Sunday, May 31, 2009

Mary McSkimmon, Brookline Educator

Seeing news of the National Spelling Bee this week reminded me of the story of Mary McSkimmon, long ago principal of the Pierce School in Brookline who, as president of the National Education Association, presided over the second annual Bee in 1926.

McSkimmon was a forceful and innovative educator who achieved local and national prominence. (I first researched and wrote about her in 2005 for the sesquicentennial of the Pierce School, where both of my daughters were students.)

Among her many accomplishments were the following:
  • She was an early promoter of both student government and parental involvement in the schools. Among her innovations were regular mothers' meetings at Pierce at a time when there were no PTOs.
  • She was a co-author in 1914 of a "peace curriculum" for American schools aimed at promoting international understanding and appreciation for other cultures.
  • As NEA president in 1925, she created a committee on "Problems in Negro Education & Life" which provided for the first time an official way for the predominantly white NEA to work with the predominantly black American Teachers Association.
  • She fought relentlessly for an expanded view of and public support for education. As the Brookline Chronicle wrote upon her death in 1946, “She campaigned militantly for increase in music, physical training, school doctors and nurses in days when they were considered educational ‘frills,' and she often lectured on the subject, telling civic groups that unselfish taxation must be the rule for education.”
Born in Bangor, Maine in 1862, Mary McSkimmon was principal of Pierce from 1893 to 1932 and a member of the Brookline School Committee from 1933 to 1939. She was the founder of the Brookline Teachers’ Club, the first woman president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, and president of the National Education Association (NEA) from 1925 to 1926.

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