Early Childhood Education

Hailmann, William Nicholas (1836-1920)


William Nicholas Hailmann facilitated the introduction of Froebelian methodology into American schools. Hailmann could understand Friedrich Froebel’s underlying concepts and adapt them to educational methods in a different time and culture because he was fluent in both German and English.

William Hailmann grew up in a German-speaking Swiss village, encouraged to visit the nearby carpenter shop and to play in the woods. His education, based upon Johann Pestalozzi’s active learning model, enabled him to graduate from the Zurich Cantonal College when he was fifteen.

He emigrated to the United States in 1852, settling in Louisville. His fluency in Italian, French, and German led to positions at the Henry Female College and the new public high school. He married Eudora Grover in 1857 and they had four children (see Hailmann, Eudora Lucas). When he visited his parents in 1860, he became intrigued by Froebel’s philosophy of helping students at all educational levels connect the outer world and their own inner life through a process of active learning. After brief service with the Union army during the Civil War, he developed a new German-American Academy with a Froebelian curriculum. It included one of the first kindergartens in the United States. In recognition of the academy’s quality, he was granted an honorary master’s degree from the University of Louisville in 1864.

William and Eudora Hailmann worked together as egalitarian partners to promote Froebel’s controversial educational system after studying Swiss kindergartens in 1866 and 1871. This included publication of an influential newsletter, The New Education, from 1876 until 1893. “Although Eudora concentrated upon kindergartens, their work often merged so that it was impossible to tell whether the ideas were his or hers” (Hewes, 2001, p. 24).

After directing German-American schools in Milwaukee and Detroit, Hailmann became Superintendent of Schools in LaPorte in 1881, hired to design a model Froebelian curriculum. It included kindergartens and a teacher training institute supervised by Eudora and was soon acclaimed not only for student accomplishments but for community involvement (Rice, 1893). He received an honorary doctorate from the University of Ohio in 1885. President Cleveland appointed Hailmann as Superintendent of Indian Schools in 1894. Despite a meager budget, he devised a Froebelian system with appropriate textbooks and activities for the Indian boarding schools. Reservation kindergartens were opened with teacher training for tribal members (Hewes, 1981). After this political appointment terminated in 1898, he held several academic positions, concluding in 1914 at the Broadoaks Kindergarten Training School in Pasadena. Until his death in 1920, he continued to be professionally active.

The potential influence of organizations, especially the National Education Association (NEA), was recognized early in Hailmann’s career. He gave presentations at most annual NEA meetings from 1872 until 1915. In 1872, he successfully campaigned to include women as members. He organized the Froebel Institute in 1882 and was its president when it became the Kindergarten Department of the NEA in 1885. He also coordinated a kindergarten conference during the 1883 Columbian Exposition in Chicago, and was a regular presenter at summer Chautauqua tent events.

Hailmann wrote thirteen books, including Kindergarten Culture in the Family and Kindergarten in 1873 and Primary Methods and Kindergarten Instruction in 1887. In his extensively annotated 1889 translation of Froebel’s Education of Man, Hailmann explained the original intent of such phrases as “Come, let us live for our children” as having meant living with them. Because he emphasized that Froebel saw self-activity as essential for education at all levels, this book became a foundation for the movement known as Progressive Education. His enthusiasm was for Froebel’s underlying philosophy, not the manufactured products or carefully sequenced activities that characterized “traditional” kindergarten practice.

The legacy of William Hailmann has many facets. While he was in Indiana, he was instrumental in its becoming the first state to formally incorporate kindergartens into the public schools. He mentored Patty Smith Hill and other “progressive” educators who developed nursery schools and laid the foundation for today’s early care and education. He promoted manual training for “hand-minded” high school students. He spoke out vigorously in favor of equal pay for women and retirement benefits for all teachers. In his own personal life, he demonstrated the egalitarian principles that he advocated for others. “William and Eudora Hailmann took kindergarten and primary education and teacher training into a new era. Their inventive, dynamic, theoretical and practical work serves as an excellent model for early education professionals” (Lascarides and Hinitz, 2000, p. 215).

Further Readings: Hewes, Dorothy W. (1981). Those first good years of Indian education. American Indian Culture and Research Journal 5(2), 63-82; Hewes, Dorothy W. (2001). W. N. Hailmann: Defender of Froebel. Grand Rapids, MI: Froebel Foundation; Lascarides, V. Celia, and Blythe F. Hinitz (2000). History of early childhood education. New York: Falmer Press; Peltzman, Barbara Ruth (1998). Pioneers of early childhood education: A Bio-bibliographical guide. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press; Rice, Joseph M. (1893). The public school system of the United States. New York: Century.

Dorothy W. Hewes