Early Childhood Education

McMillan, Rachel (1859-1917)

 

Rachel McMillan’s experiences during childhood and young adulthood motivated her to enter the health field and become a sanitation inspector. She learned that poor children lived, for the most part, in deplorable conditions. She enlisted the help of her sister Margaret McMillan in alleviating as many of the problems as possible by advocating for such things as regular school health inspections, school baths, and nutritious school meals. As members of a socialist party, they also campaigned for women’s suffrage. Rachel persuaded her sister to come to London, and together they opened a clinic in Bow in 1908 and one in Deptford in 1910. The “Baby Camp” became the Deptford Open Air Nursery. Two years later it became a nursery school staffed by “teacher-nurses.” Rachel’s death at the age of 58 left Margaret to carry on the work of running the Rachel McMillan Nursery School and Training Centre and advocating for young children and their families.

An important principle that governed the nursery school and its associated teacher training college was that every child should be educated “as if he were your own.” A key concept was that the children should be “nurtured,” which was defined as having “the all-round loving care of individuals.” Another goal for the school and its teachers was to “assist parents in improving their child-rearing practices, and to develop their own potentialities.” The young girls who were training to be teachers lived in the neighborhood and spent the first year of their program working at the school and making home visits in the evenings. They became friendly with the mothers and familiar with their lifestyles. This placed the nursery school work in a sociological context. The school was envisioned as a progressive influence; a research laboratory that would draw together doctors, nurses, social workers, and women of different social classes. The training college exemplified the McMillan’s belief that “preschool children should have appropriately trained well-qualified teachers.” For this reason students took the second year of their program at the Home and Colonial College, to complete the Board of Education’s requirements for a teacher training course. Both Abigail Adams Eliot and Edna Noble White studied and worked at the nursery school in the 1920s. Eliot’s letters to her sponsor, Mrs. Pearson of the Women’s Education Association of Boston, describe the 7:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. days, the schedule, and the activities. Eliot returned home to found the Ruggles Street Nursery School and Training Centre in Boston, and White to found the Merrill-Palmer Motherhood and Home Training School, and its laboratory nursery school in Detroit.

Further Readings: McMillan, Margaret (1927). The life of Rachel McMillan. London: J. M. Dent.

Blythe Hinitz