School & District Management

The 1900s

December 15, 1999 8 min read
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Jane Addams | Ellwood P. Cubberley | John Dewey | Cardinal Dennis Dougherty | Pierre Samuel Du Pont | W. E. B. DuBois | Father Flanagan | Margaret Haley | G. Stanley Hall |William Heard Kilpatrick | Clarence D. Kingsley | Robert S. and Helen Merrell Lynd | Endicott Peabody | Walter M. Pierce | John T. Scopes | Anne Sullivan | Edward L. Thorndike | Booker T.Washington | William A. Wirt | Ella Flagg Young

Ahead of Her Time:
Ella Flagg Young

When Ella Flagg Young took office as the elected superintendent of the Chicago schools in 1909, she confidently declared that “in the near future, we will have more women than men in executive charge of the vast educational system.”

But, in fact, for more than 60 years Young remained almost alone in her achievement, one of a very few women with enough political clout and experience to land the top job in a large district. Just as extraordinary, both as Chicago superintendent and as president of the National Education Association-the first woman to hold either post- Young promoted an ideal of teacher power and school democracy radically at odds with the views of many of her prominent colleagues.

Born in 1845, Young attended school for only a few years, though her working-class parents encouraged her independence of mind and spirit. At 17, after attending normal school, she took her first teaching job. Her pupils were the young men who herded cattle on the outskirts of Chicago. She married at 23, but became a widow soon after. Young eventually rose to become principal of the system’s largest high school before being named assistant superintendent in 1887.

At the age of 50, she took a seminar with the philosopher and educator John Dewey, who was then teaching at the University of Chicago. The two began a rich collaboration, with Young using her own experience to test Dewey’s ideas. After resigning from the school system in 1899 because she disagreed with the autocratic approach of the new superintendent, Young earned her doctorate under Dewey.

In 1905, she became the director of the Cook County Normal School, continuing her close association with teachers. Teachers and suffragists, using the vote women won for Illinois school elections in 1891, helped Young win the race for superintendent, and in 1910 she also became president of the male-dominated NEA.

Her tenure as superintendent was marked not only by reforms but also by battles with school board members. After seven turbulent years on the job, Young retired, remaining active in education and politics until her death in 1918.

—Bess Keller

John Dewey

Called the “most influential writer on education” and the “greatest philosopher” the United States has produced, his name is synonymous with the rise of progressive education. In The School and Society (1899), he sought to define the relationship between education and the development of an active, informed citizenry. Many more books would follow, and his immense body of writing is still studied-and fiercely debated.

Margaret Haley
As a Chicago union organizer, she battled a factory model of schooling that she feared would turn teachers into assembly-line workers. In 1901, as the first woman to speak from the floor of a National Education Association convention, Haley declared that teachers were grossly underpaid and overworked. Nea President William T. Harris discounted her views as the ravings of a “worn-out, tired, and hysterical” grade school teacher.

G. Stanley Hall
In two books, Adolescence (1904) and Educational Problems (1911), he popularized the notion of adolescents as a distinct group and laid out implications of their development in education.

Booker T. Washington
Through hard work, industry, and practical skills, Washington believed, African- Americans would lift themselves out of poverty and into the middle class. The program of occupational training, paid work, and academics he launched at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama in the late 1800s and early 1900s enabled more than half the students to pay their expenses while remaining in school.

W. E. B. DuBois
While Washington stressed occupational training, DuBois believed a highly educated “Talented Tenth” would lead black Americans to full participation in society. “The Negro race, like all races, is going to be saved by its exceptional men,” he argued in a 1903 essay. DuBois advanced the pursuit of higher education and broader intellectual skills among African-Americans.

Endicott Peabody
The founding rector of Groton, who during his 56-year tenure turned the Massachusetts institution into one of the country’s premier private residential high schools. His vision of a total educational environment in which boys and their teachers lived and learned together-while focused on the goal of moral development-helped set the tone of the modern boarding school movement.

Jane Addams
In the 1890s and early 1900s, Chicago’s Hull House became the most famous of the “settlement houses” for immigrant families, and its founder an international advocate for women, children, and the working poor. Addams’ expansive view of their educational and social needs was reflected in Hull House’s free kindergarten and day nursery, playground and health services, art exhibitions, college- extension courses, summer school, and classes in cooking and sewing. “A settlement soon discovers that simple people are interested in large and vital subjects,” she wrote in her 1910 book, Twenty Years at Hull-House.

Edward L. Thorndike

He pioneered many of the first standardized achievement tests in specific subjects and worked with Lewis M. Terman and others to devise the hugely influential Army intelligence tests used during World War I and after. The Teachers College scholar, in a departure from Dewey, developed a style of education research rooted in universities, not schools.

Ellwood P. Cubberley
A founding father of school administration as a profession distinct from teaching and one imbued with a faith in scientific management. As a professor and dean at Stanford University from 1898 to 1933, he trained two generations of administrators and put his stamp on the way schools were run nationwide.

Cardinal Dennis Dougherty
Archbishop of Philadelphia from 1918 to 1951, who as “God’s Bricklayer” exemplified the heyday of the Roman Catholic commitment to a separate school system. Under his prodding, the number of parochial grade schools in the archdiocese jumped from 174 to 305, and nine diocesan and 22 parish high schools opened.

Walter M. Pierce
Democrat elected governor of Oregon in 1922 on a platform that included support for a Ku Klux Klan-backed ballot measure requiring children to attend public schools. The measure passed but backfired. The result has been called the Magna Carta of private education: the 1925 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Pierce v. Society of Sisters, affirming the right to private schooling.

Father Flanagan

Edward Joseph Flanagan founded Boys Town, a Nebraska refuge dedicated to the education and training of delinquent and homeless boys, in 1917 with a $90 loan. Under the Catholic priest’s direction, Boys Town grew into a community with its own boy-mayor, schools, chapel, post office, cottages, gymnasium, and other facilities. Made famous by the 1938 movie starring Spencer Tracy, the town continues today-now with satellite campuses around the country. It began admitting girls in 1979.

Clarence D. Kingsley
This Massachusetts educator chaired a National Education Association panel whose 1918 report shaped secondary education for decades to come. Marking a shift from academic to nonacademic goals in schooling, it laid out seven basic teaching objectives: health, command of fundamental processes, worthy home- membership, vocation, citizenship, worthy use of leisure, and ethical character.

William A. Wirt
Creator of the “Gary Plan,” named for the Indiana district he served as superintendent from 1907 to 1938. Marked by its “platoon system” for shepherding youngsters through a daily regimen of work, study, and play, the plan was in at least partial use in some 200 districts by the late 1920s.

William Heard Kilpatrick

One of the most popular teachers in the history of Teachers College, Kilpatrick was a self-described “interpreter” of Dewey. In a widely read 1918 article, Kilpatrick urged schools to abandon passive instruction and engage children in “wholehearted purposeful activity” in a social environment-an approach he called the “Project Method.”

Pierre Samuel Du Pont
American industrialist and a leader in the first big era of business involvement in education. Beginning in 1918, he worked to improve Delaware’s schools through philanthropy, public awareness, and legislative action. For years, he personally financed virtually the entire school system for blacks in that segregated state.

Robert S. and Helen Merrell Lynd
Husband-and-wife sociology team who peeled back the skin of Muncie, Ind., and laid bare its anatomy in their 1929 book, Middletown. The pioneering work also offered a window into attitudes about education, as the Lynds described a community that took great pride in its schools, but cared little about the life of the mind.

John T. Scopes
Twenty-four-year-old Tennessee science teacher at the center of the celebrated 1925 “Monkey Trial,” which riveted national attention on issues of academic freedom, evolution, and deeply held religious beliefs-conflicts that continue today.

Anne Sullivan

The remarkable story of this nearly blind teacher and her pupil, Helen Keller, showed the world that even a profoundly “handicapped” child could learn. Keller’s 1903 autobiography told how, beginning in 1887, the 20-year- old Sullivan taught the blind and deaf 6-year-old to communicate using an alphabet based on signals pressed into the palm of her hand. Keller and her teacher traveled the world, speaking out for people with disabilities. “The Miracle Worker,” a 1959 play, dramatized Sullivan’s success with her young student.

A version of this article appeared in the December 15, 1999 edition of Education Week as The 1900s


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