Written by Melissa Hope, guest blogger
Many of us fondly remember our elementary school and a favorite (or not so favorite teacher). Where we learn and what we learn as children has a deep and lasting impact on our entire lives. What better way to learn about the teachers, institutions, curriculum, and culture of elementary education and the ways it has changed over time than by exploring the Albert Gore Center’s collections documenting Middle Tennessee women in education? The Gore Research Center has several collections related to this subject, including important collections that preserve the history of women educators and teacher training methods, curriculum, and pedagogy.
Middle Tennessee State University was founded in 1911 as a normal school to train teachers for Tennessee’s burgeoning system of public schools. By 1925, MTSU had evolved into a four-year teachers college. Enrollment data tells us that women enrolled in higher numbers than men until after World War II, meaning many women educators started their careers by attending Middle Tennessee Normal School or, later, Middle Tennessee State Teachers College. The Middle Tennessee State Normal School Historical Documents Collection (1911–1925) contains photographs, student body newspapers, and a payroll ledger. These sources offer insight into student culture and educators pay scales during the period.
From its beginnings, the Middle Tennessee State Normal School operated a functional elementary school on campus as a place for teachers to practice and observe. In 1985, the school was renamed The Homer Pittard Campus School and is still in operation today. The Homer Pittard Campus School Papers (1938-2004) contain scrapbooks, yearbooks, Parent-Teacher Organization records, student publications, newspaper clippings, National Register of Historic Places application, videos, and even a choir uniform. The sixty-six year span of this collection offers insights into student life, educational standards, and parent concerns and involvement.
Marguerite Boutwell was a kindergarten and first-grade teacher at the Pittard Campus School until her 1972 retirement. As an early childhood educator, Boutwell saw the need for and championed the establishment of kindergarten in the state of Tennessee. The Lane and Marguerite Boutwell Papers contain Marguerite’s teaching notes, student handouts, memos, games, lesson plans, and tests for her work teaching children speech, drama, English, social studies, math, and other subjects.
Ruth Bowdoin was director of curriculum for Murfreesboro City Schools in the mid-twentieth century. Bowdoin saw a need to educate pre-school children from low-income families so they would not enter kindergarten developmentally behind their peers. That need resulted in her writing The Bowdoin Method pre-school curriculum and implementing that through The Ruth Bowdoin School on Wheels. The Ruth Bowdoin Papers contains filmstrips, cassette tapes, and booklets about The Bowdoin Method (1976). The Gore Research Center has an oral history with Bowdoin, as well. By combining this collection and oral history with the other collections described in this article there is a great opportunity to develop a history of Tennessee elementary school curriculum or teaching methods.
Where we learn matters – it matters as a child and it matter as an adult. As we close Women’s History Month, I invite you to make the Albert Gore Research Center a place where you learn about female educators in Middle Tennessee.
Melissa Hope is the archivist at Lee University’s Dixon Pentecostal Research Center in Cleveland, Tennessee. She is finishing her M.A. in Public History at M.T.S.U. and is a military historian in the U.S. Army Reserves. She enjoys hiking and camping with her 4 sons in her “spare” time.