Opportunities for Women: Early Childhood Education and the Development of Teaching as a Profession
|I am not a teacher but an awakener. -Robert Frost|
In the early 19th century in Germany, Friedrich Froebel developed the concept of kindergartens, where young children would have the opportunity to socialize with their peers, learn social skills, and explore their surroundings through active learning before entering the more structured world of formal education. This concept of early childhood education slowly spread to the United States and in 1855 the first kindergarten opened in the United States under the direction of Margarethe Schutz, who had studied under Froebel. Gradually this movement gained momentum and in 1873, the first publicly funded kindergarten opened in the US.
Froebel believed that women were best suited to teaching young children and as the demand for teachers grew, women began to enter the profession in ever increasing numbers. Many found that teaching was more prestigious and paid better than domestic or factory work. Increasingly, women began to assert themselves and many had a strong voice in directing educational policy.
The NEA (National Education Association) was founded in 1857. The goal of this organization was to influence the development of schools and education. For most of the 19th century, a white, male elite primarily consisting of college professors and administrators dominated the NEA. As more women entered teaching, they slowly began to gain a voice in the affairs of this organization. In 1901, Margaret Haley became the first woman to speak to the general assembly of the NEA. She was one of the first educators to encourage teachers to form labor organizations.Jennie Campbell Hare ca 1910 with her one room school in rural Iowa. Hare was a graduate of Drake Normal School.
In 1916 the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the first teachers' labor organization was founded. The AFT lobbied extensively to improve working conditions and increase the prestige of the teaching profession. Several women such as Ella Flagg Young, the first female superintendent and president of the NEA, Catherine Goggin and Margaret Haley played an important role in the development of the AFT.
Jane Addams (1860-1935) was an educator and social worker in Chicago. She was the daughter of a politician and traveled extensively during her early years. She was exposed to the foul living and working conditions endured by the poor and developed a deep compassion and need to help alleviate their circumstances. In 1889 she founded Hull House as a social center where people could meet and learn new skills if they so desired. By 1900 over 100 similar centers had been established in poor urban areas. In 1931 Jane Addams was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
As women began to dominate the teaching profession, the public's perceptions about teachers began to change. Teachers' salaries were lower than other professions requiring a commensurate education and the prestige of teaching as a profession also suffered. Though the majority of classroom teachers were women, men held most of the administrative positions, a situation that is only slowly beginning to change in the late 20th century.Think about It: