the "Mother of Kindergarten" Susan Elizabeth Blow
(June 7, 1843 in St. Louis, Missouri –
March 27, 1916 in
New York City,
New York) was a United States educator who opened the first successful public
Kindergarten in the United States.
The eldest of six children, Susan Blow was the daughter of Henry
Taylor Blow and Minerva Grimsley. Henry owned various lead-mining
operations, was president of the Iron Mountain Railroad, was a
state senator, and was a minister to Brazil and Venezuela. Minerva
was the daughter of a prominent manufacturer and local politician.
The Blow children grew up in a deeply religious family surrounded
by comfort, wealth, and high German culture. Her grandfather was
Captain Peter Blow, the owner of the slaveDred Scott
, who later challenged the slavery
issue in court.
Due to her family's social status, Blow received her education from
her parents, various governesses, private tutors, and schools. At
age eight, she was enrolled at the William McCauley School in New
Orleans, Louisiana; she attended classes there for the next two
years. At age sixteen Blow and her sister Nellie enrolled in the
New York school of Henrietta Haines but were forced to return home
due to the outbreak of the Civil War. During this time Blow tutored
her younger brothers and sister and taught Sunday school at
Carondelet Presbyterian Church.
At age twenty, Blow met and fell in love with a soldier named
Colonel William Coyle, but her parents found him to be unsuitable.
When Coyle was discharged for medical reasons, her father took her
to Washington D.C. and introduced her to another military man who
was more to his liking. However, Blow chose not to marry.
President Ulysses S. Grant
appointed Henry Blow minister to
Brazil in 1869, and Susan went with him as his secretary. During
the next fifteen months, she quickly learned Portuguese. Her
bilingual ability helped to ease trade communications between
Brazil and the United States.
In 1870, along with her mother and siblings, Blow went abroad to
Europe. She first began studying the philosophies of Hegel and the
American Transcendentalists. However, while abroad she came across
the kindergarten teaching methods of German idealist and
philosopher Friedrich Fröbel
Fröbel believed in "learning-through-play" and cognitive
In 1871 Blow traveled to New York, where she spent a year being
trained at the New York Normal Training Kindergarten, operated by
Fröbel devotee Maria Kraus-Boelté. Blow returned to St. Louis in
1873 and opened the nation’s first public kindergarten in Des Peres
School in (Carondelet,) St. Louis, Missouri. With the help of her
two assistants, Mary Timberlake and Cynthia Dozier, Blow directed
and taught a kindergarten class consisting of forty-two students.
Not only did she pay all expenses to keep the kindergarten running
that first year, she was not compensated for her hard work and
dedication. The experimental class was a success and quickly grew.
Within three years, her kindergarten system had fifty teachers and
over one thousand students, and by 1883 every public school in St.
Louis had a kindergarten.
Blow was able to open her school, in part, thanks to the support
she received from William Torrey Harris, the superintendent of
schools in St. Louis. Harris believed the greatest educational
concern of the time was the amount of young children who dropped
out of school. Blow believed a kindergarten system would improve
the dropout rate, for children would be starting school at an
earlier age. Although he originally resisted the idea of a public
program, he was persuaded by the school board’s support of Blow,
her background, and her proposal to direct the program
In 1874 Blow opened a training school to accommodate the in-demand
kindergarten teachers. Those in training spent mornings
volunteering in the kindergarten classes and afternoons and
weekends studying Fröbel’s ideas. Through her work, Blow played a
significant role in the history and development of early childhood
Only ten years after opening her training school Blow withdrew from
teaching due to Graves' disease, which is a form of
hyperthyroidism. She retired in 1886 until 1895, at which time she
began to lecture again in Boston, Massachusetts. She also conducted
classes about the Bible, Shakespeare, Dante, Homer, and
Blow worked with the Kindergarten Association, along with teaching
at the Teacher’s College of Columbia University from 1905-1909. She
developed the course known as "History of Philosophy and
Education." The years leading up to her death were spent near her
sister, Nellie, in New York City. She died in March of 1916 in New
York City. Most references state she died on March 26, but her
tombstone (at Bellefontaine Cemetery in St. Louis, Missouri)
declares she died on March 27. At the time of her death, the “St.
Louis Globe-Democrat” wrote, “A great commander is gone, but the
soldiers will go marching on.”
Blow served on the advisory committee for the International
Kindergarten Union and Committee of Nineteen and translated two
volumes of Fröbel’s ‘’Mother Play’’ in 1895. She also wrote
articles in the ‘’Kindergarten Magazine’’. Below is a list of
Blow’s published works:
(1894)Letters to a Mother on the
Philosophy of Froebel
(1900)Educational Issues in the Kindergarten