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The advancement of kindergarten education was a major focus for the energies of female reformers in Germany during the 1848 revolution and the rest of the nineteenth century. Friedrich Froebel (1782-1852), an educator and philosopher who had studied with Swiss pedagogue Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi, formulated the educational philosophy of the kindergarten. Froebel, who was born in Oberweissbach, Thuringia as the son of a pastor, had attended the University of Jena. A veteran of the Wars of Liberation, he had previously founded schools for boys and written several treatises on education. Following Pestalozzi's teachings, he believed that mothers should take a leading role in the education of small children. His best-known book, written in 1843, was Mutter- und Koselieder, a series of songs designed to help mothers provide sensory stimulation and educational play for children from the first months of life.

Froebel, however, believed that most mothers were not qualified to perform this crucial educational function, and therefore designed a new type of institution for early-childhood education, which he called the Kindergarten. He founded the first kindergarten in Blankenburg, Thuringia in 1840. The kindergarten differed from existing preschool institutions, most of which were church-run day-care centers known as Bewahranstalten or Kleinkinderschulen. These institutions provided chiefly custodial services for the children of the very poor. Their pedagogy was based on traditional Christian doctrines of original sin, and their teaching staff was largely male; beginning in the 1830s, Protestant deaconesses were also sometimes employed in these institutions. By contrast, Froebel designed the kindergarten for children of all classes, though at first it attracted chiefly middle-class children. Its pedagogical approach, based on that of Rousseau and Pestalozzi, denied original sin and affirmed the child's innate capacity for rationality and spiritual growth, which must be encouraged by a nurturing and supportive classroom atmosphere. Froebel, having failed to interest the male-dominated teaching profession in his ideas, called upon women to staff the kindergarten. Strongly believing that child rearing skills, though resting on an innate maternal instinct, must nonetheless be developed through training, he set up the first institute to train women kindergarten teachers at Keilhau, Thuringia in the early 1840s.

The kindergarten, though at first attracting little attention, gained popularity among liberal reformers as part of the surge of interest in new educational methods prompted by the 1848 revolution. In 1848, Froebel and his disciples, both male and female, held a demonstrationof kindergarten methods at a convention of elementary-school teachers at Rudolstadt. The teachers were favorably impressed by the methods, which promoted the qualities of independence and social responsibility that they considered basic to a new ideal of citizenship in a liberal state. Therefore, they addressed a petition to the Frankfurt assembly urging the incorporation of the kindergarten into a new national system of education. Prominent pedagogue Adolph Diesterweg, a leader of the liberal school-reform movement, also became an influential supporter ofFroebel and the kindergarten. Meanwhile, 31 kindergartens were founded, many by women's organizations, in German cities between 1848 and 1852. The women who staffed these institutions expressed the utopian spirit of this era by their commitment to overcoming class differences. Unlike other educational institutions, many kindergartens were open to children of all social classes and religious denominations, Jewish as well as Christian. The teachers encouraged tolerance and understanding among these diverse segments of the population.

The kindergarten movement also influenced the most radical experiment in women's education of the revolutionary period, Hochschulefür das weibliche Geschlecht. Hamburg citizens Emilie Wüstanfeld, Johanna Goldschmidt, and Bertha Meyer Traun founded the academy in 1849. A proposal formulated by Carl Froebel, a nephew of the kindergarten fouder, and Carl's wife Johanna Küstner Froebel, provided the philosophical basis of the institution. Carl and Johanna Froebel envisaged kindergarten training as a part of an ambitious program that aimed both to provide professional opportunities for women and to promote social transformation through the use of women's maternal gifts in the public sphere. The school's curriculum combined academic subjects with practical training in a kindergarten headed by Friedrich Froebel himself. Thus the kindergarten movement became associated with radical feminist movements. For this reason, the conservative regime that crushed the revolutionary movement in Prussia issued an order prohibiting all Froebel kindergartens in 1851. The decree, promulgated by Prussian minister of culture and education Karl von Raumer, condemned the kindergarten as a center of atheistic and socialist subversion. Many other German states followed the Prussian example.

After the ban, kindergarten founder Bertha von Marenholtz- Bülow (1811-1893) embarked on an ambitious campaign to spread thekindergarten to other European countries. She helped to found kindergartens in England, France, Belgium and Italy before returning Berlin after the recision of the kindergarten ban to set up charity kindergartens and a training school in Berlin (the school was later moved to Dresden). German liberal activists who went into exile after the failure of the Revolution introduced the kindergarten to other countries. Bertha Ronge, who with her husband, radical clergyman Johannes Ronge, went into exile in England, founded the first kindergartens there. Her sister Margarethe, who emigrated to the United States with her husband Carl Schurz, founded the first American kindergarten in Wisconsin in 1853. Thus, the kindergarten movement became an international network, encouraging contact and cooperation among female reformers in many different countries. Meanwhile, the 1860s and 1870s were a period of renewed activism for German kindergarten founders, some of whom, like Henriette Goldschmidt (1825-1920) became leaders within the national feminist organization, the General Association of German Women. Froebelian views of women's social mission thus had a considerable influence on the later development of German feminism. Froebel's niece and former student, Henriette Schrader-Breymann (1827-1896), founded a kindergarten-training institution, the Pestalozzi-Froebel Haus, in Berlin in 1873; it later became internationally known. Although the state of Prussia acknowledged the value of the kindergarten by establishing a statewide qualifying examination for kindergarten teachers in 1911, most school systems in Germany had not incorporated kindergarten classes into their curricula. The German kindergarten has been supported chiefly by tuition payments, religious organizations, or social welfare agencies.

Ann T. Allen


Ann Taylor Allen, "Spiritual Motherhood: German Feminists and the Kindergarten Movement, 1840-1911," History of Education Quarterly 22 (Fall, 1982): 319-340.

_______. "Gardens of Children, Gardens of God: Kindergartens and Day-Care Centers in Nineteenth-Century Germany," Journal of Social History 19 (Spring, 1986): 433-50.

_______. "Let us Live for our Children: Kindergarten Movements in Germany and the United States, 1840-1914," History of Education Quarterly 28 (Spring, 1988): 23-48.

Günter Erning, Karl Neumann, Jürgen Reyer, eds., Geschichte des Kindergartens, 2 vols. (Freiburg im Breisgau, 1987).

Wilma Grossmann, Vorschulerziehung: Historische Entwicklung und alternative Modelle (Cologne, 1974).

Gunnar Heinsohn, Vorschulerziehung in der bürgerlichen Gesellschaft (Frankfurt, 1974).

Catherine M. Prelinger, Charity, Challenge and Change: Religious Dimensions of the Mid-Nineteenth-Century Women's Movement in Germany (Westport, Connecticut, 1987).

Brigitte Zwerger, Bewahransalt, Kleinkinderschule, Kindergarten: Aspekte nichtfamiliärer Kleinkinderziehung in Deutschland (Weinheim, 1980).

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