UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN River Falls

1960 - Helen Parkhurst

Helen C Parkhurst-1960When Helen C. Parkhurst graduated in 1907 from the two-year elementary course, her professors might have predicted an unusual career for her. Her thesis was titled "Child Heart," and she had written below her picture in the yearbook: "Here buds the promise of celestial worth." It took only a short time for this young woman from Durand to bloom. After teaching two years in Hudson, she took a position in Tacoma, Wash., and in 1910 founded the laboratory plan for elementary school individualized instruction. For this, she received her first award, the "Distinguished Gold Medal," given by the Board of Education, and was named "First Citizen of Tacoma."

Parkhurst returned to Wisconsin in 1912 to become the director of the Primary Department at UW-Stevens Point. Three years later she spent a year in Italy studying with the education pioneer, Maria Montessori. When Montessori came to the United States to lecture, Parkhurst joined her and for a time administered the Montessori schools across the nation. It was in New York, however, where she spent most of her distinguished career. Known as the originator of the Dalton Plan of Education, which became a model for countless schools throughout the world, she earned a place in the directory, 100 Educators of All Time.

This distinguished alumna, who was one of the most influential educators of her era, expressed her philosophy through television and radio programs and in numerous articles and books. Her first books,Education on the Dalton Plan (1922) and Exploring the Child’s World (1936), became standard references for this system of elementary education. Before her death in 1973, she also wrote Growing Pains (1962) and Undertow (1963), and had been decorated by the Queen of Italy, Empress of Japan, and the Queen of the Netherlands. There is a "Helen Parkhurst Dalton School" in Rotterdam and Parkhurst Lecture Hall at UW-Stevens Point. Truly, her educational philosophy is an extension of her senior thesis "Child Heart." Montessori best summarized her career: "Her intelligent activity is truly rare and precious."