Early Childhood Education

Hall, G(ranville) Stanley (1844-1924)


Although best known as the founder of organized psychology in the United States, G. Stanley Hall should also be recognized as a major contributor to child development research and preschool methodology.

G. Stanley Hall was born on February 1, 1844. Little is known about his family or his childhood on a farm near Ashfield, Massachusetts. With financial assistance from various sources, he graduated from the Williston Academy (1862) and Williams College (1867). Study for his divinity degree from the Union Theological Seminary in New York City (1871) included several months at the University of Berlin. He taught at Antioch College (1872-1876) before concluding his formal education at Harvard University, where he was awarded America’s first Ph.D. in psychology. With further financial assistance, he returned to Germany. He had met Cornelia Fisher at Antioch and in 1879 they were married in Berlin. Upon their return from Europe, his Saturday morning lectures at Harvard presented European philosophies to Boston’s educational leaders. These led to a teaching position at John Hopkins University and to his appointment in 1888 as first president of Clark University. Hall’s seminars, held from 7:30 p.m. until midnight, were so stimulating that his graduate students claimed they couldn’t sleep afterward. Within ten years, however, Clark had awarded thirty of the fifty-four psychology doctorates in the United States.

In 1888, Hall coordinated establishment of the Child Study Association of America, popularizing the questionnaire research method that he had learned in Germany. In 1892, initial plans for the American Psychological Association were developed in his office and he became its first president. His efforts led to the 1894 organization of a Department of Child Study within the National Education Association and his many presentations at its conferences oriented teachers and administrators to his viewpoint. His extensive writings in a wide variety of publications are documented by Ross (1972) and others.

Hall’s introduction to the kindergarten was in Germany, where popular training programs were based upon Friedrich Froebel’s belief that children learn through self-activity. This is reflected in the positions taken by John Dewey, Arnold Gesell, and others who were his students. It is sometimes stated that he was an opponent of the Froebelians. However, it was the symbolism and “mechanical depersonalized instruction” that he deplored. He made his position clear in such statements as “I believe heart and soul in the kindergarten as I understand it, and insist that I am a true disciple of Froebel, but that my orthodoxy is the real doxy which, if Froebel could now come to New York, Chicago, Worcester, or even to Boston, he would approve” (Hall, 1911, p 16).

While in Germany, Hall also studied Haeckle’s theory that “ontology recapitulates phylogeny” as an explanation for developmental stages. This means that individuals replicate progression of the human race from simians to an integrated society. Accordingly, formal education should not begin until about age 8. Although highly controversial when first proposed, this fits into the philosophy of the liberal Froebelians and is similar to stages later described by Jean Piaget and others.

The introduction of psychoanalysis into the United States came when Hall invited Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung to a conference in 1909. Activities for self-expression and “acting out” of inner emotions were incorporated into preschool classrooms by the 1940s. This supported the original Froebelian concept of “making the inner outer and the outer inner” through interpreting children’s activities.

Hall’s most direct influence upon today’s early childhood education resulted from an 1894 summer session at Clark University. Thirty-five kindergarten leaders accepted his invitation. All dropped out after the first day except Anna Bryan and Patty Smith Hill. They developed a developmentally appropriate curriculum that was not implemented until 1926, when Hill’s Committee on Nursery Schools convened. This group became today’s National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), which maintains much of that original 1894 plan in its mission statement and the criteria for accreditation. See also Preschool/Prekindergarten Programs.

Further Readings: The G. Stanley Hall Papers are in Archives and Special Collections, Goddard Library. Worcester, MA: Clark University; Hall, G. Stanley (1911). Educational problems. New York: Appleton; Hall, G. Stanley (1923). The life and confessions of a psychologist. New York: Appleton; Rosenzweig, Saul (1992). Freud, Jung, and Hall the king-maker: The historic expedition to America, 1909. St. Louis, MO: Rana House Press; Ross, Dorothy (1972). G. Stanley Hall: The psychologist as prophet. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Dorothy W. Hewes