Early Childhood Education

Frank, Lawrence Kelso (1890-1968)


Over the years of a multifaceted career, Lawrence Kelso Frank sowed novel research ideas and brought these ideas to fruition by linking groups of professionals with funding. As lecturer, organizer, and disseminator of ideas, Frank escalated research in human development.

Lawrence Kelso Frank was born on December 6, 1890, in Cincinnati, Ohio. He received his bachelor’s degree in economics from Columbia University in 1912 where he was strongly influenced by progressive educator John Dewey. As a student, Frank worked for the Bureau of Social Research in New York City, where he grew increasingly interested in human welfare. After graduation, he was a systems analyst for the New York Telephone Company, a position that brought him in contact with Wesley Clair Mitchell and his wife, Lucy Sprague Mitchell. Mrs. Mitchell, along with Caroline Pratt and Harriet Johnson, began the Bureau of Educational Experiments (BEE) in 1916, the aim of which was to bring various specialists and research together in an experimental educational environment. Frank himself believed that early investments of healthy social interactions at the nursery school level could prevent future interpersonal problems. He was impressed with the BEE and sent his own children to its City and Country School and served on its Working Council.

By 1920, Frank was business manager for the New School for Social Research and soon thereafter developed a vision for systematic research of children’s developmental growth. In 1923, his dreams were realized when he was appointed associate director in charge of expending over $1,000,000 per year for the benefit of children through the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial (LSRM). Under Frank’s leadership, LSRM funds established the child study institute at Teachers College (1924), the child study center at the University of Minnesota (1925), and the Institute of Child Welfare at the University of California, Berkeley (1927). The existing Iowa Child Welfare Research Station, the Clinic of Child Development at Yale, and other research centers were also enhanced through the LSRM. Frank additionally gave funds to the Committee of Child Development in 1925, predecessor to the Society for Research in Child Development.

From 1931 to 1936, Frank was associate director for the General Education Board through which he supported research into the needs of the whole child. Frank believed that effective early childhood programs were founded upon the comprehensive needs of children and held tremendous potential to affect society for good. From 1936 to 1942, he was vice president of the Josiah Macy, Jr., Foundation, an agency devoted to general health research. Frank held posts during both world wars, serving on the War Industries Board of the Bureau of Planning and Statistics (1918-1919) and as Secretary of the Scientific Committee of the National Resources Planning Board and consultant to the Office of War Information in 1944.

A long-standing Progressive Education Association member, he directed the association’s Caroline Zachry Institute of Human Development (1945-1950) and utilized General Education Board grants for continued study of personality development. Frank was coawarded the National Committee for Mental Hygiene’s Lasker Award in 1947 for contributions to mental health and a 1950 Parents Magazine book award for his How to Help Your Child in School, coauthored with his third wife, Mary Frank. As a retiree, Frank lectured at several colleges, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Merrill-Palmer, and Harvard. He served as a trustee for Wheelock College and Bank Street College, held numerous positions within thirteen professional associations, and authored several articles and books on the behavioral and social sciences. Frank died on September 23, 1968.

Further Readings: Lascarides, V. Celia and Blythe Hinitz (2000). History of early childhood education. New York: Falmer Press; Who was who in America with world notables volume V1969-1973. Chicago, IL: Marquis Who’s Who, Inc.; Weber, Evelyn (1984). Ideas influencing early childhood education: A theoretical analysis. New York: Teachers College Press.

Charlotte Anderson