Elisabeth Irwin

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Elisabeth Antoinette Irwin (29 August 1880, Brooklyn, New York - 16 October 1942, Manhattan) was the founder of the Little Red School House. She was an educator, psychologist, reformer, and declared lesbian, living with her life partner Katharine Anthony and the two children they adopted.

Irwin was born in Brooklyn to William Henry Irwin and Josephina Augusta Easton. Her father was a Cotton Merchant. She attended the Packer Collegiate Institute and received her A.B. from Smith College in 1903, and her M.A. from Columbia University in 1923.

In 1912 while a member of the staff of the Public Education Association, she began work at revising the curriculum for the children at Public School 64. She founded the Little Red School House curriculum, in Manhattan in 1921, in the red-painted annex of Public School 61. Her work there, and then at Public School 41, a New York Times article describes as an experiment to demonstrate that "...the broader, more active program of the so-called progressive schools could be carried out under public school conditions." (New York Times, Apr, 3, 1932. pg E7)

Faced with funding cuts, it appeared the experiment would end, but a group of parents came together in a candy store, urging her to start her own school and promising financial support. In September of 1932 the "Little Red School House" got its own building at Bleeker Street. At first only primary education was available, but in 1940 a high school was added.

She died in the New York Hospital in October of 1942. Her obituary appeared in the New York Times on Oct 17, 1942, pg 15. She was survived by her partner, and their two adopted daughters, Mrs Howard Gresens of Plandome, New York and Mrs R.O. Bogue of Pensacola, Florida. Her funeral was conducted in Gaylordsville, Connecticut where she and Miss Anthony maintained a summer home. She was buried there.

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