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A Centennial Retrospective

Chicago Normal School

Education in the Public Service

In its initial quest to find a replacement for Parker, the Chicago Board of Education indicated a desire for quietude after the turmoil, however creative, of the Parker years. Its first choice was a man of reputation in midwestern educational circles, Edwin G. Cooley. Cooley's lack of national reputation seemingly augmented his attractive­ness. However, Superintendent of Schools Lane soon resigned also and the Board appointed Cooley to that position — one it felt was more in keeping with his experience.

Arnold Tompkins
Arnold Tompkins

In Cooley's stead the Board appointed as Principal of Chicago Normal the well-known educator, Arnold Tompkins. Tompkins resigned his presidency at Illinois State Normal in Bloomington to accept the position in 1900. He had achieved a considerable reputation as an educator knowledgeable about contemporary educational affairs. His appointment was a momentary victory for those in favor of maintaining the national stature of Chicago Normal School.

Tompkins' tenure was stormy, in line with the already estab­lished pattern of the school's administrators. It was marked by vicious attacks upon his principles and personality. These were years of increas­ing philosophic ferment within American intellectual thought — years of intense feelings resulting in bitter attacks on new concepts from the defenders of the existing order. Difficult as Parker's educational skir­mishes had been, they had remained skirmishes. They were not as yet fought out in an American mind becoming deeply troubled by and fully conscious of the pragmatic onslaught of Pierce and James and the beginnings of the educational revolution of John Dewey.

Tompkins suffered because he pleased neither progressives nor conservatives. To the latter he somehow vaguely personified the new revolution, while to the former he stood as both a conservative and as a violator of the Parker tradition. The remaining band of Parkerites were particularly critical. While there are, at this remote distance, vague outlines of grounds for concern by this faction, the estrangement appears to have been one of temperament rather than philosophy.

Tompkins’ enemies leveled various charges: gross exaggeration to the public of the school's internal problems; negligence which "pro­moted vandalism and anarchy" at the school; denial of legally entitled faculty raises; and favoritism to those who "cooperated with theadministration." Accusations aside, much of educational and civic importance was accomplished under Tompkins. The Normal School faculty, during his tenure, became directly involved in curriculum planning for the elementary schools — a movement towards service to the school system and away from philosophic experimentation. Given the evolution of the school, the step was a most natural one, and the establishment of firmer practical ties with the Board of Education lessened the frequency of annual crises threatening the school's existence.

Smock in the Classroom
The smock as attractive classroom garment

Programs were instituted under Tompkins to offer systematic, low-cost, continuing education for teachers already working in the city schools. The "Normal Extension Program" provided for evening classes taught throughout the-city by Normal faculty. One of the first extensive in-service programs in the nation, these classes were designed to help teachers obtain promotions and specifically to familiarize them with current educational theory. The institution has continued a seventy-five-year commitment to this vital field of educational development and today offers similar classes throughout the metropolitan Chicago area.

Another project begun under Tompkins which has continued through the decades is the publication of educational articles authored by faculty members. Actually its antecedents date back to Parker. Then, in 1902 a series of news sheets about education, simply folded and distributed in an envelope under the title of "The Cook County Normal School Envelope," was distributed. By the second year of the series' publication, circulation had reached sixty-three hundred copies. In 1907 these Normal Press publications became the Educational Bi­monthly, a magazine which carried the writings of national authorities in the field of education. What was to become the Chicago Schools Journal and eventually the Illinois Schools journal was well established.

Tompkins showed a keen awareness of the sociological prob­lems of immigrant America. To meet the changing needs of the city, the professional training course was lengthened from one to two years. More importantly, practice teaching, which had previously been per­formed in the sterile conditions of the Practice School, was expanded into regular Chicago Public School classrooms. Tompkins did not view even this departure as sufficiently responsive to the urban reality when he determined that the practice schools being used did not accurately reflect the sociological makeup of the city. Thereafter, a larger number of schools in lower income areas were included in the teacher training program. Thus, under Tompkins, the Normal School clearly changed its mission: service to the city became a more central part of its role while philosophic innovation diminished.

Tompkins prevailed upon the Board of Education to con­struct a new College building which was completed in 1905. The original building, officially described as dilapidated in 1883, had deteriorated even further by 1896. Renovation of the structure and the addition of wings to the old building were temporary palliatives, and it soon became evident that the money had been fruitlessly expended. As pressure for new facilities grew, plans were made to erect a new building. After a financial crisis and a predictable taxpayer lawsuit, the College or Dome Building, on what was then known as the South Campus, was occupied in September of 1905.

Some criticism of the architecture was raised since the structure reflected the neoclassical resurgence that followed the Chicago World's Fair of 1893. Its eclecticism was to some a frightening violation of the principles of the Chicago school of architecture. Such voices were few, and the aesthetic vulgarity of the first years of the twentieth century prevailed. Within a decade the new building was deemed inadequate, and an Arts and Gymnasium building was constructed. This building was architecturally nondescript and not well related to the Dome Building. The designation of the new structure as the "Arts" building did not signify a burgeoning cultural awareness but was rather simply an indication that the primary use of its facilities would be for the home-making arts.

The Dome Building, completed in 1905, drew some criticism of its architecture since the structure reflected the neoclassical resurgence that followed the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893.
The Dome Building

Upon the death of Tompkins in 1905, Ella Flagg Young became Principal of the school, the administration thus having come full circle from her involvement in the original "normal" training course in Chicago more than 45 years earlier. Her tenure was brief and lacking in drama. She developed the first plan for extending the curriculum to three years, hoping to have graduates complete their work for a bachelor's degree in evening classes after their graduation. Her idea was twenty years premature, for at this point the Board of Education demurred at the additional expense involved. In retrospect, their rejection of this concept was critical to the College’s history. The establishment at that time of a three-year program would have inevitably led to the operation of a four-year College. This would have allowed the institution to develop in a manner parallel to that of many other normal schools that became Teachers Colleges in the period from 1915 to 1930.

Ella Flagg Young

An effective principal must have a well organized theory and practice of education that will give to the teaching corps of the school assurance both of stability that will guarantee the continuance of what has been already attained and of flexibility that will insure further progress. A good principal must know how to teach and should teach in order to keep in touch with the work of the teaching corps and to establish the intellectual and moral confidence of the older boys and girls in the conduct of the school. There is no better proof of the worth of a principal than that confidence. Ella Flagg Young, 1908

Thwarted by the bureaucracy, the school acted with increasing fear of "downtown" and became less innovative in its curriculum and more traditional in its internal structure. The closer ties to the Board of Education made internal administrative flexibility less possible, and, as these ties became firmer, they made transfer of the institution to the State, which was to be proposed several times, more difficult. In time, Ella Flagg Young hereself became less innovative, and, notwithstanding a national reputation, seemed to acquiesce in the status quo.

Her promotion to Superintendent of the Chicago Public School System in 1909 brought Dr. William Bishop Owen to the Normal School helm. A genial man, Owen was conservative in his educational philosophy. No Parker, the emphasis during his regime was on the creation of a school which would turn out the type of teacher which the Board of Education - the holder of the purse strings wanted. The response to the wishes of "downtown" quickened during these years, and there could be no question that the years of creativity and ferment were over. In the words of one critic, the school took on the characteristics of a "woman's seminary" where the students were chided for talking in the lunchroom and forbidden to perform such wild and scandalous dances as the tango and the Charleston. Paradoxically, the Normal School's reputation died slowly. As late as 1915, Chicago Normal School was a required stopping point for visiting foreign educational experts.

William Bishop Owen

William Bishop Owen

Enrollment grew rapidly after the turn of the century, increasing from 532 in 1897 to 886 in 1916 and again more than doubling by 1924. Admissions requirements were revised several times during these years, with a continuing elevation of standards. From 1893 to 1900, students were accepted after passing an entrance examination or without examination if they had either a high school average of ninety percent or a college diploma. In 1900 the ninety percent qualification was eliminated. In its place high school graduates were required to pass an examination based upon a Normal School entrance course, which was offered in all public high schools. The Normal School course included four years of English, two years of science, and four years of drawing and vocal music. In 1911, admissions requirements were again raised because of a surfeit of teachers. Applicants had to achieve a grade of at least seventy-five percent in a rigorous entrance examination lasting three days. However, former teachers in the Chicago Public Schools, graduates of accredited colleges and universities, and recommended Cook County high school graduates were exempt from the examination. The twin influences of a highly selective admissions policy and a rising political atmosphere were now present and would permeate the College for years to come.

These elitist admissions policies, however, did help the school maintain a superior quality of education. Universities in the area, without exception, gave transferees two years of credit for completion of the "Normal Course." Many high schools with first generation immigrant students strongly encouraged their graduates to enroll in the Normal Course — a move which led to the dilution of the hitherto white, Anglo-Saxon character of the school, somewhat to the consternation of the predominately white, Anglo-Saxon faculty.

By 1926 Chicago Normal School consisted of the Normal College, Parker High 'School, Parker Elementary School, and Parker Junior High School — an imposing physical plant in a lovely middle-class neighborhood of charming and, in many cases, expansive and expensive homes. Graduation exercises were traditionally held on campus and were very much a community event. "Such, such were the joys" of a time lost: an America innocent; a national conscience untroubled; an economy expanding; and a school enjoying the fruits of this tranquility and prosperity.

The faculty had grown to eighty-eight members in the mid-twenties. Eleven members of the teaching staff held doctoral degrees; fourteen, Master of Arts degrees; three, Master of Science degrees; twelve, Bachelor of Philosophy degrees; and four, Bachelor of Science degrees. Others had no formal degrees but instead had a variety of educational experiences or a wide range of industrial or professional backgrounds. These teachers were primarily instructors in specialized fields such as industrial arts, printing, and art. Fifteen members of the faculty were either graduates of Chicago Normal College or had received some of their training at the institution. Most of the faculty had, at one time or another in the course of their careers, been teachers in Chicago elementary or high schools. A position on the Normal faculty had become for many a stepping-stone toward a principalship in the Chicago Public Schools. In 1926 alone, the Normal faculty lost four members who became principals.

Ella Flagg Young and her predecessors had been concerned about this sort of inbreeding. While recognizing the advantages that accrued from a knowledge of the Chicago school system, all heads of the school before Owen were conscious of the necessity to recruit from a wide variety of geographic locations. Under Owen, previously unknown provincialism set in and remained perennial for the next two decades until the administrations of John Bartky and Raymond Cook.

A major development in the College's evolution occurred in February of 1926 when it inaugurated at long last a three-year course. Two hundred and forty-four students enrolled in the first three-year class. However, since the College continued to train students to teach only in the Chicago elementary schools, the three-year program did not increase the intellectual outlook of the student body; rather, it merely allowed additional preparation for the teaching of the first eight grades.

Internally the College's program remained essentially that of a high school. The academic year was divided into four ten-week segments with students assigned to sections according to their choices of program. A student remained with his section throughout his years at the College. Failure to keep up with his section because of a failure in a course, absences, or change in program meant reassignment to a special section. All classes of a section were together, allowing for no variance in a student's program or diversity of contact. And, as in high school, the school day was from nine in the morning to three in the afternoon with a designated time for lunch and a common free period, sometimes devoted to hall duty.

The curriculum was considerably revised by 1926. The three-year course required English, geography, sociology, chemistry, and either botany or zoology — clearly an increased emphasis on subjects traditional within the academic curriculum. Students also had to register for music, art, oral expression and physical education. A rigid divorce of the student teaching period from any academic work on campus resulted in a significant improvement in the quality of professional training. If not very broad or imaginative, the program did contain a reasonably solid academic core.

Chicago Normal College in the twenties had a wealth of extracurricular activities. The preponderance of girls in the student body made the women's athletic program much more extensive than its male counterpart. Throughout the year the Normal College Athletic Association sponsored field hockey, indoor baseball, volleyball, captain basketball, swimming, golf, hockey, horseback riding, ice skating, roller skating, rifle shooting, and hiking. Male students (of which there were only a hundred in 1926) played on baseball and basketball teams. An extensive variety of activities augmented the athletic program. The vigorous Student Self-Governing Association, Dramatic Club, Glee Club, Orchestra, and Debating Club all had numerous members.

Owen, struck by serious illness, left the College for an extended leave of absence in 1926. His death at a campus social came in 1928 at the age of sixty-two, after being President of the College for nineteen years. A eulogy presented by the Board of Education listed his main achievement as the change instituted shortly before his death which made the College a three-year institution. The same eulogy mentioned that his chief unfulfilled aspiration was to make the College an institution for the preparation of junior and senior high school teachers.

In retrospect, the Owen years were a microcosm of American society before the Great Depression. They were years in which it was assumed that the purpose of the College was to produce teachers reflective of the solid middle-class virtues of a prosperous, Protestant, racially untroubled America. If these were years of middle-class tranquility in the land, then neither the College nor any other segment of society saw it as its mission to disturb that calm. The American dream was still unquestioned, and if the almost totally Anglo-Saxon names of the Wentworth-Parker-Tompkins-Young era were diluted in the twenties by an increasing number of those like Hayes and O'Brien and a growing handful like Levin, Krakowski and DeMeglio, the school still viewed its purpose as the training of the general middle class for a professional calling and elevation of the newly emerging lower classes to a suitable social status.

May 1928 Water Carnival
Water Carnival, May 1928.

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