Susan Elizabeth Blow

FOUNDER OF U.S. KINDERGARTEN

“All I ever really needed to know I learned in Kindergarten.”
—Robert Fulgham

Susan Blow was an educator, intellectual, and founder of the kindergarten program in the United States. Her privileged upbringing gave her access to the brightest people of her day, which helped influence generations of children after she was gone. Not only did she expose St. Louis children to advanced teaching methods, but she also put the Show Me State on the intellectual front lines during the post–Civil War period in America.

Location of Saint Louis in MissouriTHE EARLY YEARS

Susan Elizabeth Blow was born in St. Louis on June 7, 1843. She grew up in the Carondelet area in an affluent family who put a great emphasis on education. Her father was a successful industrialist and a U.S. congressman. That pedigree allowed Susan to attend prep schools in New Orleans and New York City while partnering with a group of advanced thinkers in St. Louis to debate philosophical issues.

RISE TO FAME

The philosophy group, the St. Louis Society, studied and discussed the important issues of the day, including law, music, idealism, and free thought. She was one of the early members who put St. Louis on the forefront of intellectual thought and culture in the late 1860s. During these debate sessions, she was first introduced to the thoughts of Frederick Froebel, a German intellectual who was pioneering a new way of teaching children in Europe in what was known as kindergarten.

Blow’s father was appointed ambassador to Brazil following the conclusion of the Civil War, so she, then twenty-six years old, went along as his secretary to learn more about their culture. At the end of that appointment, the family toured Europe, where she learned firsthand the methods that Froebel incorporated intohis teachings.  She observed his techniques and prepared to bring this novel approach to education back to America.

SHOW ME SUCCESS

Blow returned to St. Louis and founded the first successful public kindergarten at Des Peres School in Carondelet in 1873. Her family’s influence came in handy once again as she convinced city leaders to expand the program throughout the area.  Her techniques were simple, but effective. She taught children in the morning, where she allowed other teachers in the classroom to observe her methods. The teachers then took over teaching duties in the afternoon so Blow could continue in her administrative tasks. Over the next ten years, the program was expanded to every St. Louis public school, making the city an educational model for the entire country.

Once Blow had taught enough teachers in the St. Louis area on the Froebelian method, she wrote and traveled extensively, teaching others the kindergarten philosophy. Many teachers experimented with their own styles, which were often less rigid than Blow’s methods. The frustration she endured, the stress of setting up the program, plus family issues took their toll on her health. She moved to New York to recover from Graves Disease while keeping up a busy schedule as a lecturer and author. She died on March 26, 1916, and was brought back to St. Louis and buried at Bellefontaine Cemetery.

EXTRA, EXTRA!

*Her books include Symbolic Education, Kindergarten Education, Educational Issues in the Kindergarten, Letters to a Mother on the Philosophy of Froebel, and a translation of Froebel’s Mutter- und Kose-Lieder (Mother Play).

*Susan Blow worked primarily as an unpaid supervisor of the kindergarten system in St. Louis to ensure its longevity apart from financial constraints.

* Dred Scott came to St. Louis as a slave of Susan’s grandparents, who later sold him. Susan’s father, Henry Taylor Blow, publicly sided with Scott during the trial.

 

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