The Parents’ and Children’s School of Vada Bennett Dow by Alden B. Dow Architect

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While earning her Master’s degree in Education from Columbia University’s Teachers College, the young Vada Bennett was inspired by John Dewey’s progressive education philosophy of learning by doing. She put those principles into practice shortly thereafter by opening the Parents’ and Children’s School in Midland.

An undated booklet held in the Archives charts the history of the School, which was first organized in September 1933 as the Midland Nursery School with one building at 305 West Larkin Street. In September 1936, a Junior Kindergarten was added for four year old children and a Senior Kindergarten for five year old children at 602 George Street. The following year a First Grade was added at 803 West Ellsworth Street, and the entire school named the Parents’ and Children’s School.

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The Parents’ and Children’s School of  Vada Bennett Dow
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In September 1938, the Nursery group was enlarged and moved to a larger building at 402 East Ellsworth Street. A Second Grade was added at a small home and school on Crane Court that was designed by Alden B. Dow.

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Although not mentioned in the booklet, the Playroom of the Dow Home served as a preschool at one point, as documented in the photograph on display in the Archives (the former Playroom) showing Mrs. Dow overseeing a small group of preschool children at work and at play.  Her son Michael attended the School from the age of two through the second grade; an undated pupil list includes daughter Mary Lloyd in the five year old group. 

The School was formally incorporated in June of 1939, with Mrs. Dow listed as President of the Board of Trustees.  As outlined in the Articles of Incorporation, the purpose of the School was the development and popularization of progressive education in parents as well as children. For parents, that meant classroom observation times, conferences, evening parents’ meetings and mothers’ teas.

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For children, a progressive education emphasized and fostered the development of the creative, imaginative and individual channels of self-expression, as opposed to the group development that characterized the conventional system of public primary education at the time. Through a combination of traditional school subjects and exposure to a variety of creative media, children would realize their natural abilities and their true value as individuals.

In one of the more unique practices for the time, children were examined each morning by a registered nurse in order to detect any contagious diseases, colds, throat irritations or other illnesses to ensure they were physically fit to attend school.

In addition to the School’s organizational and financial records, other materials retained in the Archives include lists of toys for children of nursery age; book lists; Victrola records categorized by singing, dancing, listening and Christmas; and writings on various child psychology issues intended for teachers and parents.

The onset of World War II found teachers leaving Midland as their husbands were drafted into the armed forces. Mr. Dow relocated to Texas to build Lake Jackson and house the influx of workers at the Dow Chemical plant; Mrs. Dow would soon follow him with the children in 1943. And, despite charging tuition and being a non-profit entity for tax purposes, the School had a difficult time meeting its expenses. It never resumed operating after the war.

However, the Parents’ and Children’s School on Crane Court was readapted with some alterations for use as a home. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1996.

The Parents’ and Children’s School of  Vada Bennett Dow
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