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Molly Meyer-Schurz (born Margarethe Meyer; also called Margaretha Meyer-Schurz or just Margarethe Schurz; born 27 August 1833 in Hamburg; died 15 March 1876) opened the first German-language Kindergarten in Watertown, WI (in the United States.)
Margarethe Meyer-Schurz was born in Hamburg as the youngest daughter of Heinrich Christian Meyer, on August 27, 1833. Her mother died only a few hours after her birth. Her father encouraged education and the arts. In Hamburg, she studied under educators influenced by the creator of the "kindergarten" concept, child advocate Friedrich Froebel. Her father died when she was 15 years old. Through her older sisters Amalie and Bertha, she came into early contact with the "Society of German Catholics" and later attended the "School for the Female Sex". After her older sister Bertha divorced her husband Friedrich Traun, she entered a new marriage with the excommunicated priest Johannes Ronge, the founder of the schismatic German Catholics.
After the failed revolution of 1848, Bertha followed Johannes Ronge into exile in London. In 1849, Margarethe and her sister Bertha met Froebel. Bertha Meyer spent 1850 and 1851 advancing the concept, opening Kindergartens across the German States. In 1851, Bertha and her spouse, Johannes Ronge, opened the England Infant Garden in Tavistock Place, the first Kindergarten in the English-speaking community. Margarethe Meyer taught at the England Infant Garden before moving to Watertown, Wisconsin with her husband Carl Schurz. In fall of 1851, Bertha became seriously sick and desperately needed help in the household. Because of this, Margarethe traveled to London as well. There she met Carl Schurz who (like Ronge) had to leave Germany for political reasons. Margarethe and Carl entered a civil marriage and traveled soon thereafter to the United States. Both were members of the Irving Literary Society. In Watertown, Wisconsin, they started a small farm, where Margarethe's gift for financial affairs put them at an advantage.
Margarethe Meyer brought Froebel's ideas to America. She spent 2 years in New York then went west. She employed Froebel's philosophy while caring for her daughter, Agathe Schurz, and four neighborhood children in Wisconsin, leading them in games, songs and group activities channeling their energy and preparing them for primary school. Other Wisconsin parents were impressed and prevailed upon Schurz to open a Watertown kindergarten, the first in the United States. And like most of the early kindergartens in the United States, the class was conducted in the German language. The Watertown kindergarten continued until the outbreak of World War I, when it was closed due to opposition to the German language's use [Notation; the Watertown Kindergarten was in operation from fall of 1854 to fall of 1856, when Margarethe Schurz and her family relocated to Milwaukee, WI for the winters-returning to Watertown only in the summers*. In 1856 the mortgage on her home was foreclosed. As a result, she moved back to Hamburg in June of the same year. After about a year she returned to the United States and settled in Missouri. The school did not continue after 1856 until it was brought back into public education [date unknown].
In 1859, the Transcendentalist Elizabeth Peabody visited the Schurz home at Watertown, Wisconsin, and was impressed with the young Agathe Schurz's ability and maturity. Margarete Meyer-Schurz told her about Froebel's teachings, and Peabody converted to the kindergarten cause. While Mrs. Schurz's health became such that she could not continue with her work, Peabody became a nationally known advocate of early education, and helped bring kindergartens into widespread use.
Margarethe Meyer-Schurz died at the age of 43, on March 15, 1876, and only three days after the birth of her son, Herbert.
On May 2, 1929, a memorial tablet was dedicated in Watertown, Wisconsin, a few feet from the site of the building where she founded the first kindergarten in America. "In memory of Mrs. Carl Schurz (Margarethe Meyer Schurz) Aug. 27, 1833 -- March 15, 1876, who established on this site the first kindergarten in America, 1856."
The restored first kindergarten building originally stood at the corner of N. Second and Jones Streets, Watertown, and was later moved to the grounds of the Octagon House in December 1956. The restored building was dedicated on September 15, 1957. The interior, a living room used as a classroom, remains furnished in the period and portrays a kindergarten class in progress. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.
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