Elizabeth E. Farrell

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Elizabeth E. Farrell (1870– October 15, 1932) was an American educator, first person to teach a class of special education students in an American public school, and first president of the Council for Exceptional Children.

Early life and education[edit]

Elizabeth Farrell was born in Utica, New York. She attended Utica Catholic Academy and the Oswego Normal and Training School.[1] When she finished basic teacher training in 1895, she pursued further study at New York University and Teachers College, Columbia University, eventually earning a bachelor's degree.[2]


Farrell taught one year at a small school in Oneida Castle, New York before accepting a position at Henry Street Settlement in New York City. She taught at Public School No. 1 while living at the settlement house, and working with Lillian Wald, the director of Henry Street. Her students, all boys,[3] were a range of ages, and thus the class was called "ungraded".[4] Soon other "ungraded" classes were established in New York schools, after her model; in 1906 Farrell became director of special education, with the title "Inspector of Ungraded Classes."[5][6]

As Inspector, Farrell began a diagnostic clinic to test schoolchildren for underlying causes of poor academic achievement. She also began a journal, titled Ungraded, to share findings with other special education professionals. She was a frequent lecturer, and taught pioneering special education courses at Teachers College Columbia University and at the University of Pennsylvania.[7][8][9] Her authority over classrooms throughout New York's public schools raised concerns about loss of local control, and in 1917 teachers unanimously approved a resolution to limit her influence.[10]

In 1922, she became one of the founders and the first president of the International Council for Exceptional Children.[11]

Personal life and legacy[edit]

Farrell died in Cleveland, Ohio, in the autumn of 1932, age 62.[12] Earlier in 1932, she was honored at a luncheon marking the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Ungraded Class Teachers' Association, an organization she founded.[13] Speakers at her memorial service included her Columbia University colleagues Leta Stetter Hollingworth and Edward L. Thorndike.[14]

Public School No. 116 in Brooklyn, New York is named for Elizabeth Farrell.[15]


  1. ^ "Oswego Alumna Pioneered Special Ed" Oswego Alumni Magazine (Fall/Winter 2011).
  2. ^ P. I., "Elizabeth E. Farrell, 1870-1932: A Biographical Sketch" Journal of Special Education 15(3)(October 1981): 322-323. doi: 10.1177/002246698101500302
  3. ^ Julia Grant, The Boy Problem: Educating Boys in Urban America, 1870-1970 (JHU Press 2014): 101. ISBN 9781421412603
  4. ^ Philip L. Safford and Elizabeth J. Safford, A History of Childhood and Disability (Teachers College Press 1996): 181-182. ISBN 9780807734858
  5. ^ Kimberly E. Kode, Elizabeth Farrell and the History of Special Education (Council for Exceptional Children 2002). ISBN 0865869685
  6. ^ Elizabeth E. Farrell, "Atypical Children" New York Times (November 5, 1909): 8. via Newspapers.com open access publication – free to read
  7. ^ Paul Irvine, "Elizabeth E. Farrell (1870-1932)" in Cecil R. Reynolds and Elaine Fletcher-Janzen, eds., Encyclopedia of Special Education (John Wiley & Sons 2007): 888. ISBN 9780470174197
  8. ^ Michael M. Gerber, "A History of Special Education" in James M. Kauffman and Daniel P. Hallahan, eds., Handbook of Special Education (Routledge 2011): 6-11. ISBN 9781136869624
  9. ^ "School Defectives a Problem for City; Dr. Elizabeth E. Farrell Tells Teachers the Number is Alarming" Brooklyn Daily Eagle (March 3, 1920): 23. via Newspapers.com open access publication – free to read
  10. ^ "Teachers' Rating Work of Principal; Council Protests that Those of Ungraded Class Instructors are Badly Treated" Brooklyn Daily Eagle (March 10, 1917): 7. via Newspapers.com open access publication – free to read
  11. ^ Margret Winzer, The History of Special Education: From Isolation to Integration (Gallaudet University Press 1993): 335. ISBN 9781563680182
  12. ^ "Elizabeth Farrell Dies in Cleveland" New York Times (October 17, 1932): 15.
  13. ^ "Ungraded Class Head Honored at Anniversary Fete" Brooklyn Daily Eagle (March 6, 1932): 6. via Newspapers.com open access publication – free to read
  14. ^ "Laud Miss E. E. Farrell" New York Times (February 20, 1933): 12.
  15. ^ The Elizabeth Farrell School, P. S. 116K, website.

External links[edit]