Selected Moments of the 20th Century

A work in progress edited by Daniel Schugurensky
Department of Adult Education, Community Development and Counselling Psychology,
The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (OISE/UT)


Dalton School opens

In 1919, Helen Parkhurst found the Children's University School, which later became known as the Dalton School in Dalton Massachusettes. The school was established during what became known as the Progressive Movement, a time of educational reform. Rather than relying upon traditional forms of drill and memorization, the movement aimed to recognize children's natural instincts of play and seek answers on their own. In the process, children would develop their entire selves, or the "whole person", which included the mind, body and spirit. The plan used regular curriculum, but children were free to work at their own pace. The course of study required students to master many "jobs". The number of jobs were determined by the number of months in the academic year. These jobs were then divided into twenty "units". Students were given "job cards" in order to monitor their progress. Students were also given fixed quotas per month, but were allowed to manage their own time accordingly. The goals were intended to prepare the student for adulthood. Not surprisingly, it was found that this method was most useful for secondary schools, as opposed to primary schools.

Helen Parkhurst, after working with Maria Montessori, developed the Laboratory Plan. The plan incorporated Dewey's educational principles, as well as those proposed by Montessori. Similar to Dewey's and Montessori's philosophies, the plan was individualized according to the students abilities and needs. The school was first put into effect in Dalton high school in 1916. Then, in 1919, Parkhurst opened her first school in West 74th Street. It later relocated to 108 East 89th Street in New York City. With the help of Eleanor Roosevelt, the school merged with the Todhunter School in 1939 in order to acquire greater resources and numbers of students.

Since that time, the school has expanded and continues to welcome pedagogical innovations. It has gained world-wide recognition through schools that have adopted the Dalton Plan, including schools in Holland, England, Korea, Japan, and Chile. Since the 1960s, the school has moved and aquired numerous resources, such as a gymnasium with a capacity of 500, as well as an aerobics room, a wrestling room, and a fitness and weigh-training facility. The former gymnasium was converted into classrooms, a dance studio, a multimedia art and architecture lab, and an expansive library with over 65,000 volumes.


Cubberley, E.P. (1947). Public education in the United States. Mass: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Pulliam, J.D. (1982). History of education in american. Columbus, Ohio: Charles E. Merrill Publishing Company. About Dalton School

Prepared by Jenny J. Lee

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Last updated on August 14, 2002.