Elizabeth Harrison was already thirty years old when she arrived in Chicago in 1879 and began her preparation under Alice Putnam, the director of one of three kindergartens in the city. After two years’ training and co-teaching with Mrs. Putnam, Miss Harrison traveled to New York to work with the great Froebelian Madam Kraus Boelte and to St. Louis to study with Miss Susan Blow. She returned to Chicago and began speaking about the kindergarten movement to groups of young women and mothers. While teaching her own kindergarten, she began a regular training class of young women. In 1886, with the encouragement of Mrs. Putnam, she welcomed her first students and mothers to Miss Harrison’s Training School in two rooms on the second floor of the Art Institute of Chicago.
As president of the Chicago Kindergarten Club she provided a focus for intellectual life of both students and mothers as well as the rest of the Chicago community through its Literary School for eight years (1886-1894).
She organized the first three Conventions of Mothers (1894-1896), attracting nearly twelve hundred persons from as far east as New York and as far west as Denver. An attendee at the 1895 Mother’s Convention, Mrs. Theodore W. Birney later persuaded Mrs. Phoebe Hearst to sponsor the enterprise which took the name of the National Congress of Mothers, now the National PTA.
In the next thirty years, Elizabeth Harrison worked tirelessly as a pioneer in the kindergarten movement and saw her school grow in both local and national prominence. By 1920 she accomplished her goal of establishing the kindergarten in all Chicago public schools, working with nearly 5000 mothers and preparing 2500 kindergartners.
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Kindergarten Building Gifts by Elizabeth Harrison
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