-1982 for a variety of school images from Paradise Valley, Nevada.
- Music for the Nation consists of more than 47,000 musical compositions registered for copyright during the years 1870 to 1879. The collection is easy to search and includes among its many titles the “Kindergarten Waltz.”
- Read from some of the books that shaped the culture of religious instruction in America between 1815 and 1865. Search on a keyword such as advice in Sunday School Books: Shaping the Values of Youth in Nineteenth-Century America External to see items such as Little Verses for Good Children.
- Search Today in History on educator or teacher to find other features on such people as Alexander Graham Bell, Mary Church Terrell, Patrick Francis Healy, Bronson Alcott, Mary McLeod Bethune, and John Scopes.