A "Garden of Children"
Another women-led movement was the introduction of kindergarten to the United States. The idea of kindergarten originated with German philosopher Friedrich Froebel (1782-1852), but women played a crucial role in interpreting his philosophies and establishing American kindergartens. The Louisville Free Kindergarten Association was one organization that pushed to incorporate early childhood education into the public school system, rallying hundreds of women behind a common cause. Young educators such as Louisville’s Anna Bryan (1858-1901) and Patty Smith Hill (1868-1901) spearheaded the movement by mobilizing resources and challenging norms. In addition to having some of the country’s first successful kindergartens, Louisville became a showplace for new methods of progressive education that tailored Froebel’s vision to fit the needs of contemporary students.
Though these pioneering kindergarten teachers and other women involved in the movement may not have identified as feminists, their work contributed to a larger movement for women’s rights. Through this work, women (albeit mostly white and somewhat affluent women) were gaining access to post-secondary education, professional opportunity, and social and political influence.
Louisville Free Kindergarten Association
A group of women founded Louisville Free Kindergarten Association (LFKA) in 1887 with hopes to reduce crime, boost the economy, and provide moral reform. They opened a school for young women training to be kindergarten teachers, operated their own kindergartens, and lobbied local and state governments to incorporate kindergarten into public schools. By 1905, LFKA served over 10,000 students. In 1911, the LFKA disbanded when training kindergarteners became a department of the Louisville Normal School and kindergartens were incorporated into the public school system.
Patty Smith Hill
Patty Smith Hill, together with fellow educator Anna Bryan (1858-1901), worked in Louisville to modernize the traditionalist kindergarten system and bring Friedrich Froebel’s vision to American kindergarteners. Between 1890 and 1905, over 3,000 visitors from across the country came to Louisville to learn about their methods and subjects of teaching. In 1893, Hill was named the Director of the LFKA, a role in which she further developed the Teachers College and successfully advocated for the incorporation of kindergartens into the Louisville Public School System. In 1905, Hill was appointed to the faculty of Columbia University Teachers College, where she taught for over 30 years. Hill published dozens of articles, wrote children’s books, and invented “Patty Hill blocks” that are still used in kindergartens today.