Barnes, Mary Downing (1850–1898)

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Barnes, Mary Downing (1850–1898)

American educator and first teacher in the United States to use the Pestalozzian or "source" method in teaching history. Born Mary Downing Sheldon in Oswego, New York, on September 15, 1850; died in 1898; daughter of educator Edward Austin Sheldon (1823–1892), who founded the Oswego State Normal School; studied at Oswego State Normal School, University of Michigan, and in Cambridge and Zurich; married Earl Barnes, in 1885.

The daughter of an educator, Mary Barnes followed in her father's footsteps. Edward Austin Sheldon founded the Oswego State Normal School in New York and for years was the leader of the Pestalozzian influence in American education. Barnes studied her father's theories and would later apply them in her classrooms as a teacher of history. After attending her father's institution and the University of Michigan, Barnes took a position at Wellesley College, where she began experimenting in 1876 with what she called her "source" method for teaching history. Instead of using the standard textbook and rote method, her attempt was to encourage students to study various source material, weigh the evidence therein, and come to their own conclusions based on critical thought. To that end, she utilized prepared lists of source material to be read and discussed in class meetings. In 1882, she returned to Oswego Normal School to teach history, Latin, Greek, and Botany.

Mary married former student Earl Barnes, 11 years her junior, and the couple moved to California in 1891, where he headed the education department at newly founded Stanford University and employed his wife's theories. A short time later, she joined the history department at Stanford and, in 1892, published Studies in American History: Teachers' Manual, in which Barnes set forth her theories.

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