Early Childhood Education

Wheelock, Lucy (1857-1946)

 

Lucy Wheelock was a pioneer in the kindergarten and Sunday school movements in the United States, as well as founder of Wheelock College in Boston, Massachusetts. A disciple of Friedrich Froebel, she was mentored by Elizabeth Peabody, founder of many of the first English-speaking kindergartens. When the city of Boston added kindergartens to its public schools, Wheelock was asked to provide the training program for the new teachers. This program, originally named Miss Wheelock’s Kindergarten Training School, ultimately became Wheelock College and was directed by Wheelock for fifty years.

While she helped make Froebel’s ideas popular in the early childhood community, she was also willing to modify his approach to suit a new time and setting. In 1885 she began a four-year term as president of the International Kindergarten Union (IKU), and for that group chaired the Committee of Nineteen. This committee was charged with investigating kindergarten methodology and moderating differences between the orthodox Froebelians such as Susan Blow and the progressives such as Patty Smith Hill. In 1913, Wheelock authored the committee’s report, The Kindergarten; however, her committee was not able to unite the two wings of the kindergarten movement.

During her career she led delegations of educators to original Froebel schools in Germany. As the daughter of a congregational minister, she was also active in the Sunday school movement, and applied Froebelian techniques to the religious education of young children. She edited The Child’s Hour, a Sunday school journal in Boston, and conducted training programs for Sunday school teachers nationwide. One of her most quoted sayings, “Great oaks grow from little acorns” (“Wheelock College Beginnings,” np), summarizes her vision of quality early childhood education.

Further Readings: Tharp, Louise H. (1988). The Peabody sisters of Salem. Boston: Little, Brown. Wheelock College Beginnings (February 2005). Available online at http://www.wheelock.edu/lucy/lucyhome.htm. Lucy Wheelock (February 2005). Women in American history by Encyclopedia Britannica. Available online at http://britannica.com/women/articles/Wheelock_Lucy.html

Mary Ruth Moore