Susan Elizabeth Blow (June 7, 1843 in Carondelet, 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. She is known as the "Mother of Kindergarten".
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 slave Dred 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; while there she 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 development.
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 herself.
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 education.
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 Goethe.
Blow worked with the Kindergarten Association, along with teaching at the Teachers' 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 1916 in New York City. Most references state she died on March 26, but her tombstone at Bellefontaine Cemetery in St. Louis 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: Symbolic Education
- 1899: Letters to a Mother on the Philosophy of Froebel
- 1900: Kindergarten Education
- 1908: Educational Issues in the Kindergarten
- St. Louis Walk of Fame. "St. Louis Walk of Fame Inductees". stlouiswalkoffame.org. Retrieved 25 April 2013.
- The Mottoes and Commentaries of Friedrich Froebel's "Mother Play"; mother communings and mottoes rendered into English verse by Henrietta R. Eliot; prose commentaries transl. and accompanied with an introduction treating of the philosophy of Froebel, by Susan E. Blow // The Songs and Music of Friedrich Froebel's "Mother Play" (Mutter- und Kose-Lieder); Songs newly tr. and furnished with new music; prepared and arranged by Susan E. Blow. These are vol. 31-32 of the Intrernational Education Series; New York: D. Appleton and Company
- Shapiro, Michael Steven (1983) Child’s Garden. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press ISBN 0-271-00350-2
- Encyclopædia Britannica entry
- St. Louis Walk of Fame entry
- Froebel Web biography
- Froebel Foundation
- The State Historical Society of Missouri
- St. Louis Hall Of Fame
- American National Biography Online entry
- New York Times article