The education of Wolf Brin’s daughters

Wolf was very serious about education, having himself been educated at a yeshiva in the town of Biržai, Russian Empire, located in what is now Lietuvos Respublika (Republic of Lithuania). Wolf sent several of his daughters to Chicago Normal College, on 6800 South Stewart Street, a school which has a fascinating history insofar as its student body consisted primarily of the children of  immigrants. The tuition was free.

There is no mention with the family of Wolf’s two oldest daughters attending  college, and Hanah is known to have gone to dancing school. This leaves Leila, Sarah and Edith as the three Brin girls who had the opportunity to receive a higher education, though, just as at all normal schools, the program at Chicago Normal College lasted only two years.

Edith, the youngest of the Brin daughters to attend Chicago Normal College, was 18 in 1925, the year she most-probably began to matriculate, graduating c. 1927. Freshmen who began matriculating in Fall of 1926 experienced a change in curriculum, brought about by the extension of the number of years required from 2 to 3.

6800 south stewart near 318 S Kedzie Ave, Chicago, IL

In 1920, the Brin Family lived at 318 South Kedzie in Chicago (green arrow). Chicago Normal College was at 6800 South Stewart  (red letter A) in Englewood.

Chicago Normal College

Chicago Normal College

In 1869 the school opened as Cook County Normal School, a permanent institution in Englewood, then a village far beyond the outskirts of Chicago. By the 1890s, Cook County was unable to provide the requisite support for its Normal School. Since many graduates found employment in the Chicago Public Schools system, it was natural that the city would take over, though initially it was very resistant to the idea. In 1897 the Chicago Board of Education assumed responsibility for what was now the Chicago Normal School. Shortly thereafter, Francis W. Parker, the school’s renowned principal, resigned after the Board failed to implement the recommendations of a school system commission headed by William Rainey Harper of the University of Chicago. Harper suggested raising the standards for admission to the Normal School, increasing the total number of teachers trained, and strengthening oversight of graduates once they were working in the public schools.

Parker was replaced by Arnold Tompkins. Tompkins was an Indiana Hegelian who introduced key reforms that helped mold the institution’s philosophy. Tompkins declared his dissatisfaction with the practice school then used as a laboratory for student-teachers. He wanted instructors to gain real world experience in Chicago’s public schools, and he encouraged their placement in poor, immigrant communities. From that point forward, the school would be characterized not just by its innovative pedagogical practices, but also by its commitment to expanding opportunity to under served sectors of society.

Tomkins was succeeded as president by Ella Flagg Young, a pioneering educator in her own right. Young received a Ph.D. under John Dewey at the University of Chicago, and after leaving Chicago Normal School served as Superintendent of the Chicago Public Schools system. She attempted to expand the curriculum to three years, but was stymied by the Board of Education. After Young left to become Superintendent in 1909, William Bishop Owen became Principal of CNS.

In 1913 the school was renamed Chicago Normal College, with higher admissions standards and several new buildings gradually added to the campus. In 1926 the College moved to a three-year curriculum, with heavier emphasis placed on traditional academic subjects as opposed to pedagogy. The school was an increasingly attractive educational avenue for Chicago’s immigrant communities, who could get inexpensive preliminary schooling before transferring to a university. However, when the Great Depression began in 1929, severe budget shortages forced the College to curtail its operations, and almost eventuated in its closing. In 1932 the Board of Education budget shrank by $12 million. To many, an obvious strategy for economizing was to close the Normal College, since there were no positions in the school system for trained teachers anyway.

The faculty and students campaigned vigorously to keep the College open. Pep rallies, publications, and the efforts of immigrant communities were all part of the mobilization in favor of continued operations. As the economy stabilized, the threat to dissolve the College receded, though it did not disappear. Meanwhile, interest in the school rose, as financial destitution forced many Chicago-area students to forego residential institutions elsewhere for a commuter campus closer to home.

In 1938 the school again changed its name, this time to Chicago Teachers College to reflect the recent adoption of a four-year curriculum. It is now known as Chicago State University.



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