Young, Ella Flagg (1845–1918)
Young, Ella Flagg (1845–1918)
American educator and theorist who was the first female superintendent of a major school district and the first female president of the National Education Association. Name variations: Ella Flagg. Born Ella Flagg on January 16, 1845, in Buffalo, New York; died from pneumonia (complication of influenza) on October 26, 1918, in Washington, D.C.; daughter of Theodore Flagg (a skilled metal worker) and Jane (Reed) Flagg; had no formal education until age 11; graduated from the Chicago Normal School (teacher training program), 1862; University of Chicago, undergraduate course work, 1895–99, Ph.D., 1900; married William Young (a merchant), in 1868 (died 1873); no children.
Family moved to Chicago (1858); held first teaching position in primary grade (1862); promoted to head assistant in grammar school (1863); at age 20, named principal of the new School of Practice (teacher training); taught in high school (1871); taught mathematics and was assistant to the principal at the Normal School (1872); was promoted to two consecutive principalships; promoted to district superintendent (1887); presented first paper at National Education Association convention (1887); served on the State Board of Education (1889–1909); started taking John Dewey's seminars at the University of Chicago (1895); was associate professorial lecturer of pedagogy at the University of Chicago (1899–1900); promoted to professor of education (1900–04); published Contributions to Education series with John Dewey (1901–02); traveled in Europe, studying educational systems and theories (1904–05); named principal at the Chicago Normal School (1905); named superintendent of the Chicago School System (1909); elected president of the National Education Association (1910); awarded honorary doctor of law degree from University of Illinois (1910); resigned as superintendent, then reinstated (1913); retired (1915) and moved to California; asked by U.S. secretary of the Treasury to assist effort to sell war bonds during World War I with the Women's Liberty Loan Committee (1917); caught influenza while traveling for the war effort and died of pneumonia in Washington, D.C. (1918).
Isolation in the School, Volume I—Contributions to Education (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1901); Ethics in the School, Volume II—Contributions to Education (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1902); "President's Address—Hypothesis in Education," and "The Present Status of Education in America—A. In the Elementary Schools," in 1911 Addresses and Proceedings of the National Education Association (Winona, MN: National Education Association Secretary's Office, 1911); "Industrial Training," in 1915 Addresses and Proceedings of the National Education Association (Ann Arbor, MI: National Education Association Secretary's Office, 1915); "The Secular Free Schools," in 1916 Addresses and Proceedings of the National Education Association (Ann Arbor, MI: National Education Association Secretary's Office, 1916); "American Education and the Inner Life," in 1917 Addresses and Proceedings of the National Education Association (Washington, DC: National Education Association Secretary's Office, 1917).
By 1899, Ella Flagg Young was a district superintendent for the Chicago School District. Though she had enjoyed a high degree of success and was respected in her field, she was unhappy in her position. Wrote Helen Christine Bennett : "At the end of this time she took her first decisive step toward independence in educational methods. Very abruptly she resigned her superintendency, stating that under existing conditions district superintendents were mere figureheads without authority or opportunity for real educational work. Her resignation caused a mild flutter in educational circles." The action typified Young. Committed to maintaining her standards in the face of obstacles, she was devoted to the students in her care and fought tirelessly to improve schools. She inspired, encouraged, and cajoled teachers to aim higher, use modern methods, and monitor their students' progress. In return, she involved them in decisions about educational policy and practice. She also fought to increase their pay, elevate their professional standing, and ensure their right to organize as a labor group.
Young studied throughout her life, about a vast range of subjects, and she excelled at integrating new information and constructing practical solutions to problems. She believed that the nation's schools served as the most effective tool for integrating all races and classes into society, to ensure an effective democracy. She believed that women were men's equals and should be treated as such, paid commensurately, and required to meet the same standards. This small, physically unassuming woman was a powerhouse, embracing—and helping to create—the most progressive views of her time in a nation that had just granted women the right to vote and a city that soon gained a reputation for its political complexity.
Much was made of Ella Flagg Young's becoming the first female superintendent of a major city school district as well as the first female president of the National Education Association (NEA). Yet those were only the most publicized events in her extremely successful, 50-year career in the schools of Chicago. She had been a primary school teacher, a math teacher, and a teacher of teachers; she had been a principal of grammar schools and teacher training schools and a school system superintendent. She had taught undergraduate and graduate students for four years at the University of Chicago. Her extensive resumé mirrored her phenomenal range of knowledge, areas of interest, and specific educational objectives. Her accomplishments were the product of her power to envision her goals, to correctly evaluate the aspects of a given situation, to translate that vision into a practical program, and to inspire others to participate in, contribute to, and follow those goals.
During Young's career, writes John T. McManis, education was being made available to children from all backgrounds. The concept of the educated elite was tossed out, and schools were challenged to meet the needs of an extremely varied group. Child labor was a critical issue; the new sciences of child development and psychology were coming into play; schools were taking on responsibilities formerly handled by parents; and schools were, for the first time, starting to take on the responsibility of children with special needs. Teaching was developing into a profession with standards, whose members required training and whose methods were being challenged and revamped. The administration of
schools was a huge challenge. First, there were strong political forces working on the schools; due to the control of politically based school boards, even the most unimportant educational or administrative policy decision was vulnerable to the pull of special interest groups, from textbook decisions to the hiring and firing of teachers. Second, administrators were dealing with curriculum reconstruction, tremendous growth, the immigrant influx, new demands for teacher training, a huge drop-out rate after third or sixth grade, and numerous other problems. Much of what is now commonplace in education was then a national source of concern, conflict and debate. Classifying children into grades, vast overcrowding in the classrooms, the lack of textbooks in classrooms, no school libraries, the role of the school in vocational training, and the use of rote memorization and drill as the primary teaching methods were just some of the issues facing administrators and teachers. Ella Flagg Young clearly rose to the challenge.
No one can work in another's harness.
—Ella Flagg Young
She was born Ella Flagg in 1845 in Buffalo, New York, the daughter of Theodore Flagg, a skilled metal worker, and Jane Reed Flagg . The combination of strong parental influence and an unusual educational experience was a major factor in her development. Young did not enter school until age 11, never graduated from high school, and never went through four years of college to earn her undergraduate degree. Her parents set high standards, however, and were excellent role models. Of Scottish descent, both were practical and accomplished. They fostered democratic, tolerant attitudes in their children, as well as a sense of humor. Theodore Flagg, though self-taught, was intellectually curious, highly motivated and well educated. Ella spent a great deal of time watching him work at the forge. "I got an early training in handiwork and industrial processes," she said. "I had manual training before such things were thought of, especially for girls." Writes McManis, "When she was district superintendent in Chicago, she was offered the management of a large manufacturing plant because, as the owners said, 'she knew more about its affairs than anyone else.'"
Due to Ella's frailty, the Youngs kept her out of school and encouraged activities in the fresh air. Ella taught herself to read around the age of eight and entered school three years later. After her family moved to Chicago in 1858, she was informed by the Chicago School District that she would have to repeat a grade, so she dropped out and studied at home. At age 15, she took the teacher's exam and passed, but was encouraged by the school superintendent to attend the Normal School. She graduated in 1862, and that autumn started teaching a primary grade; she also volunteered to teach a class of boys who had been labeled difficult. A year later, Young was promoted to the position of head assistant at another school, and the following year she was named the first principal of the new School of Practice at the Normal School. Notes Bennett: "The remarkable appointment of a girl of twenty as head of a school intended as a model for study on the part of teachers in training indicates the unusual teaching ability which Mrs. Young possesses." Young went on to hold positions as a high school teacher, mathematics teacher, principal of two schools, and then was promoted to district superintendent in 1887. When she was awarded a principalship, Young insisted on taking the principalship exam, which women were not required to take. She passed and the incident prompted the district to change the requirement to include women along with men.
But as Young experienced enormous professional success, she was enduring personal loss. Her mother died just two weeks after she began teaching in 1862. In 1868, her brother died. That same year, she married William Young, an old family friend, but William was not healthy and had to move to a better climate. Five years later, in 1873, her husband, father, and sister died. "From now on, the children of Chicago will be my adopted family," said Young.
Early on, Young was an astute observer of teaching techniques and their effectiveness for motivating and managing children. She strongly opposed the use of corporal punishment and rote memory, and strove to make education pertinent to students. Notes Joan Smith:
She gave her teachers extensive flexibility to devise their own approaches and methods in conducting their classes. She was fond of saying, "No one can work in another's harness." On the other hand she accepted no excuses for poor teaching; she expected her staff to excel in their work. One measure of effectiveness was whether or not the students stayed in school. Ella made her teachers feel responsible for reaching the students so that they would not drop out.
As with any strong authority with uncompromising standards, Young had her critics. Wrote Smith:
Ella Young worked hard at reforming conditions, but rapid enrollment growth, coupled with the lack of teacher training, made it difficult. She developed a reputation as being cold, hard, severe, without sympathy, and even mannish among the less industrious and competent teachers and principals whom she encountered. She did not mince words when she found unsatisfactory work. At the same time she searched for good teaching, never failing to commend and praise it.
Overwhelmingly, however, reports cite her inspired leadership, her ability to induce firstrate efforts and a high degree of loyalty from those around her, and her dedication to and love of children.
Young's resignation from the position of district superintendent was a pivotal point in her career. She had worked within the Chicago School System for over 35 years, had enormous experience, and held strong views on what worked and what didn't. She used this knowledge when she began to collaborate with the philosopher John Dewey. Young had been taking Dewey's seminars at the University of Chicago for several years, as she worked on an advanced degree. Then the president of the University of Chicago recruited Young for the position of associate professorial lecturer of pedagogy. From 1899 to 1904, she and Dewey, head of the School of Philosophy and Education, became unique, productive partners. Dewey's philosophical framework and Young's practical experience merged, along with the work of others at the university, to form the basis of the Chicago School of Thought, which contributed to the progressive movement in education. With Dewey's wife Alice Chapman Dewey , Young ran the Laboratory School which served as the proving ground for their theories. She also taught undergraduate classes and worked towards her doctoral degree. John McManis was a student of hers:
Her stimulating power came from her democratic respect and faith in each person in her work, or, as someone else has put it, in her power to make each one believe in himself. Each felt called upon to do his best and felt his power to do the subject justice. All this did not come from an exhortation to her class, but from her power to present the subject in a way that compelled the student to lose himself in it as it opened up under the leadership of an active mind and spirit.
Upon receiving her degree, Young was promoted to professor of education. She continued with her Laboratory School responsibilities and taught a wide range of graduate and undergraduate classes. In 1902, Dewey and Young published Contributions to Education, a series of six monographs. Young wrote three of them: "Isolation in the School," "Ethics in the School" and "Some Types of Modern Educational Theory." The series, which was critically acclaimed, presented a significant portion of the theories of the Chicago School of Thought. Many of the beliefs and educational ideas presented in the monographs, as well as in other writings of Young's, are as pertinent and applicable today as they were at the turn of the 20th century. Young felt that emotions in children should be recognized, not suppressed. To develop healthy self-concepts in children, parents and teachers should focus on their behaviors and not condemn the children themselves. Children have a right to a useful education (i.e. vocational training as well as academic training) that will prepare them for their lives. In the area of behavior management, Young felt strongly that corporal punishment and the use of negative teaching techniques, such as sarcasm, inappropriate group punishment for an individual's infraction, the fostering of rivalry within a group, or negative comparison of individuals to others, were all counterproductive. In the arena of educational theory, Young believed that education can achieve the development of each individual to his or her best possible potential while preparing that individual to be a contributing member of society; that educators must ground their methods in up-to-date child development, cognitive development and psychological research and findings; that life and society are ever changing, and schools and educational theory need to be dynamic in response to them; that flexibility and open-mindedness are critical factors for teachers because not all children fall within the normal range; that freedom is necessary for the development of each child's potential as well as each teacher's; that isolation of individuals as well as isolation between groups impedes development and progress.
Due to administrative conflict, Dewey resigned in 1904. Young's resignation followed. Said Dewey:
Apart from the suggestions, which were so numerous that I couldn't name them, what I chiefly got from Mrs. Young was just the translation of philosophic conceptions into their empirical equivalents. More times than I could well say I didn't see the meaning or force of some favorite conception of my own till Mrs. Young had given it back to me.
Young studied abroad for a year and then returned to Chicago, taking over the principalship of the Normal School. One year later, she was elected by the School Board to the position of superintendent of Chicago's schools. The controversy over Young's appointment is well documented. Played out within the especially rabid political climate of Chicago and its school system, her appointment and much of her tenure were controversial and conflict ridden. However, the strength and sophistication of her beliefs, coupled with her administrative skills and leadership, meant that much was accomplished during that time. In 1913, she resigned due to conflicts, but was reinstated because of the public furor over the resignation. Because of continued friction, she retired in 1915.
From 1910 to 1911, Young had served as president of the National Education Association, the result of a conscious effort by a group within the NEA to elect a woman president. The male power-base conspired throughout Young's presidential year to undermine and immobilize her, and their efforts were partially successful. However, Young managed to assist the organization in becoming somewhat more democratic. She stayed active in the association even after her retirement.
Though Young moved to California, she continued some work in the field of education. During World War I, she was asked by the secretary of the U.S. Treasury to assist in selling war bonds. While traveling for this effort, she came down with influenza during the devastating pandemic of 1918–19, which developed into pneumonia. She died in Washington, D.C., in October 1918, and was buried in Chicago.
Young was an accomplished integrator—integrating the most complex educational theories into the small, practical, day-to-day details of school experience, integrating society's needs into her educational methods and philosophies, taking what made sense from the various sciences of her time and incorporating it into her own experience, knowledge and theories. She took the best of what she knew and made incalculable contributions to education in the United States.
Bardeen, C.W. "Necrology," in 1918 Addresses and Proceedings of the National Education Association. Washington, DC: National Education Association Secretary's Office, 1918.
Bennett, Helen Christine. American Women In Civic Work. NY: Dodd, Mead, 1915.
Blumenfeld, Samuel L. NEA: Trojan Horse in American Education. Boise, ID: Paradigm, 1984.
Cremin, Lawrence A. The Transformation of the School. NY: Vintage, 1961.
Counts, George S. School and Society in Chicago. NY: Harcourt, Brace, 1928.
Dewey, John. The Child and the Curriculum. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1902.
Dorsey, Susan M. "Fifty Years of a Great Educator," in 1927 Addresses and Proceedings of the National Education Association. Washington, DC: The National Education Association, 1927.
"Ella Flagg Young," in Encyclopedia Americana. Danbury, CT: Grolier, 1993.
Fleming, Alice. Great Women Teachers. Philadelphia, PA: J.P. Lippincott, 1965.
Herrick, Mary J. The Chicago Schools—A Social and Political History. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage, 1971.
James, Edward T., ed. Notable American Women, 1607–1950. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1971.
Lavigne, Lorraine M. "History of the Ella Flagg Young Club," in Chicago Principals Club Reporter. Chicago, IL: Chicago Principals Club, 1967.
Malone, Dumas, ed. "Ella Flagg Young," in Dictionary of American Biography. NY: Scribner, 1936.
McManis, John T. Ella Flagg Young And a Half-Century of the Chicago Public Schools. Chicago, IL: A.C. McClurg, 1902 (Microfilm, New Haven, CT: Research Publications, History of Women, Reel 907, no. 7555, 1976).
Pickard, Josiah L. "Introduction of President Young," in 1911 Addresses and Proceedings of the National Education Association. Winona, MN: National Education Association Secretary's Office, 1911.
Schilpp, Paul Arthur, ed. The Philosophy of John Dewey. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University, 1939.
Smith, Joan K. Ella Flagg Young—Portrait of a Leader. Ames, IA: Educational Studies Press and the Iowa State University Research Foundation, 1979.
Wesley, Edgar B. NEA: The First Hundred Years. NY: Harper & Bros., 1957.
Annual Reports of the Board of Education, Public Schools of the City of Chicago, 1910–1915.
National Education Association. Journals of Addresses and Proceedings, 1887–1917.
Susan Works McCarter , M.Ed., freelance writer, Wayne, Pennsylvania
Young, Ella Flagg (1845–1918)
YOUNG, ELLA FLAGG (1845–1918)
Superintendent of the Chicago schools from 1909 through 1915 and elected president of the National Education Association (NEA) in 1910, Ella Flagg Young attempted widespread reform in an increasingly industrialized and diverse America. During her teens, Young enrolled in a normal school in Chicago, and after graduation began teaching, receiving a series of rapid promotions eventually leading to her appointment as assistant superintendent. During her fifties, she completed her doctoral studies in the newly created education program at the University of Chicago where she wrote her dissertation under philosopher and educator John Dewey's direction and later served as a popular faculty member. When the Chicago school board could not agree on a new superintendent in 1909, they chose Young, an experienced insider, making her the first woman superintendent of a large-city school system in the country. A year later, the membership of the NEA elected her as its first woman president. Eventually Young resigned as superintendent in 1915 after a tumultuous relationship with several board members. She died in 1918 during the great influenza pandemic.
During her long and distinguished career, Young led the Chicago schools through a period of dramatic change in which industrialization rapidly dominated the economy and diverse new populations arrived. She responded to these and many other challenges by instituting a range of reforms. To ensure the quality and welfare of the system's teachers, she created school governing bodies in which all teachers and administrators discussed curriculum and logistical matters, insisting that work time be reserved for this purpose. She encouraged the formation of study groups where educators considered educational theory, and designed screening programs for students entering the city normal school. She decentralized many administrative functions, delegating greater authority to school-level, rather than central office, staff. She endeavored to change the principalship from a position of rigid accounting and paperwork to one requiring a deep knowledge of curriculum and pedagogy. She added deans to schools to help counsel students. With her leadership, the Chicago schools also added sex hygiene programs, among the first to be offered in schools anywhere.
Beyond her administrative service, Young published works on a variety of topics including peace, literature, manual training, and ethics. Perhaps her most enduring work is Isolation in the Schools (1900), where she analyzed the relationships between schools and an industrial society, and suggested that a rigidly compartmentalized educational system alienated students who then failed to find their studies personally meaningful. Essentially, she contended that schools had adopted the mechanization of industry and that the rigid differentiation of work functions robbed people of their humanity and intelligence. In schools, this differentiation appeared in such forms as schools and classes divided by student age, and also as clock-driven courses with artificially neat content divisions. She argued that both students and teachers found their capacity for independent thought diminished by a system that made little provision for it. She claimed that much as a new class of supervisors had emerged in industry to drive the increasingly hierarchical structure, new classes of administrators had arrived in schools. These administrators, she explained, were determined to make all school-related decisions of substance for those positioned below them. This reduced students and teachers to mere operatives in a larger mechanical system. She explained that an inherent problem with this system was its lack of reciprocity–that school administrators were unwilling to endure the same demands for uniformity and obedience as students and teachers. Compounding matters, she argued, administrators higher in the hierarchy became more insulated from the primary work of schools, and as such they understood less about it. This effectively isolated them and kept them from making wise decisions.
In stark contrast with other prominent school administrators of her day, Young maintained that teachers, and in turn students, needed much more power in running schools. Only when people could make significant decisions for themselves and with each other could they tap their natural intelligence and begin to develop it fully. This meant teachers and students must have the freedom and power to create and execute their own ideas. Young argued that this responsibility would attract the most talented and qualified individuals while repelling those more inclined toward rote, prescriptive, and punitive systems. To foster the deliberative process that would build school communities, she maintained that schools needed to provide time and space for teachers to engage in the intellectual, legislative, and logistical functions of running their schools. In the pages of Isolation, Young detailed this difficult but liberating vision of schools as democratic institutions. Her years of service to the Chicago schools informed the volume along with a lifetime of disciplined study of philosophy, schooling, and society. Both her writing and leadership, then, demonstrated a remarkable balance of theory and practice.
Finally, as a gifted leader during the era of women's suffrage, Young worked closely with women's organizations and provided important leadership for their causes. Suffragists regarded Young as an exemplary leader whose successes reflected well on all women. Many women, especially teachers, propelled her into a variety of leadership positions. When Young encountered opposition, they comforted her and sometimes staged rallies of support for her efforts. Young reciprocated by continually championing the causes held dear by organized women's groups. She also sought to lead in a manner compatible with her beliefs: She involved those around her in making critically important decisions; she structured time and opportunities so that her constituents could discuss and carry out their plans; and she engaged in her work with a spirit of community-building. Though this manner of leadership often proved difficult and time-consuming, she sought it as a matter of course. As a result, her relationships with organized women and the general public were intense, mutual, and ongoing. The strong support she engendered was critical to the success of many of the daring programs she established. Clearly, Young was as much a part of the women's movement as she was a national symbol of its finest successes.
See also: Superintendent of Large-City School Systems; Urban Education.
McManis, John T. 1916. Ella Flagg Young and a Half-Century of the Chicago Public Schools. Chicago: McClurg.
Smith, Joan K. 1979. Ella Flagg Young: Portrait of a Leader. Ames, IA: Educational Studies Press.
Young, Ella Flagg. 1900. Isolation in the Schools. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Young, Ella Flagg. 1902. Ethics in the School. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Young, Ella Flagg. 1902. Some Types of Modern Educational Theory. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Young, Ella Flagg. 1903. Scientific Method in Education. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Jackie M. Blount
Young, Ella Flagg (1845–1918)
Young, Ella Flagg (1845–1918)
American educator. Name variations: Ella Flagg. Born Ella Flagg, Jan 16, 1845, in Buffalo, New York; died Oct 26, 1918, in Washington, DC; dau. of Theodore Flagg (skilled metal worker) and Jane (Reed) Flagg; University of Chicago, undergraduate course work, 1895–99, PhD, 1900; m. William Young (merchant), in 1868 (died 1873); no children.
Educator and theorist who was the 1st female superintendent of a major school district and the 1st female president of National Education Association; moved with family to Chicago (1858); in Chicago, held 1st teaching position in primary grade (1862); promoted to head assistant in grammar school (1863); at 20, named principal of the new School of Practice (teacher training); taught mathematics and was assistant to the principal at the Chicago Normal School (1872); was promoted to 2 consecutive principalships; promoted to district superintendent for Chicago School District (1887); served on the State Board of Education (1889–1909); started taking John Dewey's seminars at University of Chicago (1895); was associate professorial lecturer of pedagogy at University of Chicago (1899–1900), then professor of education (1900–04); published Contributions to Education series with John Dewey (1901–02); traveled in Europe, studying educational systems and theories (1904–05); named principal at Chicago Normal School (1905); named superintendent of Chicago School System (1909); elected president of National Education Association (1910); retired (1915) and moved to California; asked by US secretary of the Treasury to assist effort to sell war bonds during WWI with the Women's Liberty Loan Committee (1917); caught influenza while traveling for the war effort and died of pneumonia; fought tirelessly to improve schools; inspired, encouraged, and cajoled teachers to aim higher, use modern methods, and monitor their students' progress; in return, involved them in decisions about educational policy and practice; also fought to increase their pay, elevate their professional standing, and ensure their right to organize as a labor group.
See also John T. McManis, Ella Flagg Young And a Half-Century of the Chicago Public Schools (1902); Joan K. Smith, Ella Flagg Young—Portrait of a Leader (Educational Studies Press, 1979); and Women in World History.