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Susan Blow (1843 - 1916)

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Introduction

Susan Blow was an important leader in education from Missouri. She founded the first public kindergarten in St. Louis and ran it for eleven years without any pay. Blow worked hard to give young children a good start in their education. “If we can make children love intellectual effort,” she once wrote, “we shall prolong habits of study beyond school years.”

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Early Years

Susan Elizabeth Blow was born in St. Louis, Missouri, on June 7, 1843. She was the oldest of six children born to Henry Taylor Blow Henry Taylor Blow
(1817 – 1875)


Henry Taylor Blow served in the Missouri State Senate from 1854 to 1858. In 1861 he was appointed minister, or ambassador, to Venezuela by President Abraham Lincoln but resigned to return to St. Louis and politics. He served in the United States Congress from 1863 to 1867. Two years later, President Ulysses S. Grant made him minister to Brazil. Henry Taylor Blow is well known for his support for the freedom of Dred Scott, an African-American man once enslaved to Blow’s parents, Peter and Elizabeth Blow.

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and Minerva Grimsley Blow. Susan’s family A census record from 1860 documents the Blow family members’ and servants’ names, ages, gender, occupation, value of the family estate, and places of birth.

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was well off. Her father was a wealthy businessman who made his money in the lead industry. He became a leader in St. Louis business and Missouri politics.

Greast Fire of 1849 Great Fire of 1849 Twenty-three steamboats burning at the wharf during the Great Fire of St. Louis, 1849.

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Susan lived in a home on the Mississippi riverfront until she was six years old. In 1849, a great fire
Great Fire of St. Louis The Great Fire of St. Louis on May 17-18, 1849.

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Fire Fighting Fire Fighting.

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burned the riverfront and downtown St. Louis. It destroyed many buildings, including Susan’s home. Then a deadly cholera
Cholera is a sickness caused by a water-dwelling type of bacteria. Its symptoms include extreme nausea and diarrhea, often causing dehydration and death. Cholera spread from Asia to Europe in the early 1800s, then to America at the beginning of the 1830s. Since cholera lives in water that has been contaminated with feces, it thrived in highly populated areas around rivers and other bodies of water with poor sewer drainage systems. Cholera outbreaks affected several American cities in the Mississippi River Valley during the mid-1800s. St. Louis was one of the cities hardest hit during this period, enduring cholera epidemics numerous times between 1832 and 1867. The 1849 and 1866 epidemics were especially severe, killing several thousand people. Cholera became less of a problem in American cities later in the 1800s as sewage systems improved and public health awareness increased.
epidemic
Cholera epidemic Cholera epidemic of 1849.

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Worker with cholera Man kneeling next to a worker who is "struck with the cholera" in 1849.

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swept through the city. It killed about seven thousand people and caused many families to resettle in outlying areas. Henry Taylor Blow moved his family to Carondelet,
Carondelet Avenue, circa 1881 Carondelet Avenue, circa 1881.

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Carondelet, circa 1891 Carondelet, circa 1891.

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a French settlement five miles downriver from St. Louis.

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Education

Carondelet in 1840 Carondelet in 1840 Carondelet in 1840.

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Susan had a very comfortable lifestyle because of her father’s wealth and position in society. She also received a fine education, unlike many children of the time who spent their days working on farms or in factories. Susan’s father knew that she was very intelligent. In a letter dated 1857 he wrote, “Sue must have the best advantage in education.”

Civil War scene near St. Louis Civil War scene near St. Louis Civil War scene near St. Louis.

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Susan had lessons with governesses at home and also attended a private school in New Orleans, Louisiana. She liked sharing what she learned with her younger brothers and sisters. In 1859, when she was sixteen, Susan attended a private school in New York City. Her education there was cut short by the Civil War
The Civil War was a military conflict that began on April 12, 1861, when Southern forces fired on Fort Sumter outside of Charleston, South Carolina. Several Southern states had seceded from the United States (also known as the Union) and formed the Confederate States of America (also referred to as the Confederacy) out of fear that the United States' newly elected president, Abraham Lincoln, would not allow the expansion of slavery into new western states. Battles and skirmishes were fought throughout the country by Union and Confederate forces. General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox, Virginia, on April 9, 1865. As other Confederate forces heard the news of Lee's surrender, they surrendered as well and the war was soon over. Over half a million men were killed or wounded in the war. Thousands of former slaves gained their freedom. After the war, the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution were passed prohibiting slavery, providing equal protection for all citizens, and barring federal and state governments from denying citizens the right to vote due to their race, color, or status as a former slave.
. In 1861, the school shut down and Susan returned to Missouri. The Blows were pro-Union
Union is the term used to identify the United States and its government during the Civil War.
and antislavery.
Susan Blow studied at home Susan Blow studied at home. Susan Blow studied at home.

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During the Civil War, Susan Blow studied on her own using the family library. She wanted to learn as much as she could. Some people thought she was “too bookish.” But Susan didn’t let anything stop her from studying or learning more. She even joined a group of thinkers in St. Louis so she could talk with others about her ideas.

Child with one of Froebel's Gifts Child with one of Froebel's Gifts, an educational tool. Child at play with interlacing slats, Froebel's sixteenth gift.

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Four years after the Civil War, Henry Taylor Blow was appointed ambassador to Brazil. Susan Blow went with her father and worked as his secretary for fifteen months. Afterwards, she traveled to Germany. There she had an experience that gave the rest of her life direction. She observed classrooms inspired by the work of Friedrich Froebel,
 Friedrich Froebel Friedrich Wilhelm August Froebel (1782–1852).

Friedrich Froebel was a German educator who developed the Kindergarten or “children’s garden” in the 1800s. His twenty kindergarten gifts, or tools, were arranged to develop a child’s knowledge of solids, surfaces, and lines. The gifts also developed a child’s practical ability to build, draw pictures, and weave.

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Title page of The Mottoes and Commentaries of Friedrich Froebel’s Mother Play The title page of The Mottoes and Commentaries of Friedrich Froebel’s Mother Play.

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Froebel compared educating children to nurturing plants in a garden Froebel compared educating children to nurturing plants in a garden.

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an important leader in early education. In these "kindergarten" classrooms, Blow noticed that young children learn important language, math, and science skills by playing with objects Froebel’s first, second, and third gifts

Objects used by kindergartners in Susan Blow’s classroom were called Froebel’s Gifts. They are also known as Froebel’s Tools. Susan Blow wrote about Froebel’s twenty kindergarten gifts in an essay entitled “The Kindergarten.”

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such as balls and blocks. She decided that children in America should have this kind of instruction, too.

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Kindergarten Director

Back in America, Susan Blow studied and learned everything she could about teaching kindergarten. She talked with educators about creating a kindergarten program in America. Henry Taylor Blow asked Dr. William Torrey Harris, the superintendent of St. Louis Public Schools, to open an experimental kindergarten. Susan Blow offered to direct it if Dr. Harris would provide a room and a paid teacher.

A kindergarten classroom in St. Louis, 1899 A kindergarten classroom
in St. Louis, 1899
A kindergarten classroom in the Sherman School in St. Louis, 1899

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In September 1873, Susan Blow opened the first public kindergarten at the Des Peres School
Des Peres School, 1873 Des Peres School, 1873.

The St. Louis Republican described Susan Blow’s classroom in February 1875: “Literally, it is a children['s] garden, and the purpose is to direct the child’s mind under six years of age into preliminary grooves of order, cleanliness, obedience, a desire for information, and to combine with these the more prominent idea of object teaching.”

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Des Peres School, circa 1898. Des Peres School at Michigan Avenue and Iron Street in St. Louis, circa 1898.

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in Carondelet. While most classrooms were plain, Blow’s kindergarten classroom was bright and cheerful. It had low tables and short benches just right for small children. The room contained many plants, books, and toys for children to use during work and play. Students learned about color, shapes, and fractions by using simple objects like balls and blocks. They also learned about keeping themselves clean, eating well, and getting regular exercise.
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Susan Blow's Legacy

Susan Blow studied at home A kindergarten classroom in Billings, Missouri, 1898 This photo of a kindergarten class in Billings, Missouri, was taken in 1898. Note the "tools" on the tables.

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Public schools in St. Louis and around the country started kindergarten classrooms using Blow’s classroom as a model. By 1879, there were 53 kindergarten rooms in the St. Louis school system. Because she had worked very hard and become too tired, Susan Blow became sick. She retired in 1884 and traveled to improve her health. In 1889 she left St. Louis and moved east. In New York and Boston, Blow wrote books Title page of Susan Blow’s 1909 publication, Educational Issues in the Kindergarten.

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and taught about the kindergarten movement.

Susan Blow, State Capitol mural Susan Blow, State Capitol mural Missouri State Capitol mural oil portrait of Susan Blow by Gari Melchers, Jefferson City, Missouri.

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Susan Blow toured the country giving lectures until three weeks before her death
Susan Elizabeth Blow obituary Susan Elizabeth Blow (1843 – 1916)

Obituaries from St. Louis Newspapers

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Susan Elizabeth Blow obituary Susan Elizabeth Blow (1843 – 1916)

Obituaries from St. Louis Newspapers

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Susan Elizabeth Blow obituary Susan Elizabeth Blow (1843 – 1916)

Obituaries from St. Louis Newspapers.

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on March 26, 1916. Kindergarten had become, and still is, an important part of American education. After her death, the St. Louis Globe-Democrat wrote of her, “A great commander is gone, but the soldiers will go marching on.” Susan Elizabeth Blow is buried in her family’s plot at Bellefontaine Cemetery in St. Louis.


Text by Carlynn Trout with research assistance by Valerie Kemp and Jillian Hartke

Meets Show-Me Standards SS: 2, 6, 7; 4th grade GLE 2a.A.; and MSIP equity in gender and racial/ethnic awareness.

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References and Resources

For more information about Susan Blow's life and career, see the following resources:

Society Resources

The following is a selected list of books, articles, and manuscripts about Susan Blow in the research centers of The State Historical Society of Missouri. The Society’s call numbers follow the citations in brackets. All links will open in a new tab.


  • Articles from the Missouri Historical Review
  • Articles from the Newspaper Collection
    • Susan E. Blow Susan Blow
      (1843 - 1916)


      ‘Susan E. Blow’ St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 28, 1916, p. 14. [SHS 027273]
      .” St. Louis Post-Dispatch. St. Louis, MO. March 28, 1916. p. 14, col. 3.
    • Miss Blow Who Put Kindergartens Here, Dies In East. Susan Blow
      (1843 - 1916)


      ‘Miss Blow Who Put Kindergartens Here, Dies in East’ St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 27, 1916, p. 3. [SHS 027274]
      St. Louis Post-Dispatch. St. Louis, MO. March 27, 1916. p. 3, col. 5.
    • Miss Susan Blow’s Funeral Will Be Held Here Tomorrow. Susan Blow
      (1843 - 1916)


      ‘Miss Susan Blow’s Funeral Will Be Held Here Tomorrow’ St. Louis Globe-Democrat, March 28, 1916, p. 8. [SHS 027275]
      St. Louis Globe-Democrat. St. Louis, MO. March 28, 1916. p. 8, col. 3-4.
  • Books and Articles
    • Blow, Susan Elizabeth. Educational Issues in the Kindergarten. New York: D. Appleton, 1909. [REF I B624e]
    • _______. Letters to a Mother on the Philosophy of Froebel. New York: D. Appleton, 1900. [REF I B624L]
    • _______. Mottoes and Commentaries of Friedrich Froebel’s Mother Play. New York: D. Appleton, 1895. [REF I B624f]
    • _______. The Songs and Music of Friedrich Froebel’s Mother Play. New York: D. Appleton, 1909. [REF I B624fr]
    • _______. Symbolic Education; a Commentary on Froebel’s “Mother Play.” New York: D. Appleton, 1884. [REF I B624s]
    • Board of Education of the City of St. Louis. “In Memoriam: Susan E. Blow.” Sixty-Second Annual Report. (1916). pp. 37-42. [REF H235.022 Sa24e 1915/16 v62]
    • Borwick, Jim, and Brett Dufur, eds. Forgotten Missourians Who Made History. Columbia, MO: Pebble Publishing, 1996. pp. 17-18. [REF F508 B649]
    • Christensen, Lawrence O., William E. Foley, Gary R. Kremer, and Kenneth H.Winn, eds. Dictionary of Missouri Biography. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1999. pp. 86-88. [REF F508 D561]
    • Dains, Mary K., ed. Show Me Missouri Women: Selected Biographies. Kirksville, MO: Thomas Jefferson University Press, 1989. v. 1. pp. 27-28. [REF F508 Sh82 v.1]
    • Forbes, Cleon. “The St. Louis School of Thought.” Master’s thesis, Oklahoma University, 1929. [REF F550 M691 v.25]
    • James, Edward T., et al., eds. Notable American Women, 1607–1950; A Biographical Dictionary. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971. v. 1, pp. 181-183. [REF 920 N843 v.1]
    • McCandless, Perry, and William E. Foley. Missouri Then and Now, 3rd ed. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2001. pp. 272-273. [F550 M126m 2001]
    • Menius, Joseph M. Susan Blow. St. Clair, MO: Page One Publishing, 1993. [REF F508.1 B623m]
    • Snider, Denton Jacques. The St. Louis Movement in Philosophy, Literature, Education and Psychology. St. Louis: Sigma Publishing Co., 1920. [REF I Sn32sa]
    • Trout, Carlynn. Notable Women of Missouri. Columbia, MO: Columbia, Missouri Branch of the American Association of University Women in partnership with Eugene Field Elementary School, Columbia, MO, 2005. [REF F508 T758 2005]

Outside Resources

These links, which open in another window, will take you outside the Society's Website. The Society is not responsible for the content of the following Websites:
  • Carondelet Historic Center
    This Website describes the home of the Carondelet Historical Society, which is housed in the former Des Peres School where Susan Blow opened the first kindergarten in St. Louis. Her original kindergarten room is on display there.
  • Biographical Directory of the United States Congress
    A brief entry that outlines the business and political careers of Susan Blow’s father, Henry Taylor Blow, can be found here.


Susan BlowSusan Blow (1843 – 1916)

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Susan Elizabeth Blow

Born: June 7, 1843
Died: March 26, 1916 (age 72)
Categories: Educators, Women
Region of Missouri: St. Louis
Missouri Hometown: St. Louis