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Sisterhood and Sentimentality - America's Earliest Preschool Centers

by Dorothy W. Hewes, Ph.D.
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America's oldest child care centers were started during a period of economic growth and intellectual turbulence. Although there were a few wealthy families during the 18th century, someone described the nation as having "pyramids of money in a desert of want." By the mid-1800s, however, professional and business men began to prosper. As the morally superior gentler sex, middle-class wives improved their minds and discharged obligations to the unfortunates of society through church, club, and literary groups. There was no unifying sense of sisterhood, no mutual faith or endeavor.

When the German kindergarten of Friedrich Froebel became known to English-speaking Americans during the 1870s, women became energized by his idea that within each child lies the potential for self-realization and self-learning, a potential developed not through stern discipline but by "learning by doing" in a joyous play school. Parents abandoned old beliefs in children's innate depravity to promote development of their innate goodness through the kindergarten system. Three to six year olds could learn morality and citizenship while they enjoyed educational games and songs or busied themselves with bead stringing, block building, paper folding, and the construction of "forms of beauty" with wooden slats or parquetry ...

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