Partner Dorothy R. Luke
Yale University, 38 Hillhouse Ave, New Haven, CT 06520
Center Cemetery East Hartford, Hartford County, Connecticut, USA
Helen Parkhurst (March 8, 1886 – June 1, 1973) was an American educator, author, lecturer, the originator of the Dalton Plan, founder of The Dalton School and host of "Child's World with Helen Parkhurst" on ABC Television Network. Parkhurst took her cues from developmental psychologist Jean Piaget and education reformers such as John Dewey and Horace Mann, producing a progressive education philosophy emphasizing the development of the “whole child."
She was born in Durand, Wisconsin, the eldest of three children of Ida Underwood and James Henry Pankhurst. Her father, of English and Welsh ancestry, was an hotel keeper and civic leader. Her mother, of Scottish ancestry, was a teacher.
After attending primary and secondary schools in Durand, she received her B.S. from Wisconsin State Teachers College in 1907, studied at the universities of Rome and Munich as well as with Maria Montessori and was awarded her M.A. in 1943 from Yale University. She taught briefly in Wisconsin, moved to Edison School, Tacoma, Washington, in 1909, and returned to teach at first at the Central State Teachers College in Ellensburg, Washington, from 1911 to 1913 and then at the Wisconsin Central State Teachers College in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, as head of the primary traning department from 1913 until 1915. In 1917-1918 Pankhurst headed the teacher training department of the Montessori training college in New York, the first person authorized by Montessori to train teachers.
By then Pankhurst was living in New York City, where she had moved in 1916. In New York she gained the financial backing of some prominent businessmen, and started her first classes in a private school she named the Children's University School. Renamed the Dalton School in 1920, it was extraordinarily successful and educators soon came from all over the world to observe Parkhurst's plan in action. In 1922 her hook, Education on the Dalton Plan, was published in England; it was subsequently translated into fifty-eight languages. During the 1920s and 1930s Parkhurst was honored for her work by many countries and was decorated by both the Chinese Republic and the Emperor of Japan, whose citation declared her "officially married to her work." In 1957 Queen Juliana of the Netherlands honored her foe her influence on Dutch education.
In 1942 Parkhurst resigned from the Dalton School after more than twenty years as its bead, and went to Yale University (M.A., 1943), where she was the first Yale Fellow in Education. As a fellow, she taught sociology as well as continuing her own research. After 1947, Parkhurst entered yet another stage in her career, becoming an award-winning broadcasting celebrity. From 1947 to 1950 she did a weekly program, first on radio and later on television, celled "Child's World," in which children discussed their problems. Other programs included "Growing Pains," a radio series for teenagers, and 'The World of Sound," a program with blind children. She also made some 300 record-ings with children on psychological subjects which were used in psychology courses through-out the country. Parkhurst was a 1948 recipient of a Radio - Television Critics Award and a 1949 recipient of the 13th American Exhibition of Educational Radio Programs Award.
Parkhurst's energy never slackened; from 1952 to 1959 she taught at the College of the City of New York and during the period from 1950 to 1963 she also found time to publish three books. Working fourteen to sixteen hours a day at the age of eighty-six, Parkhurst was writing a book about Montessori and another on her childhood memories when she died of a puhnonary embolism in New Milford, Conn., in 1973. For the last 17 years of her life she lived with Dorothy Rawls Luke, a retired teacher.
A lecture hall at the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point is dedicated to her memory.
Parkhurst was the author of “Exploring the Child's World,” with an introduction by Aldous Huxley, and “Growing Pains,” a book about teenagers. Parkhurst was named one of the 100 Educators of All Time. Maria Montessori best summarized Parkhurst‘s career by stating, ”Her intelligent activity is truly rare and precious.” Eleanor Roosevelt greatly admired the work of Parkhurst and played a significant role in expanding the population and resources of her school.
Parkhurst's influence has spread across the globe, with schools in the Netherlands, England, Australia, Japan and others adopting the Dalton Plan of education. The Helen Parkhurst Exhibit at the Pepin County Museum traces the life and legacy of Parkhurst. There is a "Helen Parkhurst Dalton School" in Rotterdam and a Parkhurst Lecture Hall at UW-Stevens Point.
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