William Torrey Harris and the Kindergarten

by Lucy Wheelock, Litt. D. Wheelock School, Bosten

In: Internationale Zeitschrift für Erziehung, IV.Jg.(1935)S. 251 - 253

Three names are closely associated with the beginnings of the kindergarten in this country: Dr. Henry Barnard, Miss Elizabeth P. Peabody, and Dr. William T. Harris. Dr. Barnard gave us the first publications setting forth the claims of the "New Education"; Miss Peabody was a crusader, speaking wherever an audience could be gathered to listen to the gospel of Froebel; Dr. Harris was the first to make the kindergarten a part of a public school system.

Dr. Harris was recognized the world over as a philosopher and a leader in education and his endorsement of the kindergarten had a wide influence in securing its adoption in other communities. In 1870 Dr. Harris made his first recommendation to the School Board of St. Louis for the adoption of the kindergarten into the school system. In 1873 with the assistance of Miss Susan Blow the first kindergarten was opened.

Miss Blow was an ardent disciple of Dr. Harris and followed his school of philosophic thought. Both of these thinkers were won to the cause of Froebel by their sympathy with his idealistic philosophy. For seven years Miss Blow worked with Dr. Harris in establishing kindergartens in St. Louis and in training teachers who should understand the philosophy of Froebel and the fundamental principles of the system. Classes were held not only for the study of Froebel but for the enrichment and culture gained from the study of great literature. Courses were given by Dr. Harris and Miss Blow on Dante, Goethe, Shakespeare, and the Greek tragedies. Teachers were imbued with the philosophy of Kant, Hegel, and Schelling. The consecration and devotion of this early group of workers inspired others who came to see and to learn. St. Louis became a Mecca for teachers and the result was a highly selected group of women as the first exponents of Froebel in this country. So zealously did they guard the principles and practice of Froebel that they were sometimes called an esoteric circle and exlusive. Such devotion to the Froebellian practice was necessary in those days to preserve the underlying principles and ideals of the system. The emphasis on the cultural and the spiritual made these early exponents leaders in education and identified them with the progressive movement which we call today the New Education.

Cythia P. Dozier, first supervisor of the public kindergartens in St. Louis, says of Dr. Harris: "His philosophic bent was of great advantage to the kindergarten movement. He communicated his enthusiasm and drew many friends to the cause. He was a gifted diplomat, and never was diplomacy more valuable than in those initial years of the kindergarten in the public schools. There were times when the danger of defeat of the whole kindergarten idea was imminent and the work survived

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only because of the skill and prestige of the Superintendent." At this period Dr. Harris writes: "It is part of the system as an adjunct of the public schools to educate young women in those valuable matters pertaining to the early training of children. In have thought that the benefit derived by the 200 young women of the St. Louis kindergartens from the lectures of Miss Blow to be of sufficient value to compensate the city for the cost of the kindergartens. A nobler and more enlightened womanhood will result and the family will prove a better nurture for the child."

As Commissioner of Education, Dr. Harris was able to give the kindergarten a national outlook. In his report of 1897 and 1898 he states that 189 cities of a population of 8000 or more had established public kindergartens. This growth in the country could be traced to Dr. Harris' own influence in educational matters and his demonstration of the system in St. Louis.

The first kindergarten organization in this country was the American Froebel Union, incorporated in Boston in 1878 by Miss Peabody and a group of friends prominent in social, literary, and philanthropic circles of that city. In 1879 Dr. Harris addressed a meeting of the Union giving his views of the possibility and practicability of the adoption of the kindergarten in the schools of Amerika. This address is printed in full in Dr. Barnard's Kindergarten and Child Culture volume in 1880. He discusses the educational ideals of the disciples of Froebel. He says: "With them the theory of the kindergarten is the theory of the world of men and of nature. The moral regeneration of the race is the inspiring ideal which his followers aim to realize." He describes at length the kindergarten gifts and their corresponding occupations and endorses them as the best instrumentalities yet discovered for securing a maximum of self-activity. He describes as "arch heresy" the belief of those who see the child in the heaven which lies about him in his infancy, wherein he is "to develop unrestrainedly under the principle of "laissez faire" - "let him alone". This has a modern sound to those critics of the progressive schools who see freedom sometimes perverted into license.

In her Garden of Memory Kate Douglas Wiggin gives us a pleasing picture of Dr. Harris as the leader of the Concord School of Philosophy in the summer of 1879. The school was held in Orchard House, formerly the Alcott home and next to Hawthorne's Wayside home.

Mrs. Wiggin writes of the room with "four open windows through which willow and elm branches hung in the room; without there was a concert of bees and birds and crickets united in chirps and hum and song. There sat upon the platform the venerable Mr. Alcott, dean of the Faculty, Dr. William T. Harris, celebrated both in education and speculative philosophy, the Chinese professor of Harvard College, Mr. Sanborn, the energetic Secretary, and Mrs. Julia Ward Howe who was to lecture an Modern Society." Mrs. Wiggin often walked home with Mr. Alcott and Dr. Harris "whose kindly and helpful conversation served as a

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textbook to the often profound metaphysical lectures". She was converted to the idea of plain living and high thinking.

Many kindergartners recall Dr. Harris' lectures at conferences held in Cazenovia, New York, the summer home of Miss Blow. There was much discussion of the nature of the concept and of the value of the kindergarten programm in helping the child to evolve from his particular to his general self. This topic is treated fully by Dr. Harris in his chapter on the Psychology of Infancy in Psychologic Foundations of Education. He believes the gifts and occupations are not the "highest and best of Froebel's inventions. The peculiar Froebellian device is found in the plays and games. The child here in the plays and games in which all join (pupils and teachers) ascends from the world of nature to the world of humanity, from the world of things to the world of self-activity, from the material and earthly to the spiritual. In the plays and games he becomes conscious of his social self and there dawns the higher ideal of a self that is realized in institutions, over against the special self of the particular self is again emphasized in Dr. Harris's preface to Miss Blow's translation of the Mottoes and Commentaries of Froebel's Mother Play. In this preface Dr. Harris speaks of Froebel as a "master of the symbol, giving him a preternatural insight into educational values".

In the early days of the kindergarten we recall spirited discussions on this matter of symbolism between the followers of Dr. Harris an Dr. G. Stanley Hall who declared there was no symbolism in the child's mind. Symbolism was one of the topics of discussion at the kindergarten sessions held in connection with the Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. Three sessions were presided over by Dr. Harris and the large number of visitors at the Congress who listened to these programs widened appreciably the circle of those working for the establishment of kindergartens. Two other theories of Froebel made a strong appeal to Dr. Harris. His emphasis on the need of studying stages of growth and adapting educational agencies to different levels of development would be approved by psychologists today. "The doctrine of inner connection is Froebel's chief category", says Dr. Harris. This doctrine has three levels: 1st, inner connection between objects of nature, which is evolution; 2nd, inner connection between the faculties of the mind, which is mental development or education; 3rd, inner connection between subject and object, between mind and nature, which gives us our philosophy of education. The contribution of Dr. Harris to kindergarten literature in the interpretation of Froebel's educational philosophy is a permanent legacy to our profession. Materials and methods have changed. The old order must ever change; but we need to keep the inspiration of those who saw in the kindergarten "the leaven destined to leaven the whole lump. We need teachers with the missionary spirit to devote themselves to the work of unfolding the self-activity of humanity in its feeblest and most rudimentary stage of growth."