The following excerpts have been taken and freely adapted from "Missouri's Child", an online work on education and the status of children in Missouri from our earliest beginnings. I have gleaned passages which I found either germane to my topic or of general interest.

Early Settlers in Missouri

The village of Ste. Genevieve, generally recognized as Missouri's first European-style settlement, was established about 1750. In 1803, Thomas Jefferson purchased the Louisiana Territory from the French and the era of American exploration began. Most of the pioneer families were American-born, of Scotch-Irish, English, Welsh, German, Dutch, Swedish and other European stock. More African-American slaves were brought into the territory....

Statehood and Population

Missouri became a state in 1821 and new settlers began pouring in. The state's white population increased from 66,000 in 1820 to 140,000 in 1830, to 383,000 in 1840 and 682,000 in 1850. The black population, almost all enslaved, grew from 10,500 to 25,660 to almost 60,000 to 90,000 in the same period....

New Missourians from Europe: German cultural influences

From the 1830s to the 1860s, Missouri's population almost doubled with every decade. Most of the newcomers were Americans, but a good many Germans, Irish and other Europeans entered the state. By 1842, there was an Orthodox Jewish community in St. Louis of about 100 people, which met regularly and owned their own cemetery. They probably came from Europe; one historian suggests they were from Bohemia, England and Poland.

Most English-speaking people, like the Scots and Irish, devoted themselves to becoming American. The German-speaking people often came west with the desire to create a new German community. They brought German-speaking schoolteachers and music masters with them to educate children in the traditions of their homeland. Finding a Catholic presence in the area along the Mississippi River, many German Catholics settled nearby. By 1850, Ste. Genevieve had more German than French citizens. The German Lutheran settlements of Perry County and the Bethel Colony in Shelby County were also founded about this time. In German communities, children worked to help with planting, harvest, animal care and household maintenance. Education was a priority, however. In Hermann, one of the first buildings was a school which, the settlers hoped, would always teach the German language and traditions.

With the Germans came the most enduring child-centered holiday on the frontier: Christmas celebrated with presents and a Christmas tree. Although the tree made its way into British-American culture in the 1890s, it was originally a Germanic tradition and came with them as early as the 1830s. Interestingly, German-American communities even preserved traditions that died out in Germany. Celebration of St. Nicholas Day, a Catholic holiday which had been opposed by Martin Luther, lived on in Perry County where Old Order Lutherans settled in 1839. Historian Adolf Schroeder, writing in 1975, observed "Children are still given sweets in early December, although the reason for the practice has been forgotten." In other German communities, and in most American homes, the customs of St. Nicholas day have merged with those of Christmas. So many Germans settled along the Missouri River that one section became known as "The Rhineland," after the famous river in the homeland. Other Missouri regions also became known for their settlers. "Little Dixie," in mid-Missouri, was named for its southern American settlers. The state was growing rapidly, changing in ethnic makeup and advancing in its transportation and communication systems.

The Civil War: Slavery and German-Americans

Debate between pro-slavery advocates and abolitionists had been raging for many years, and the citizens of Missouri, a border state with a mixture of old Southern settlers and newer European immigrants, were particularly divided. The drama of the Dred Scott hearings in St. Louis involved many Missouri families on both sides of the question. Many of the old Southern settlers, some of whom owned slaves, sided with the South.

Other old-stock Missourians, along with newer Missourians like the Germans who had fled their home country to escape oppression, generally sided with the North. "We hold ourselves as free men who did not escape slavery in our old home lands to support it here in America," said a newspaper in Hermann. (Ultimately) fourteen thousand Missourians, mostly men, lost their lives, leaving countless widows and orphans in poverty...(related links on German-Americana page)

Educational reform: the German Kindergarten in America

In the late 1870s...other noteworthy Missourians were coming of age. Susan Elizabeth Blow, born in 1843, was raised in an elegant home in Carondolet. Her education was typical for a young lady of the time. When her father was appointed Minister to Brazil immediately after the Civil War, Susan traveled with him. Then, with her family, she went to Europe. In Germany, she learned about the early childhood work of Friedrich Froebel, an educational reformer....

To Froebel, as quoted by Blow, the final aim of education was not morality, but freedom. Practical education was to be supplemented, and even replaced, by liberal education for an enjoyable and cultured adult life. For children of ages three through six, the "ideal childhood" emphasized free activity, spontaneity, play, individuality and creativity, first with mother and then, to develop the sense of social participation, in a group. This was the job of a kindergarten.

In 1873, the Carondolet school system allowed Blow to open the first public kindergarten in the United States. In contrast to other school rooms, this one was brightly decorated. Children were encouraged to learn through guided exploration. Blow's classroom was visited by educators from all over the U.S. Her work changed education forever.

World Wars: Problems of German Identity

World War I brought new problems to Missouri citizens....One particularly successful business was the American toy industry. German toys, especially dolls, had been the treasured possessions of generations of prosperous Americans, but during World War I trade with Germany was banned. American toy makers filled the gap. (other issues of German anti-war movement, discrimination against Germans, many Germans anglicizing their names,etc.)

The view from 1995: the changing face of Missouri

In neighborhoods and classrooms, inclusion of new, diverse populations into the mainstream brings new challenges and questions. Since the first French arrivals, Missouri's population has been multicultural. Educators today are challenged by the classroom's increasing diversity even while today's immigrant children, swept into American style, often lose their ethnic traditions in a generation. The State's Asian population, which numbered just over 3,000 in 1960, totaled more than 40,000 in the 1990 census. Native Americans numbered nearly 20,000. The white population numbers 4,486,228. How to present equal education to diverse populations is still being debated....

Clearly, there is work ahead. But, Missourians can point to many improvements during the past centuries. And, attention is focused again on the quality of childhood. Society is the better for it.


: For further reading and bibliographical details.

Return to my German-Americana Page.

Last updated September 14, 1996.