San Francisco History

Kindergarten Movement in San Francisco
By John Swett


Felix Adler of New York City made a visit to San Francisco in 1878 and began a movement which ended in the establishment of the Silver Street Kindergarten school under the management of Miss Kate Douglas Smith, who afterwards, as Mrs. Kate Douglas Wiggin, became widely known as an author. Soon after this school was opened I visited it, and, on request of the principal, detailed two student teachers, partly as assistants and partly as students of kindergarten methods. Then I called the attention of Mrs. Sarah B. Cooper to the school. As she was a born philanthropist, she became deeply interested in the work, and proposed to start another class in what was known as the "Barbary Coast," — the old ''Five Points'' of San Francisco. She soon secured by subscription the money to pay the rent of a building and  also to pay a teacher. I went with her to explore the region and select a suitable location.

When the school opened I detailed as assistants two student teachers, one of whom was my own daughter, Emily Tracy Swett. Next I organized a class of children between five and six years of age, in a vacant room, kept the school running for three months under the entire charge of pupils from the normal class, and finally, with Mrs. Cooper's  assistance, succeeded in 1880 in making it a free public school under the name of the "Experimental Class." One year later a second class was opened in connection with  Mrs. Cooper's kindergarten school on Union Street.

Mrs. Cooper entered on the free kindergarten work with her whole soul. She was a woman of marked literary ability. For many years she earned enough wither pen to aid in the support of her family and in the education of her sister's children in Memphis, Tennessee. She had no money to contribute to the kindergarten cause, but she gave what was needed more than money, —the wealth of her clear intellect, her winning manner, and her devoted Christian philanthropy. It was through her influence that  Mrs. Leland Stanford became interested in the work and finally endowed three kindergarten schools with one hundred thousand dollars for their support. Mrs. Phoebe Hearst was induced by Mrs. Cooper's persuasive power to endow another kindergarten school. A large number of citizens subscribed five dollars a month, each, for the support of other classes. The Golden Gate Kindergarten Association was organized, and in ten years there were forty-six kindergarten classes supported entirely by endowments and subscriptions. Mrs. Cooper's annual reports were distributed and read wherever the English language is spoken.

After the death of Mrs. Cooper's husband, she still continued her management of the kindergarten schools, her daughter Hattie meanwhile supporting the family by giving music lessons. Mrs. Cooper steadily refused to receive a dollar for services, though persistently urged by the officers of the association to accept a salary. Once when I urged her to yield to the wishes of the association, she replied, "This is the Lord's work, and I feel it would not be blessed if I received pay for it." She held frequent consultations with me about any new undertakings, and is no person living who knows more fully than myself the extent of her labors, and the wealth of philanthropic devotion and Christian self-sacrifice that she brought to the work of training, reforming, and educating the children of the poor in San Francisco. Her sad and sudden death cast a gloom over the city in which her great work was accomplished.

Source: Sweet, John. Public Education In California, Its Origin and Development, With Personal Reminiscences of Half a Century. American Book Company: 1911. Excerpts, Chapter XIII, pages 224-226.


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