Susan Elizabeth Blow (1843–1916) was an influential theorist in the late-nineteenth-century Kindergarten Movement, a leading proponent of Froebelian methods, and the first director of a public kindergarten in the United States. Blow translated from German the system of Froebel’s Mother Play for American classrooms, established a normal school for kindergarten teachers, and was a major figure in turn-of-the-century debates on the future of early childhood education.
Susan Blow was born in Carondelet, a section of St. Louis, Missouri, to a wealthy and politically prominent family. Her grandfather, Peter Blow, was the owner of slaves; notably, Dred Scott. Her father was a state senator and ambassador to Brazil. Blow attended the prestigious McCauley School in New Orleans and the Henrietta Haines Female Academy in New York City.
She encountered the educational philosophy of Friedrich Froebel while traveling in Europe and later studied with two leading Froebelians, Maria KrausBoelte and Baroness von Marenholtz-Bulow. When she returned to St. Louis, she worked with Superintendent of Schools William Torrey Harris to incorporate kindergartens within the public school system. The Des Peres Kindergarten, the first public kindergarten in the United States, opened in St. Louis with Blow as director in 1873.
Throughout her career, Blow resisted arguments to integrate emerging theories of developmental psychology within kindergarten training and practice. In a joint series of lectures with Patty Smith Hill at Teachers College Columbia (TCC) in 1903, she advocated the “Uniform Plan,” which permitted no deviations from Froebel’s logical sequence of symbolic play. Hill’s progressivism prevailed, marking a major theoretical transition for American early childhood education. Blow’s orthodoxy was now seen as out of date. However, her reputation as the foremost American authority on Froebel endured, and she continued to write and lecture on early childhood education until her death in 1916.
- Shapiro, M. S. (1983). Child’s garden: The kindergarten movement from Froebel to Dewey. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press.
- Weber, E. (1969). The kindergarten: Its encounter with educational thought in America. New York: Teachers College Press.
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