because the woman's place is wherever the woman is...

Friday, December 14, 2012

Ella Flagg Young

Despite the fact that she had almost no formal education as a child, Ella Flagg Young took the examination for teacher certification in 1865 and passed it at the age of fifteen only to be told she was too young to be a teacher. Nobody she knew (not even her parents) believed she could or should continue her efforts in that direction. But Young was an in-your-face woman who paid them no mind whatsoever. So she graduated from the Chicago Normal School at seventeen and was subsequently married and then widowed within a decade.

Freed of the conventions of respectable responsibility as a married woman in the 1800's, Young turned her attentions to her career in education. By 1887, she had become the Superintendent of Schools in Chicago. By 1899, she was a professor of Education in the University of Chicago, receiving her Ph.D. from that institution the following year. She served on the Board of Education for the State of Illinois from 1888 to 1913. And the National Education Association elected her President in 1910.

Young was not, however, just a theoretical and administratively-oriented educator. She pushed the development of critical thinking and discussion for both boys and girls, appointed deans to counsel youth, and even introduced sex hygiene programs in school -- the first anywhere. Needless to say, Young was also strongly committed to the struggle of women to gain the right to vote. An in-your-face woman doesn't stop because others tell her she should. She doesn't follow the roads most travelled. And the result, which is hardly surprising, is that others follow her.

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