Learn more about the history of Lesley University.
The Early Years, 1909 to 1939
In 1909 Edith Lesley [Wolfard] opened "The Lesley Normal School" in her
home on Everett Street in Cambridge, Massachusetts to train young women
to become kindergarten and early elementary teachers. Influenced by the
philosophy of German educator Friedrich Froebel, Lesley's two-year
curriculum stressed the importance of physical activity (singing,
dancing and gardening) and play, particularly with blocks and similar
objects. Edith Lesley also stressed the values of treating students as
individuals and the importance of 'gracious living.' Eleven students
graduated in the first class in 1911.
In the following year, classes in household arts were added and in
1917, a department, known first as Domestic Science and later
(1939-1940) as Home Economics, was established, offering a one- or
two-year program that prepared students to work in various public
institutions, including schools, hospitals, and settlement houses.
By the 1920s the school, now "The Lesley School," had twenty-two
instructors, had acquired three buildings for dormitories, and had built
Alumni Hall for assemblies and classes. Extra-curricular activities
came to play an important role, with Wednesday afternoons reserved for
musical or theatrical student performances. Later in the decade a
three-year kindergarten and early elementary program was offered in
addition to the two-year course of study.
During the 1930s Gertrude Malloch, who had joined the school as a
teacher and administrator in its first decade, became the school's chief
administrator, after Edith Lesley Wolfard's health began to fail. The
late 1930s to early 1940s saw some changes at Lesley. Enrollment, which
had been over 300 earlier in the decade, declined during the Depression,
reaching a low of 63 at one point.
Becoming a College, 1940-1960
In 1939 the school, to that point privately owned, became a non-profit
institution through incorporation, and during the academic year
1939-1940 it added a four-year teacher-training program. In 1943 this
four-year program was recognized as meeting all the requirements of the
B.S. in education and soon after the school began to award this degree.
1943 saw the school's name changed to Lesley College and the appointment
of the College's first president, Marguerite Franklin, who led the
school during the transition. Edith Lesley Wolfard retained the titles
of Founder and Director Emeritus. In 1944 Trentwell Mason White became
president. The first baccalaureate degrees were awarded in June of 1945.
In 1949, Lesley College acquired the Walter F. Dearborn School and the
Lesley Ellis School, and in 1959 added a third, the Carroll Hall School,
as laboratory schools, providing opportunities for study and
observation by Lesley College students and faculty.
The next decade was one of growth for Lesley, with the addition of
evening and summer classes, new buildings and an enrollment expanding to
380 undergraduate and 52 graduate students. Lesley achieved regional
and national accreditation in 1952 and in 1954 was empowered to confer a
Master's Degree in Elementary Education. The new graduate program was
co-ed. The decade was also marked by loss, with Edith Lesley Wolfard's
death in 1953 and President White's in 1959.
Don Orton succeed Dr. White in July 1960. As the 1960s progressed,
enrollment continued to grow and the college continued to offer a
variety of student activities and clubs. A building project was
launched, transforming the college's landscape into an urban academic
village. The quad was created, housing a new library, dorm spaces, and
classrooms. The 1960s also saw the death of Gertrude Malloch, who
donated her home to be used as a house for the Lesley College President.
Building the Graduate School, 1960-1990
Lesley College continued to grow in the 1970s and 1980s, both building
and acquiring new properties. While retaining its preeminence in early
childhood education, Lesley began branching out in new directions,
starting four new Master's degree programs in Independent Studies,
Expressive Therapies, Integrated Arts in Education (now Creative Arts in
Learning), and Counseling and Psychology. Each program was the first of
its kind in the country. By the end of the 1970s, Lesley offered 18
different master's degrees, including an extension program in Israel
that offered expressive therapy training to Israeli professionals.
In 1980, the Audubon Expedition Institute (AEI) launched, enabling
students to earn their Bachelor and Master's degrees by traveling across
the country on a bus and learning about the environment by living in
it. In 1981, Lesley initiated the School of Programs in Management for
Business and Industry (PMBI), which later became the School of
Management. By the mid-80s, the graduate school enrollment was over
3300, and, additionally, Lesley launched its first off-campus program,
the National Outreach program in Denver, Colorado. In 1982, an academic
and living skills program for young adults with learning disabilities
was also founded, called the Threshold Program. In 1985, Lesley
inaugurated Margaret McKenna as its president. Soon after, the New
England Association of Schools and Colleges approved Lesley's first
Ph.D. program. The first Ph.D. students were admitted in the fall of
In the 1990s, Lesley continued to increase the size of its campus by
purchasing the Porter Exchange Building, which doubled its classroom
space. The college also joined Division III of the NCAA (National
Collegiate Athletic Association), distinguishing itself as an
institution that encourages both physical and intellectual prowess.
International programs increased, being offered in Europe, the Middle
East, and Canada. In 1996, the Graduate School of Education was
officially established. In 1998, the college merged with the Art
Institute of Boston.
Becoming a University, 2000 to Present
The new millennium has proven to be one of success and distinction for
Lesley. In 2000, Lesley officially became a university, and its
undergraduate program was renamed Lesley College. In 2003, Princeton
Review named the university as one of the "Best Northeastern Colleges,"
and in 2004 Backpacker magazine named Lesley's Audubon Expedition
Institute as one of the "Top 5 Outdoor Education" programs. The college
went co-ed in 2005, admitting men for the first time. 2007 brought the
end of President McKenna 22-year tenure. She was replaced by Dr. Joseph
B. Moore in August 2007.
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