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Blow, Susan Elizabeth (1843–1916)

Blow, Susan Elizabeth (1843–1916)

American educator who opened the first public kindergarten in the U.S. at the Des Peres School in St. Louis, Missouri. Born Susan Elizabeth Blow on June 7, 1843, in Carondelet (now St. Louis), Missouri; died on March 26, 1916, in New York, New York; daughter of a prosperous entrepreneur and later congressional representative; educated by tutors and at a private school in New York.

Susan Blow studied the revolutionary teaching methods of Friedrich Froebel while in Germany as part of a European tour, and later furthered her studies with Maria Kraus-Boelté in New York. With permission from the superintendent of the St. Louis schools, who was also a devotee of the German idealist philosophy, Blow opened the first public kindergarten in America at the Des Peres School in 1873. The next year, she established a training school for kindergarten teachers. By 1880, with Blow acting as an unofficial and unpaid supervisor, kindergartens were part of every public school in the city, and the St. Louis system became the model as the movement spread across the country.

Blow's adherence to Froebel's doctrines did not allow for much flexibility, but younger teachers nonetheless began to experiment with new techniques in the 1880s. Suffering from deteriorating health, Blow eventually began to lose control of the schools. In 1889, she moved east, lectured on Froebelian theory, and wrote on kindergarten practice. In an excerpt from her article "Letters to a Mother on the Philosophy of Froebel," written in 1900, Blow addresses what she viewed as the susceptibility of children to corruption: "Many are injured by all kinds of ugly and tawdry playthings, and by badly drawn and crudely colored picture. … [W]e forget that all true beauty implies strength and simplicity and we warp the taste of children by the excessive luxury of our homes." From 1905 to 1909, Susan Blow was a lecturer at Columbia University Teacher's College. She died in New York on March 26, 1916.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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