Patty Smith Hill Essay

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Patty Smith Hill was a leader in the kindergarten movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Hill was an outspoken advocate for progressive education within the International Kindergarten Union (IKU), was influential in professionalizing teacher training, and was the first woman to head a department at Teachers College Columbia (TCC). At TCC, she established laboratory classrooms, conducted research on children at play, and developed degree programs for early childhood educators. Hill published articles on instruction; composed stories and songs for children, including “Happy Birthday to You”; and designed developmentally appropriate classroom furniture and equipment. The “Patty Hill Blocks” were a fixture in many kindergarten classrooms throughout the twentieth century.

Patty Smith Hill was born in Anchorage, Kentucky, and completed her kindergarten training at the Louisville Collegiate Institute. She became head teacher of the Holcombe Mission Kindergarten in Louisville in 1888. Following summer institutes with Colonel Francis Parker and G. Stanley Hall, she began to depart from the Froebelian orthodoxy of the traditional kindergarten. In 1893, she demonstrated her teaching methods at the World Columbian Exposition and attended John Dewey’s classes at the University of Chicago.

By the end of the century, she had become a leading figure in debates within the kindergarten movement. In 1903, she and the Froebelian Susan Blow were invited to offer a joint series of lectures at TCC. The progressive views of Hill, “that young radical from the South,” prevailed. She was appointed to the TCC faculty in 1905, elected president of the IKU in 1908, and became head of TCC’s Department of Kindergarten Education in 1910. Her edited collections, Experimental Studies in Kindergarten Education and A Conduct Curriculum for the Kindergarten and First Grade, became foundational texts within the field of early childhood education.


  1. Davis, O. L. (2003). Patty Smith Hill and the U.S. kindergarten. In S. L. Field & M. J. Berson (Eds.), They led by teaching. Indianapolis, IN: Kappa Delta Pi.
  2. Hill, P. S. (Ed.). (1915). Experimental studies in kindergarten education. New York: Teachers College Press.
  3. Hill, P. S. (Ed.). (1923). A conduct curriculum for the kindergarten and first grade. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.

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