Recounting One Hundred Years of Educational Leadership.
"Kindergarten education in America will soon become established as a permanent unit in our national educational philosophy," Edith Lesley proclaimed at the time of the school's 1909 founding, and her vision extended far beyond training teachers. "I plan not merely to set up just another training school; I plan for us to be different; to consider the individual of basic importance; to inculcate the ideal of gracious living; and to foster the traditions of American democracy."
Edith Lesley's perspective on early education became the foundation for Lesley's early growth, and the Lesley School prepared women for careers in kindergarten and early education classrooms throughout the the school's first one hundred years - growing into Lesley College in 1945, and Lesley University in 2000.
Edith Lesley's belief in the power of individuals and the role of education in an effective democracy remained a core element of Lesley University's mission as the school expanded not only in size, but in academic offerings that, like education, play key roles in improving the lives of others and sustaining healthy communities.
Students in a range of disciplines and fields, including counseling psychology, expressive therapies, environmental studies, and the arts, are guided by the founding educational principle of integrating theory and practice.
The year was 1909; the day, Wednesday, September 18; the time, nine in the morning in the living room of Miss Edith Lesley's home; the place, 29 Everett Street in Cambridge, Massachusetts…" so begins the accounting of the inception of Lesley University, as written by former Lesley president Trentwell Mason White, on the occasion of the college's 50th anniversary in 1959.Edith Lesley, a kindergarten teacher and Radcliffe educated woman originally from Maine, started the school with a vision of professionalizing teacher education for young children. She interviewed Anna Tikkanen, an immigrant from Finland, in the summer of '09 and accepted her to study at the school. Anna would also become her first financial aid student, as she was unable to pay the $100 annual tuition. But Miss Lesley was undeterred and she started with school that fall with a handful of female students. Her sister Olive also a kindergarten teacher, shared in the teaching as did several other area teachers, Harvard faculty and others. Edith and Olive's mother, who also lived at 29 Everett Street, became friendly with the aspiring kindergarten teachers as well.It is difficult to strip away all the conventions that now make up our everyday lives, but in 1909 life was very different. Paved roads were virtually nonexistent. Henry Ford's Model T had just started rolling off the newly-conceived-of assembly line, making car ownership affordable for the first time. This was the era of Ragtime music, hand-cranked Victrolas, and nickelodeons. TV, income taxes, and even sliced bread had yet to be invented. New Mexico, Arizona, Alaska and Hawaii were not yet states in the Union, and no non-white or female citizen including Edith Lesley was eligible to vote in national elections.Given this backdrop, we can better grasp that Miss Lesley was indeed necessarily an ambitious woman with high ideals. The guiding values of the importance and respect for the individual, the education of the full person, and upholding democratic ideals of access and acceptance for all are infused in the culture of the university. It is also noteworthy that Lesley has benefited in maintaining its focus through relatively few changes in leadership in its 100 years of existence, and teacher education is still the primary area of study for students at the university. Since Edith Lesley Wolfard's death in 1953, the school was led for the next 54 years by only three others (with the exception of a brief interim period of leadership in 1943, of Marguerite Franklin, for just one year before the arrival of President Trentwell Mason White): Lesley's first president, Trentwell Mason White (1944-1959), followed by Don Orton (1960-1984), and with a return to female leadership, Margaret A. McKenna (1985-2007). Assuming the role in 2007 is the current president, Joseph B. Moore."Miss Lesley's," as the school was known, and later, "The Lesley Normal School" flourished. Enrollment doubled and redoubled and more and more teachers were hired. Programs for both nursery school and elementary education were added, and a pioneering new department, Home Economics was opened in 1917. As President Trentwell Mason White acknowledged at the school's 50th anniversary, "It was an exciting and inspiring period. America's young women were taking on a new independence; they wanted not just to be good, but to be good for something—to prepare for a career that offered the greatest opportunity for service and at the same time, make them ready, after marriage, to be more efficient wives and mothers."Lesley University—The Full StoryThe Lesley School was founded by Edith Lesley at 29 Everett Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts, to educate young women to become kindergarten teachers. Teaching alongside Edith was her sister Olive, and classes were conducted in what was then also their family home.Edith Lesley was committed to strong ideals of proper cultivation of young women and a rational approach to inculcating those ideals within the curriculum and student life. She was recognized as a caring matriarch with a gracious style.The Lesley School flourished and through purchases by Edith's husband, engineer and inventor Merl Wolfard, she added buildings for classrooms and for the housing of in-residence students. Gradually Edith expanded the school's curriculum to include domestic science (Home Economics), teaching of nursery and elementary aged children and, by the mid-1920s, practice teaching and observation. By 1928 more than 300 students were enrolled. A decade later, when Edith's health began to fail, she promoted Gertrude Malloch, a teacher and the first principal of the school, to chief administrator. Soon thereafter Edith and Merl Wolfard turned the assets of the school over to a board of trustees, and in 1943 the school became Lesley College when it was granted state authorization to confer bachelor's degrees. The college enrollment remained exclusively female and its focus on teacher education continued.The story of Lesley's development continues through its leaders, Presidents White, Orton, McKenna and Moore.
After Gertrude Malloch retired, Trentwell Mason White was hired in 1944 as Lesley's first president. Under President White's leadership, the college hired its first dean, Clara Thurber, and acquired three private elementary schools which provided ample "laboratory" experience for the aspiring student teachers. In the 1950's a Graduate School was started and Lesley built its first new-construction buildings, Stebbins Hall and White Hall, which continue to serve as a classroom building and as a residence hall with the Quad's main dining commons, respectively. President White introduced the more formalized rituals and traditions of a conventional college to Lesley: He wrote the school song, "Loyal Lesley Daughters," and he was notable for several initiatives which enriched student life: the Emerald Key Club, in which students assisted recruiters' efforts by hosting prospective students; the Penguin Club, for the subset of cold-climate commuters who did not reside on campus; and Lesley Thursday Meetings, a forum which featured speakers such as poet Robert Frost. He also initiated an annual parents weekend and May Day celebrations with dances around the May pole.
Founder Edith Lesley passed away in 1953. The next significant event was the achievement of Lesley's half-century mark in 1959. Just months after the college celebrated its 50th anniversary, President White died unexpectedly on September 18, 1959, exactly 50 years to the day after Miss Lesley's opening day.
In 1960, Don Orton became president. The Orton era ushered in an entrepreneurial period of programmatic diversification and expansion of faculty and staff initiatives, and the graduate enrollment grew to far surpass the number of undergraduate students. The Graduate School also distinguished itself by going co-ed; for the first time, men could be Lesley students as well. Programs in special education, counseling psychology, expressive therapies (using arts modalities for therapeutic purposes), "Threshold" (a non-degree, campus-based program for young adults with learning disabilities), experiential environmental education, and degree completion programs for adult learners were innovated. Off-campus delivery of full degree programs and the addition of accelerated degree programs in business management (Programs in Management for Business and Industry—PMBI) both proliferated. Teacher education methodology was also enhanced with the creation of master's programs in arts integration (Creative Arts in Learning) and the use of technology in educational settings (Computers in Education).As for the physical campus, it continued to grow by acquisition and, in 1970, new construction added classrooms, residence halls, offices and a new library which together created a modernized campus quadrangle. President Orton was also the first to reside in "the president's house" on Kirkland Place, left to the college by Gertrude Malloch after her death in 1967.As chief executive, Orton pointedly maintained the Lesley legacy of financial stability while generating an annual reserve available for contribution to the endowment and never operating in deficit. He also worked with college administrators to address problems of student retention and job placement after graduation, reaching high levels of success on both fronts and instituting supportive practices that continue to this day.
Margaret McKenna's presidency began in 1985, ushering in a return to female leadership. The McKenna era was notable for moving Lesley more prominently into the national arena and realizing significant growth through expansion of the national delivery and adult learner models and through development of online programs. The college also expanded its offerings to include doctoral degree programs and officially became a university in 2000. The re-enlivened school's mission became central to organizing and directing programmatic emphasis and brought about formation of the graduate School of Education, Graduate School of Arts and Social Sciences, and the School of Management. The 1994 purchase of the Porter Exchange building (now known as University Hall, housing the School of Education) increased the university's capacity and presence in the Cambridge community. But most notable was the significant increase in graduate student enrollment during her presidency due to the expansion of Lesley degree programs offered in 23 states through a distinctively successful adult "cohort" weekend model. Another achievement in the McKenna era was increasing the racial diversity of faculty, staff and students and establishing this as a continuing tenet among the university's core institutional values. President McKenna made the difficult decision to end single-sex undergraduate education and opened Lesley College enrollments to men in 2005. She also encouraged a broadening of the scope of its mission, and in conjunction Lesley completed mergers with The Art Institute of Boston (in 1998) and The Audubon Expedition Institute (in 2004). Social and civic responsibility was made central to the university's cultural identity under President McKenna and these characteristics became known as the distinctive qualities of a Lesley-educated graduate.President McKenna was instrumental tripling the University's endowment. In 1968, former Trustee Frank C. Doble left ownership of his company, Doble Engineering, to a charitable trust naming Lesley University as a primary beneficiary. Over 40 years, Lesley received dividends from the trust, but McKenna envisioned Doble's gift having a larger impact if the company were sold and the assets distributed to the beneficiaries. McKenna worked with the trustees and Doble's other beneficiaries, the company was sold in 2007 for $318 million—with $136 million distributed to Lesley University. Described by The Chronicle of Higher Education as the 12th largest gift in the history of higher education, the windfall exceeded all estimates by tens of millions of dollars.
The current president of Lesley University is Joseph B. Moore. Only one year into his presidency, two very significant events have occurred. The university received a transformational gift of $136 million from the sale of Doble Engineering, a firm started in the 1920s by former Lesley Board of Trustees Chair Frank C. Doble. The gift swelled the university endowment to $200 million. Lesley president Margaret McKenna had envisioned the impact of the Doble Trust potential years earlier and had acted on the University's behalf to bring about this gift. The second event was a real estate purchase that will add a third Lesley campus in Cambridge. Under President Moore's leadership, Lesley has partnered with the Episcopal Divinity School to purchase seven buildings and to share their historic campus on Brattle Street. This will increase Lesley residence hall capacity and add much needed library and classroom space, function and meeting space, as well as a new home for the Graduate School of Arts and Social Sciences. Additionally, a Strategic Plan has been developed to lead the University into its second century.One hundred years of diverse, imaginative leadership brings Lesley into its Centennial striding strong toward its future. Edith Lesley's foundation has been enhanced with prudent growth, a tradition of innovation and measured risk-taking, all culminating in an institution steadfastly committed to its distinctive human-centered mission focused on the power of the individual working collaboratively with others to generate positive change for people and communities.
Lesley University today offers programs in 23 states and online, and is among the largest providers of teacher education in the nation, focusing on the the preparation of quality teachers in math, science, early education, special education and literacy.
Edith Lesley Wolfard's living room no serves as the office of Lesley University President Joseph B. Moore in one of three Cambridge campuses.
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