ebook  History of Watertown, Wisconsin


America’s First Kindergarten

150 years


1856 - 2006



Kindergarten comes from the German language.  Kinder means children and garten means garden.

In the 19th century. Friedrich Froebel (1782-1852) started the first kindergarten, Garden of Children, in 1840.


“Children are like tiny flowers; they are varied and need care, but each is beautiful alone and glorious when seen in the community of peers.”

Friedrich Froebel


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First Kindergarten in America

painting by William E. Unger, 1956

Watertown Historical Society Collection


The Watertown, Wisconsin, Historical Society, owners and operators of the famed Octagon House Museum and America’s First Kindergarten, paid special tribute to the 150th anniversary of the founding of the kindergarten on Sunday, August 27, 2006.


The event was held on the grounds of the historical society, located at 919 Charles St., Watertown, WI.  The public was cordially invited to attend the afternoon festivities which included brief speeches from Mrs. Jessica Doyle, wife of the Governor of the State of Wisconsin, A picture containing timeline

Description automatically generatedElizabeth Burmeister, Secretary of Education for the State of Wisconsin, John David, Mayor of the City of Watertown, Joel Kleefisch, State Representative, Dr. Doug Keiser, Watertown Unified School District Superintendent, as well as officials from the Watertown Historical Society.


The celebration began at 2:00 pm and after the speeches there was refreshments and a chance to inspect the kindergarten museum building.


The kindergarten was founded in America by Margarethe Meyer Schurz, wife of the famous German-American statesman Carl Schurz.  Mrs. Schurz was a native of Hamburg, Germany, and as a young woman learned the principles of the kindergarten from its creator, Friedrich Froebel [cross references [ 1 ], [ 2 ].  In the 1850s she came to London, where her sister had founded the first kindergarten there.


While in London she met and married Carl Schurz, then a fugitive from a Prussian jail.  They came to America shortly thereafter and settled at first on the east coast and then in 1855 they came to Watertown where Carl Schurz had relatives.


Once here Carl began an active career in politics, while his wife set up housekeeping. But she longed for something that would give purpose to her life, so she began a small kindergarten class in the Schurz family home, which was at one time located at 749 N. Church St. in 1856. The Schurz home, known as “Karlshuegel” or “Carl’s Hill” burned to the ground in 1912.


The class proved to be very successful, but the noise of the children was too much for her husband, so she was forced to move her class to a small frame building located originally on the corner of N. Second and Jones streets in Watertown.  At the time the dwelling was being used as a private home by Carl Schurz’s parents.


It was in this little building that the kindergarten took off. The original class numbered only about five students, the Schurz children Agathe and Marianne, two Juessen girls (cousins of the Schurz’s) and the lone boy Franklin Blumenfeld, son of the editor of the local German-language newspaper. 


Mrs. Schurz ran her school through 1857 when the Schurz family moved to Milwaukee.  The kindergarten continued sporadically here, always operated as a private school, through the nineteenth century, finally becoming a part of the public school curriculum after the turn of the last century.


Mrs. Schurz died from complications of child birth in 1876 and her remains are believed to have been transferred to her native Hamburg, Germany. Her husband, Carl, rose through the political ranks, first aiding Lincoln in his bid for president in 1860, then becoming a general in the Union Army during the Civil War, later Secretary of the Interior under Pres. Rutherford B. Hayes and ultimately he went to work in the publishing field. He died in New York in 1906.


As for the kindergarten building, after the Schurz family left Watertown, the building passed through many hands, becoming a cigar factory, fish store and religious book store.  In the 1920s a local women’s club, the Saturday Club, erected a memorial marker to designate the historical significance of the building.  Then in 1956, exactly 100 years after the founding of the kindergarten, the little building was in danger of being razed.  It was through the efforts of Mrs. Rudy Herman and Gladys Mollart of the Watertown Historical Society that the structure was saved and moved to the grounds of the Octagon House, where it now rests.  It has been open to the public since 1957.


___ 1837 __________________


01 26 1937 article <> One hundred years ago a German schoolmaster named Friedrich Wilhelm August Froebel opened in Blankenburg the world's first kindergarten. Lonely, eccentric Friedrich Froebel, who had left school at a tender age to become a forester's apprentice because his teachers thought him a dunce, believed that children were "young plants needing to be nurtured carefully." In the garden of his private academy, which gave the kindergarten its name, Teacher Froebel supervised the play of his neighbors' children in a systematic manner [1], until his socialistic and irreligious leanings moved the Prussian authorities to close the school.


That broke Friedrich Froebel's heart, he died soon afterward.  Last week fell not only the centenary of the kindergarten but Friedrich Froebel's birthday, and 750,000 restless U. S. kindergarteners had to sit still on their little red chairs long enough to hear his story.


First U. S. kindergarten was started in 1856 in Watertown, Wis. by Mrs. Carl Schurz, wife of the famed Thuringian revolutionary who became Lincoln's Minister to Spain, Hayes's Secretary of the Interior and the first German-born citizen to sit in the U. S. Senate.  Under such auspices the kindergarten soon attracted philanthropists. Phoebe Apperson Hearst, mother of William Randolph, opened one for the children in her husband's mining community at Lead, S. Dak. and financed the Parent-Teachers' Association mainly to promote the kindergarten movement.


A young teacher in San Francisco's dismal Tar Flat section named Kate Douglas Wiggin (Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm) made the kindergarten popular in one of her first tales, The Story of Patsy. When the Atlantic Monthly damned the kindergarten as "a joy saloon," spunky Miss Wiggin flashed: "I like the name. Anyone who has seen, as I have, the dreary tenement rooms in which many children live would be glad to give them little tipples of joy." [Another generous early patron was Boston's Mrs. Quincy Shaw, who at one time kept 30 kindergartens going. Once a youngster who was asked "Who is it brings the flowers adorning earth anew?" promptly piped "Mrs. Shaw."]


No longer a philanthropy, the kindergarten has steadily penetrated the U. S. public school system since St. Louis opened one as an experiment in 1873 under Superintendent William Torrey Harris, who as


U. S. Commissioner of Education (1889-1907) saw kindergartens established in more than 400 U. S. municipal school systems. After Depression retrenchments in 52 cities, including Chicago, Commissioner John Ward Studebaker's U. S. Office of Education made the Froebel Centenary a happy birthday by reporting that kindergartens, with budgets, were on the upgrade, are now available to 30% of the nation's 5-year-olds. 


Time Magazine, May 03, 1937 


Cross reference notes

[1] Frank Lloyd Wright, one of the greatest architects of the modern era, acknowledged that Froebel learning sets of blocks played a role in the development of his architectural thinking.  His mother provided him with these blocks at an early age with the hope that he might one day become an architect.  Even as an adult, Wright often used the Froebel blocks as a "scratch pad" during the design process.


“These primary forms and figures were the secret of all effects (…) which were ever got into the architecture of the world”

– Frank Lloyd right, who play-learned much from playing with Friedrich Froebel’s blocks.


Lincoln Logs are an American children's construction toy consisting of square-notched miniature lightweight logs used to build small forts and buildings.  They were invented around 1916 by John Lloyd Wright, second son of well-known architect Frank Lloyd Wright.




___ 1856 __________________



She had studied in Hamburg, Germany with Fredrich Froebel, originator of the kindergarten, and opened her school soon after she came to Watertown.   


___ c.1857 __________________




In the 1850's that outstanding statesman and soldier, Carl Schurz, settled in our community and came regularly to the mill, driving in from his hill-top home, the Karlshuegel of today, on the northern outskirts of the town, taking with him the flour for the little cakes so eagerly awaited by the children in his wife's kindergarten.  This was the first school of its kind to be established and maintained in the United States.     Derived from the booklet "The Globe Milling Company, Watertown, Wisconsin, 1845-1945."


___ 1858 __________________


The Schurz’s left Watertown in 1858 when Carl was admitted to the Wisconsin Bar and began to practice law in Milwaukee. He spoke on behalf of President Abraham Lincoln during the 1860s and went on to be Secretary of the Interior.  Margarethe Schurz died at age 44 in Washington D.C. in 1876, three days after the birth of a son.  After the family’s departure, others took over the kindergarten in Watertown:  Carl’s cousin, Miss Juessen, followed by Mrs. Rose Kunert and Mrs. Kunert’s sister, Tante Ella Koenig who ran it as a private kindergarten for 42 years.


___ 1861 __________________

HOBOKEN ACADEMY  /  Hoboken, New Jersey


In 1861 the first school in the country to offer kindergarten classes as part of its curriculum was the Hoboken Academy.  The class began on February 11th, 1861 with 77 students in attendance.  In addition, Hoboken was also home to the first teachers’ pension. Read on to learn all about the very first in-school kindergarten in the United States, located right here in Hoboken, New Jersey.


___ c.1913 __________________


Early Kindergarten class, Watertown


___ c.1928 __________________

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___ 1929 __________________



     Heimsehr Grocery, 1940s.  First Kindergarten location marker on right


Watertown Gazette, 05 09 1929


Last Thursday night a very large number of our citizens and many from nearby places, were present at the unveiling of the marker at the southwest corner of North Second and Jones streets, erected by the Saturday club in honor of the Mrs. Carl Schurz of this city, who conducted the first kindergarten school in country at that corner in the building now occupied by Charles Heimsehr and his sister.  The boy scouts had charge of the unveiling of the marker, and kindergarten pupils scattered rose petals about the stone.  The pupils of the three kindergarten classes under direction of their teachers the Misses Adelia L. Siegler, Florence Brownlee and Harriet Blakely, gave a series of dance games, which delighted all present, and the High School band gave a fine musical program.  Mrs. E. E. Fischer, president of the Saturday club presented the tablet and the granite marker to the city, and Alderman George W. Block of the city council, made the acceptance speech, the mayor being unable to be present on account of illness.  Joseph Schaefer, superintendent of the State Historical Society at Madison, was the principal speaker of the evening’s program at the Elks club, and Miss Hilda Schneider of the High School faculty directed a vocal program by the High school glee club.  City Attorney R. W. Lueck was master of ceremonies. 


Among other things in his address Mr. Schaefer said:


“Beginnings of great movements are always interesting and since the kindergarten has grown into a tremendous system of education for the children, the fact that the movement had its American origin in Watertown ought to prompt citizens of this town, especially, to feel proud.”


He said that he had spent much time in reading, looking up records and in personal investigations and has satisfied himself that in honoring Mrs. Schurz as the founder of the movement in America that honor is not misplaced, that the kindergarten here was the first one in America and that its influence had brought about the kindergarten system in this country.


Little is actually known of her when one compares it with what is known of her illustrious husband.  Coming from a relatively wealthy family, brought up in luxury and comfortable surroundings, with every advantage, it is to her credit as a pioneer that she consented to come to America, and especially to what was then the great undeveloped west.  She did so reluctantly, to be sure, but once she had arrived here she made the best of it.  Although she always did long for Europe, she nevertheless played her part as a leader in this territory and her influence has been great.  Her need for occupation and love of children induced her to start a kindergarten class here.


He praised the citizens of Watertown and the members of the Saturday Club especially for their great interest in perpetuating the memory of Mrs. Schurz.  The bronze tablet on the granite stone contains the following . . .



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03 02 1929 <> The Saturday Club erected a memorial marker to designate the historical significance of the building. 


___ 1931 __________________


    25 Jan 1861 -- 28 Jun 1931 (aged 70)

        Took over kindergarten founded by Margarethe Schurz


Watertown, Wis.-Miss Ella Koenig, 70, known to three generations of Watertown children, many of whom attended her private German kindergarten, as "Tante Ella." died at her home here Monday of heart disease.  "Tante Ella" conducted her kindergarten for 42 years.


In 1876 "Tante Ella" Koenig took over the private kindergarten founded by Mrs. Carl (Margarethe) Schurz in 1858 and ran it continually until 1918.  The kindergarten of Mrs. Schurz was the first in the United States.


For nearly half a century Watertown people who wanted their children to acquire a knowledge of the German language sent them to "Tante Ella," who permitted only German to be spoken in her classes.


When only 15, Miss Koenig began working with children as an apprentice of Mrs. Rose Kunert in Watertown's first public school building and continued until the World War made the German language unpopular.  Scorning to teach any language but her native German. "Tante Ella" closed her school rather than change to English.  She has lived in retirement since 1918.


It was German games that the children played in "Tante Ella's" school and German songs that they sang.  Never attempting to follow the modern trends in education, she patterned her school as closely as possible after the kindergartens she herself had attended in Hamburg, Germany, where she was born.


The strict German tradition that she always maintained in her classes appealed strongly to Watertown parents, many of whom had themselves attended schools very much like "Tante Ella's" in the fatherland.


Her last school was a little one-story, one-room frame building on Sixth St., much like the older rural schools, to which a dozen or more children came every morning to greet their teacher in precise German and answer courteously the questions she asked them.  There they learned old school German manners and customs.  Her school was a bit of nineteenth century Germany transplanted to twentieth century America.


"Tante Ella" came to the United States with her parents when she was 6, and the family settled in Watertown while she was still a child.  She lived here ever since.

PARENTS: Louisa Muhlberger Koenig & Robert Koenig


Ill for more than two months, she died of a heart attack.  She is survived by one brother, Hugo, of Watertown.  Her only other relative, a brother, died four years ago.


Milwaukee Journal, Tuesday, June 30, 1931


___ 1936 __________________


   July 4th, 1936


___ 1938 __________________



In celebration of the twentieth anniversary of the advent of airmail, Franklin D. Roosevelt's Postmaster General James Farley established National Airmail Week for May 15-21, 1938 to celebrate and promote the fact the U.S. Postal Service moved mail reliably and with speed.


Every citizen was encouraged to participate in the week's celebration by sending an airmail letter.  In addition, each town was invited to create its own "cachet," a commemorative design to mark the event printed or stamped on the envelopes mailed that week.


Recognizing Progress: The 1938 Celebration of Airmail Week, online article


___ 1943 __________________


08 01 <> More than a century of progress in the three Rs in Wisconsin dramatized in the educational exhibition which opens today at the state historical museum. 


The exhibit, tracing the growth and development of education in the Badger state, has been arranged by Mrs. Ruth Harris, new assistant curator of the museum.  According to the exhibit, Wisconsin’s early schools were conducted at military posts as early as 1816 by private tutors.  Milwaukee had the earliest public school taught in 1836-37 by Edward West.  Although admission was open to the children of the general public, some tuition was charged. In Beloit, a land company as early as 1837 provided a free school for the children of the settlers.  Green Bay is behaved to have had a public school in 1840 although it was short-lived.  Labor unions and the Working Man’s Party were the chief backers in the early 1830s of the then radical idea of free schools for everyone. By free. schools early Wisconsin generally meant the type of education that was practiced in New York where public money was not sufficient to pay all education costs, and parents were assessed to make up the deficit . . .


. . . The exhibit also pays tribute to Margarethe Meyer who became Mrs. Carl Schurz.  Mrs. Schurz established Americas first kindergarten in 1856 at Watertown.  She had studied in Hamburg, Germany with Fredrich Froebel, originator of the kindergarten, and opened her school soon after she came to Watertown.    The Capitol Times, 08 01 1943


___ 1948 __________________


    The float also featured in Watertown’s Memorial Day parade.


Watertown’s float in the state centennial parade at Madison on Saturday attracted a great deal of attention and evoked much favorable comment.  The float portrayed a garden scene, with Mrs. Carl Schurz, the teacher and founder of the first kindergarten, surrounded by her pupils.


The youngsters playing the role of the kindergarten pupils were, reading from left to right:  Steven Kohls, son of Mr. and Mrs. Louis Kohls, Richards Avenue; Mary Jo Hady, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Jerome Hady, River Drive; Marsha Wendt, daughter of Mrs. Evelyn Wendt, Concord Avenue; Susan Kehl, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Fred Kehl, Richards Avenue; Bobby Bender, son of Mr. and Mrs. Milton Bender, Twelfth Street; Judy Ponath, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Victor Ponath, Concord Avenue; Donald Hartman, son of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Hartman, Harvey Avenue; Susan Jo Kressin, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Glibert Kressin, Western Avenue; Janice Kuehnemann, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Clifford Kuehnemann, (extreme right) played the role of Mrs. Schurz.  The same youngsters and Miss Kuehnemann participated in the kindergarten scene in the high school centennial pageant.  The float was built by the Watertown Historical society with funds provided by the Watertown Association of Commerce.  Miss Gladys Mollart of the society had charge of the building of the float.  All of the art work was done by Mrs. Herbert Funk.


___ 1948 __________________



One of the scenes in the pageant, “Cavalcade of Wisconsin,” which is to be presented at the Watertown High School auditorium tonight and Saturday night will recount the first kindergarten in America which was established here by Mrs. Carl Schurz in 1856. 


Above are shown Janice Kuehnemann as Mrs. Schurz and Harry Hird as Mr. Schurz, along with members of the kindergarten class, showing the group on its way to a picnic, and reading from left to right, Steve Kohls as Fritz; Susan Kehl as Marie; Judith Ponath as Anna; Marsha Wendt as Agatha Schurz; Robert Bender as Hans; Mary Jo Hady as Hedwig; Donald Hartman as Carl, and Susan Jo Kressin as Trudy. 


This picture was taken at yesterday’s dress rehearsal.  Additional pictures will be found on page four of the Daily Times. 


CROSS REFERENCE NOTE:  A Century of Progress Cavalcade of Wisconsin: A Pageant Drama Based on Research in Wisconsin History Through the Century, Ethel Theodora Rockwell, The Committee, 1948 - Historical drama - 81 pages.



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A bird comes flying in this old German game, played in a representation of the first kindergarten in America.  The scene is from a pageant, “A Century of Progress Cavalcade in Wisconsin,” being given Friday and Saturday nights by Watertown high and grade school pupils.


The role of Mrs. Carl Schurz is taken by Janice Kuehneman (rear).  Clockwise around the circle are Marsha Wendt, Bobby Bender, Donald Hartman, Mary Jo Hady, Steve Kohls, Judy Ponath, receiving the bird-borne message, Susan Jo Kressin, Susan Kehl.


Watertown, Wis. — The state premiere of the “Century of Progress Cavalcade in Wisconsin,” a pageant for Wisconsin’s centennial, was held here Friday afternoon.  The audience was an enthusiastic auditorium full of school children.


Before the year is out, the pageant, written by Miss Ethel T. Rockwell, will be given in scores of celebrations throughout the state.  Miss Rockwell, of Madison, centennial pageantry adviser and coordinator, wrote the drama for distribution to any Wisconsin groups which wished to mark their celebrations with a pageant.


The 200 pupil cast of the pageant will give its first performance to an adult audience at the high school auditorium Friday night.  They’ll repeat Saturday night.  For six weeks the high and grade schoolers have been practicing under the direction of teachers.


The pageant consists of many scenes and tableaux, with narrators relating the stories.  Some of the scenes, generalized so that they may be presented anywhere in the state, concern the lumber industry, conservation, dairy industry, educational progress, government and the many war periods.  Each community is expected to insert several scenes of strictly local interest.  Watertown’s concern was the first kindergarten class in America in 1856 and the first graduation class of Watertown high school 75 years ago.


The pageant is being presented here to replace the annual high school senior class play.       Milwaukee Journal article


___ 1940s __________________



___ 1955 __________________


01 26 1955 <> One of the important issues confronting the Watertown Historical Society and its board of directors at its annual meeting Monday evening at the Watertown Free Public Library is whether or not it will be possible for Watertown to gain recognition sufficient to merit a “First Kindergarten in America Stamp” in 1956, when the centennial of the establishment in Watertown of the first kindergarten in this hemisphere by Margaret Meyer Schurz will be observed.  The kindergarten was established by the wife of Carl Schurz in this city in 1856.  To date many local persons have endorsed the movement since it was first proposed some two years ago.  It is said the matter falls within the scope of activities listed by the State Historical Society of Wisconsin for local societies, namely: “Encourage the commemoration and proper observance of special historical events.”


Cross reference/related material:  02 13 1964.  The U.S. Post Office Department again has declined to approve the issuance of a commemorative stamp in honor of Mrs. Margarethe Schurz, founder of America’s first kindergarten in Watertown.  Congressman Robert W. Kastenmeier, however, was told that Mrs. Schurz would be given “very serious consideration” in the event the department decides to issue a series of commemorative stamps in honor of outstanding educators.  Referring to the failure of the department to issue the stamp in 1956 on a significant occasion, Kapenstein wrote Kastenmeier that “the ideal time to have issued the stamp was in 1956 on the 100th anniversary of the founding of the first American kindergarten in Watertown.”



03 31 1955 <> WASHINGTON [AP]  Watertown, Wis. — not Boston – had America’s first kindergarten, the Library of Congress has ruled.


Rep. Davis (R-Wis) said Wednesday a report the library made to him establishes that Mrs. Carl Schurz started the first kindergarten in 1856 at Watertown for her daughter and children of her cousins and neighbors.


In 1859, the report said, Mrs. Schurz met Miss Elizabeth Peabody in Boston and so inspired her that Miss Peabody devoted much of her life to promoting kindergartens.


The investigation made by the Library of Congress.’’ Davis said, “now definitely establishes not only that the first such school was in Watertown, but that it was Mrs. Schurz who inspired Miss Peabody to make kindergartens her life work."


Davis said he is again asking the had Post Office Department to issue a special kindergarten stamp for Watertown in 1956.


___ 1956 __________________


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Prior to the 1957 moving of the Kindergarten building from 216 North Second Street to the grounds of the Octagon House Museum



09 14 1956 <> Plans for Restoration Made By Historical Society


A representative group of members of the board of directors of the Watertown Historical Society met last night in what might be termed a "jam session" in the club rooms of the Free Public Library.  As a result an effort will be made to move and restore the old Kindergarten building from its original site on North Second Street to the Octagon House grounds.  The exact location of the building on the grounds is yet to be determined.  Byron Wackett, president of the society, will be asked to appoint a committee to work on a plan.


Ralph Ebert, 128 Harding Street, had examined the building and believes that the outer walls can be moved and kept intact.  He found three outer walls consisting of brick, stucco and wood, which had been used in its construction.  It was thought best to remove the bricks and stucco at the site and then restore its original frame siding at the grounds.


The north wall, roof and laths are in bad shape as it has been allowed to deteriorate since the Heimsehr family used it as a store about 15 years ago.  Mr. Ebert found hand-split laths and a rounded wooden ceiling with the plaster below which characterizes many of the early buildings.  Mr. Ebert referred the board to some contractor(s) in order to complete the project.


Miss Gladys Mollart informed the board of a nucleus restoration fund which is available and Mrs. Eleanor B. Jones, Fort Atkinson, scribe for the Antiquarian Society of Wisconsin, volunteered the support of this organization in furnishing the kindergarten when it is completed.



02 06 1956

     216 North Second



12 14 1956






12 29 1956 <> The old kindergarten building in which Mrs. Carl Schurz established the first American kindergarten in Watertown in 1856 was moved today to what will become its permanent location, on the grounds of the Octagon House, owned and operated as a museum by the Watertown Historical Society. 


The building, which was at North Second [216] and Jones streets, was occupied for many years by the Heimsehr Grocery. 


Its last occupant was the Ryan Store, a religious goods dealer.  Rudy Herman, Lake Mills, was in charge of the moving.


Cross Reference:   The building business has been good to me and I have no regrets,” reflected Ralph R. Otto of Watertown after closing out his construction business and ending a family tradition that spanned 70 years.  As Otto stood on the family homestead where an auction for his business equipment was held last week, his comments on past building jobs were reminiscent of pages in a local history book.  As a building contractor in business with his father and later on his own, he recalled the many construction jobs he worked on around the city.  Some buildings, such as the old Savoy Theatre downtown where Valley Bank now stands, have been torn down to make way for progress.  Other jobs, such as the First Kindergarten building, have preserved history for future generations.  He helped lay the foundation and replaster the walls when the building was moved from its original site downtown to the Octagon House grounds.


___ 1957 __________________


02 22 1957 <> Restoration of the first American kindergarten in Watertown will get underway in the spring as a project of the Watertown Historical Society.  The original building in which Mrs. Carl Schurz conducted her kindergarten classes after launching the kindergarten in Watertown in 1856 was recently moved from its original site at North Second and Jones Streets to the Octagon House grounds where it will remain as a permanent monument to the kindergarten movement in the United States.  Plans call to restore the building and to furnish it much as it was in the days when Mrs. Schurz conducted her classes in it.



09 16 1957 <> Delightful summer weather brought an estimated group of 300 people to attend the program for the dedication of the Margarethe Schurz first kindergarten building recently restored on the Octagon House grounds.  The kindergarten itself in the midst of age-old trees and golden tinted flowers formed the setting for the program.  Stepping inside the kindergarten one was impressed with the pleasant scene of Mrs. Schurz and her first kindergarten pupils playing at Froebel's games and singing the songs that always accompanied the games.


Zeno Kreiziger, Johnson Creek, helped to create an early atmosphere by playing old time German favorites on his accordion.  Here and there one could hear native Germans speaking in the language of their country.


The Rev. Royal Shepard gave the invocation.  In his preliminary remarks he told of his own interest in Carl Schurz caused by his grandfather's story of how he took his grandmother to see the unveiling of the Carl Schurz statue in New York.


Extends Greetings


Assemblyman Byron Wackett, president of the Historical Society, as master of ceremonies, extended the greetings and appreciation of the local society.  Miss Doris Grube gave a beautiful rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner" by Francis Scott Key.  Later in the program she led the audience in the singing of America.


Charles Kading, president of the City Council, in his welcome message expressed the appreciation of the city and its citizens to the Historical Society for the preservation of Watertown's heritage of the past for present and future generations.  President Byron Wackett paid the society's tribute to the following groups and individuals to which it is indebted for the completion of the project.  A plaque inside the door of the kindergarten lettered by Mrs. Eunice Gruner lists the following donors:  The City of Watertown, Edward G. Broenniman and family and the Antiquarian Society. 


Gratitude must also be expressed to Miss Gladys Mollart who almost single handed supervised the moving and restoration of the building.


The Saturday Club that pioneered in the perpetuation of the first kindergarten by erecting a marker at the original site was also cited.  Miss Helen M. Reilly contributed photographs and personal mementoes obtained from her aunt, Ellen Flavin, who was a governess for the Schurz children in Hamburg, Germany.


The Antiquarian Society received special commendation for furnishing the kindergarten building with its curtains and some Windsor chairs and kindergarten tables.  The latter furnishings were obtained by society members in Milwaukee.


McNeil Is Speaker


The address of the day was given by Don McNeil, assistant director of the State Society in the absence of Dr. Clifford Lord, director:  He extended the greetings of the State Society members to Watertown.  Mr. McNeil showed in his talk the relationship of local history to state and national history.  Whenever something tangible is necessary to bring an event before the public Mr. McNeil said it always begins. with local history.  The pattern is then followed by the county and state and national groups.  He commended the local people who through their vision and long hours of work showed what could be done with a restoration.  It will now be a place of interest for three groups namely, school children, secondly, tourists and finally adults to see the artifacts and rooms where history was made.


Mrs. Robert Liners, in periodic dress, gave an inimitable interpretation of Margrethe Schurz and the founding of the first kindergarten.  Miss Alice Krueger and Mrs. Emily Scott delighted the audience with a presentation of last year's kindergarten children in a group of songs and finger plays.  The presentation of the key of the kindergarten to the society's president was made by a kindergarten child.  The local kindergarten teachers presented the first kindergarten building with a beautiful bouquet of golden and bronze chrysanthemums and mums.  Adding greatly to the interior were two bouquets given by Mr. and Mrs. E. R. Broeniman of Scarsdale, N. Y.


Schurz Association Present


One of the largest groups present was the Carl Schurz Memorial Association whose members live in Milwaukee but who sponsor the Carl Schurz Memorial Park at Moose Lake, near Nashotah.  Albert E. Faiss with his wife Margarete Faiss expressed the desire of the group to do something of a memorial nature for the kindergarten building.  Accompanying this group was Karl Wilhelm Richter, Dusseldorf, Germany and Helmut Rolansch, Moers, Germany, who recently entered the United States.


Noted in the audience was Zida Ivey, representing the Fort Atkinson Museum and Larry Kracht, the Aztalan Museum, Mrs. Bessie Reed, Beloit, Antiquarian Governor and her sister Mrs. Josephine Reed Warner. 


Lending further distinction to the Schurz family was Marie Jussen, Oshkosh artist whose father was a cousin of Carl Schurz.  While in the city Miss Jussen was the guest of Mrs. Frank Kellerman.  Miss Jussen is a cousin of Mrs. Matilda Weber Dana, Fond du Lac, mother of Mrs. Kellermann.  Mrs. John I. Haugan, Janesville, as Bessie Foote brought out the fact that she attended the kindergarten conducted by Marion Forbes in the basement of the original State Normal School, Oshkosh.  It was a private paid kindergarten.


Telegrams Received


Telegrams of regret were received from State Supt. of Schools G. E. Watson, Arthur R. Hogue, professor in the University of Indiana, relative of Carl Schurz, Mr. and Mrs. E. R. Broeniman, the former a son of E. G. Broeniman, Scarsdale, N. Y., Jim Chichester, a friend, New York City, and Mrs. Meta L. Corbin, Chicago, relative of Carl Schurz.


The Historical Society wishes to extend its thanks and appreciation to all who attended.  There can only be one dedication event in the history of every building and the one on Sunday will be of great significance in the years to come in tracing the founding of the first kindergarten in America by Margarethe Meyer Schurz.       09 16 1957 Source: Milw Jour


___ 1958 __________________


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04 21 1967 <> Miss Gladys Mollart, curator of the Watertown Historical Society, Mrs. Ralph Ebert and Mrs. Don Mabie are shown in the final phases of refurbishing the kindergarten exhibits for the May 1 opening of the Octagon House and First American Kindergarten.


Mrs. Ebert, lower right, is fitting a dress on the kindergarten child she created with paper mache and other materials, which she refers to as the "sixth child.”


The other five figures of children were acquired after the Wisconsin Centennial Exposition in 1948, where they were shown in a replica of the first kindergarten in the United States.


The model used then of Margarethe Meyer Schurz and the figure of one child was presented to the Wisconsin Historical Society at Madison, the other five came to Watertown.


The Watertown Historical Society purchased a model for Mrs. Schurz. Mrs. Ebert, unhappy because of the discrepancy between five children's figures, and the actual six who attended this first kidergarten, went to work with her materials and created the sixth child. Since that day, some years ago, she has felt a proprietory interest in getting her ready for the opening each year.


Mrs. Mabie is shown at the left and Miss Mollart at the right.  Not present, Mrs. Armin Rohde who was the hairdresser for the dolls.


Hours of the opening on May 1 and for the balance of the season will be from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, including Sundays, and guides will be on hand to greet visitors at these times.


Cross reference note:  All models have been discarded


___ 1950s __________________


. . . 90 degrees (in the late 1950s, assumed)

Moved so plaque is facing south instead of east


Move probably coincided with the time of the move of the kindergarten to the Octagon.


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12 22 1960 <> Miss Alice Krueger, Webster School teacher, is the author and director of a skit on the first kindergarten in America established in Watertown in 1856, which is scheduled to be presented on WISN-TV, channel 12, Dec. 31, New Year’s Eve, at 6 p.m.  Mrs. Robert Liners will portray the role of Mrs. Carl Schurz in the sketch.  Six Watertown children will also appear in the cast.  They are:  Ann Bruce, Storey Hibbard, Kate Bloor, Susan Hines, Melanie Shepard and Jimmy Schwoch.  All are pupils at Webster School.   WDT


___ 1963 __________________



Panel painted by Eunice Gruner for American Legion in 1963


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04 22 1964 <> Watertown, by reason of having been the first city in the United States to have a kindergarten, should be the one city in the world to have a child’s world museum.  Such is the opinion of Dr. David C. Davis of the Department of Education, University of Wisconsin.  Dr. Davis was in Watertown recently as the principal speaker at the annual Founder’s Day banquet of the Watertown U. of W. Alumni group, at the Legion Green Bowl.  In his address, Dr. David went into considerable detail about the plan and it is certainly something Watertown should think about.


___ 1965 __________________



10 11 1965 <> The Watertown Historical Society was given top state honors Saturday in Madison at the 1965 Institute for Local History when it received the Reuben Thwaites Gold Cup in recognition for its excellent work in restoring and maintaining the famed Octagon House and First American Kindergarten in Watertown.  Assembly man Byron F. Wackett is president of the Watertown society.  The cup is shown in the above photo with Miss Gladys Mollart, the society's curator, and Mrs. Donovan Mabie, custodian of the Octagon House.



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11 02 1965 <> Lincoln School Kindergarten pupils visited the first kindergarten located on the grounds of the Octagon House.  The children are contrasting schools of long ago with the modern school in connection with an educational TV program which they view each week from Station WHA-TV in Madison.  WHA-TV program to feature kindergarten.  The two children are Misha Radish and Mary Semon.



It was 161 years ago, give or take a few days, that a young lady by the name of Margarethe Meyer Schurz started an education program for her daughter, Agathe, age 3, here in Watertown. That small step was the first kindergarten in the United States and now over a century and a half later, our community is still known as the birthplace of the kindergarten movement.


Because this first kindergarten was started just before Christmas we thought a little bit about those early years might fit well today. Most of our readers know the basics, but this information originally published a half a century ago, offers a few insights about this remarkable woman. We’re using the information from an article in the Daily Times a half a century ago which was written by a Thomas Pledge and we will be editing it down some. So, here we go:


“Christmas gifts are especially for children. A good gift can stretch a child’s imagination, coax him to observe and construct, and point to an orderly structure in life.


“A lonely dark-eyed, German immigrant woman who lived in a brand new state bestowed such a gift on millions of American children now 161 years ago. In her native language the gift meant “children’s garden.”


‘The woman was Mrs. Carl Schurz, wife of a man who was to become a famous American statesman, soldier and journalist. Her gift was the first kindergarten in the United States, open to the children of Watertown, Wis., just before Christmas in 1856.


“Like a good gift, the kindergarten of Mrs. Schurz was designed to awaken naturally the fresh facilities of a child.  It was a pioneer venture in a new city and a new state carved from the virgin forests of the Northwest Territory.


“At the kindergarten children played with colored softballs and blocks of various geometric forms, like the “educational” blocks so familiar today.


“They sang songs together and collected items of interest on nature study walks.  It was remarkably like kindergarten today.  It was also a radical departure from the puritanical, ear-bending instructed on youngsters in the public schools of the day.


“Margarethe Meyer, a 16-year-old when she first discovered “a new education theory” espoused by Friedrich Froebel, studied under him at Blankenburg, Germany, in the world’s first kindergarten.


“Later Margarethe left for London where she worked with her sister in the first kindergarten on English soil. In London she met and married red-haired Carl Schurz, a young, ambitious attorney who had fled his native Germany to escape the penalties for his antigovernment activities.


“Schurz and his 25-year-old wife came to the United States in 1852. Many of Schurz’s relatives had migrated to the new state of Wisconsin, then one of the western areas of the nation.”


They considered living in Milwaukee but ultimately decided on Watertown, “a new city about 30 miles to the west on the western terminus of the plank road.


“Schurz purchased a large tract of property about one mile north of town, built a German style villa home and sent for his wife, who was staying in Philadelphia. She arrived in the fall of 1856.”


We’ll go into a little more detail in the next column.       Watertown Daily Times




Last week we wrote about Margarethe Meyer Schurz and the fact it was 161 years ago just before Christmas that she started an education program for her daughter, Agathe, age 3, here in Watertown. That little class of one was the start of the first kindergarten in the United States.


The column followed her early years in America. Her husband, Carl Schurz, purchased a large tract of property on the north side of the city, about a mile from the downtown area. On the land he had a German style villa home built and then sent for his wife, who was living in Philadelphia until the home was ready for occupancy.


That home was located on the hill just south of Union Pacific tracks that cross North Church Street, and on which some housing units have been constructed. The original Schurz home was destroyed by fire decades ago.


That’s where we left the story last week.



Well, once Margarethe started the kindergarten for little Agathe, it didn’t take long and other relatives and neighbors in the city wanted their children enrolled in the classes.


Margarethe set up a kindergarten room in the living room in the home of her in-laws which was located in the center of the city.  She later held kindergarten in a small building which was located at the southwest corner of Jones and North Second streets. That building was later moved to the Octagon House Museum grounds where it’s part of the experience for those who visit the Octagon House.  That original location at Second and Jones is marked with a large stone and plaque.


Margarethe, in an 1859 trip to Boston, interested Elizabeth Peabody in the kindergarten idea and it was largely through her work that two decades later the concept of the “children’s garden” was incorporated into the public school system.


In 1867, when her third daughter, 2-year-old Emma Savannaha, died, Margarethe, her health weakened by grief, left for Europe with Agathe and her other daughter, Marianne. They stayed there for about two years, returning to live in Washington, D.C., after her husband, Carl, had been elected to the United States Senate. In 1871, a son, Carl Lincoln Schurz, was born, and in 1876 a second son, Herbert, was born. Two days after his birth, on March 15, 1876, Margarethe Meyer Schurz, the founder of the kindergarten movement in America and one of Watertown’s most famous women, died at the age of 43.


Today, Schurz Elementary School, on the city’s south side, is named in honor of her contributions to education in America. And, it all started about 161 years ago, nearly to the day.


Margarethe’s husband was well known in political circles and although they were in Watertown a relatively short period of time, his contributions to the country were enormous.


Carl served as minister to Spain, having been appointed to that position by President Abraham Lincoln but was also a United States senator from Missouri, his adopted state.


He also was editor of the New York Post, one of the largest publications in that city at the time, and wrote editorials for Harper’s Weekly.


He served in the Civil War as a brigadier general and then was promoted to major general. He fought in the battles of Chancellorsville, Gettysburg and Chattanooga and in 1865 served with Gen. W. T. Sherman’s Army in North Carolina. Carl Schurz died in 1906 at the age of 77.


So both of them were famous in their own areas and both were one-time residents of Watertown.


WDTimes, article 1; article 2:


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700 Block of North Church Street  /  Near NW corner of North Church and Margaret streets


___ 1967 __________________


     Preparing for opening


04 21 1967 <> Miss Gladys Mollart, curator of the Watertown Historical Society, Mrs. Ralph Ebert and Mrs. Don Mabie are shown in the final phases of refurbishing the kindergarten exhibits for the May 1 opening of the Octagon House and First American Kindergarten.


Mrs. Ebert, lower right, is fitting a dress on the kindergarten child she created with paper mache and other materials, which she refers to as the “sixth child.”  The other five figures of children were acquired after the Wisconsin Centennial Exposition in 1948, where they were shown in a replica of the first kindergarten in the United States.


The model used then of Margarethe Meyer Schurz and the figure of one child was presented to the Wisconsin Historical Society at Madison, the other five came to Watertown.  The Watertown Historical Society purchased a model for Mrs. Schurz.  Mrs. Ebert, unhappy because of the discrepancy between five children’s figures, and the actual six who attended this first kindergarten, went to work with her materials and created the sixth child.  Since that day, some years ago, she has felt a proprietary interest in getting her ready for the opening each year.


Mrs. Mabie is shown at the left and Miss Mollart at the right.  Not present when this picture was taken was Mrs. Armin Rohde who was the hairdresser for the dolls.


N.B. When comparing pictures of now with that of 1967, the figures we have today appear not to be the same as those from 1948, most likely having been replaced over time.  Yet even those of today are showing their age.



03 25 1967 <> Watertown’s three service clubs — Rotary, Kiwanis and Lions today announced plans to join in a new campaign to advertise Watertown as the home of the first American kindergarten.  The three clubs will share the cost of such promotion.  A new type of bumper sticker will be utilized to call attention to the kindergarten established here in 1856 by Margarethe Meyer Schurz, wife of Carl Schurz, the German-American patriot, statesman, general, editor, lecturer and writer.  The campaign is designed to promote Watertown as a place of historical significance and a city to visit.  The stickers will be ready for distribution in about three weeks.



12 06 1967 <> “Margarethe Meyer Schurz, a biography” authored by Hannah Werwath Swart, and published by the Watertown Historical Society, was introduced Friday at a tea at the home of Miss Gladys Mollart, curator of the Octagon House and First Kindergarten.  The book, which is available at Minar’s Office supplies, the Yarn Shoppe, and from Miss Mollart, carried a foreword by Elmer C. Kiessling, professor at Northwestern College, and acknowledgments by Lee Block, president of the Watertown Historical Society.  The 15 chapters in the slim volume will be of particular interest to Watertown residents and those who have visited the first kindergarten on the Octagon House grounds.  The biography begins with Margarethe Meyer in her girlhood home in Hamburg, Germany, takes the reader from the kindergarten in Hamburg to Miss Meyer’s meeting with Carl Schurz, a Bonn University student destined to become a leader in American political life, to the family’s arrival in America and Watertown, their life here and the establishment of the first American kindergarten.  It portrays Watertown in the 1850s and is generously illustrated with historical pictures, several through the courtesy of Miss Helen Reilly, Watertown.


___ 1969 __________________


06 28 1969 <> A reception will be held at the Octagon House on Sunday, July 20, with Miss Gladys Mollart, curator of the Octagon House, as the guest of honor.  There will be special music from 2 to 4 o’clock in the afternoon, and light refreshments will be served.  It is hoped that many people, especially those who may not have visited the Octagon House recently, will wish to do so that day.  Miss Mollart, a charter member of the Watertown Historical Society, helped formulate the original articles and by-laws of the organization in 1933.  Since 1945 she has been in charge of the Octagon House as curator.  In November 1948, Miss Mollart was singled out by the Watertown Historical Society for a pledge of gratitude for her untiring activity.  In connection with the Octagon House, and especially for the development of the First Kindergarten as it was portrayed in the State Centennial parade in Madison, and at the women’s building at the State Fair Park in Milwaukee during the State Centennial celebration.  These efforts resulted in the State Historical Society giving the kindergarten figures to the Watertown Historical Society.  These figures had been specially designed and made for the occasion and are the ones now in use in the First Kindergarten building.


___ 1970 __________________


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America’s First Kindergarten commemorated


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Roots of Kindergarten Firm in Watertown



06 28 2008 <> Webster School kindergartners scurried around the First Kindergarten building playing olden day games and learning about Margarethe Schurz.  The event was held in celebration of the 150th anniversary of the First Kindergarten.      Watertown Daily Times, 06 28 2006



08 28 2006 <> Kindergarten anniversary brings out state dignitaries  Watertown Daily Times, 08 28 2006



08 29 2006This past Sunday Watertown and area residents came to the famed Octagon House grounds to pay tribute to the 150th anniversary of the first kindergarten in the United States.


It was fitting that this ceremony be held at the site that now houses that first kindergarten building which was first used for that purpose back in 1856 by Margarethe Meyer Schurz. Although for much of her life she was overshadowed by the political legend of her husband Carl, it was her contribution to American education that has elevated her to prominence in that field.


Kindergarten started as a rather small program for two of the Schurz children and a couple neighbor children in this wild territory known as Watertown. It was only 20 years after this community was settled that her contribution to education was started.


Since that time, kindergarten expanded throughout the country and years ago became the standard offering in' all schools, public and private.  Today the program has expanded so far it is now offered in forms we're sure Margarethe never even imagined - pre-kindergarten, full-day kindergarten and even 4-year-old kindergarten.  All of these programs are extensions of what this remarkable lady accomplished back in 1856.


While Margarethe and her husband, Carl, called Watertown their home only a few years a century and a half ago, the marks they both left on Watertown are indelible and are forever part of our community's rich heritage.


The fact that Elizabeth Burmeister, Wisconsin superintendent of public instruction, took the time to be at the anniversary program places special emphasis on the importance this tool is in the educational community.


Watertown and Margarethe Meyer Schurz are famous because of this novel program that is now 150 years old but it is the generations of children who have passed through kindergarten who have benefited the most.


Our congratulations and appreciation go out to the Watertown Historical Society and all those who worked hard to, make this celebration successful.        Watertown Daily Times, commentary, 08 29 2006


150TH ANNIVERSARY EVENT / Image Portfolio of

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Charlotte Groth          

Mayor John David         

Jessica Doyle, Wife of WI Governor

Elizabeth Burmeister, Sec of Education     

Douglas Keiser, School Superintendent  

Joel Kleefisch, State Representative


___ 2009 __________________

First Kindergarten video, YouTube


___ 2018 __________________



August 15, 2018 article by Dan Kaufman for New Yorker magazine on the current political landscape in Wisconsin, including the issue of education.  Article includes reference to writer’s visit to First Kindergarten on the grounds of the Octagon House Museum:


On Saturday, I visited a white clapboard house in Watertown, the site of the first kindergarten in the United States.  Now a museum, the school was founded in 1856 by a German immigrant named Margarethe Meyer Schurz. Schurz had studied with Friedrich Fröbel, the founder of the original kindergarten (“children’s garden”), in Blankenburg, Germany, in 1837.  “The kindergarten is the free republic of childhood,” Fröbel once wrote.


That spirit is on display in the little one-room museum, where you can hear a recording of children singing “Kommt ein Vogel geflogen” (“A Bird Comes Flying”), one of the songs that Schurz’s first students sang.  Her school lasted only a couple of years in Watertown, but the kindergarten movement quickly spread.  In 1882, Milwaukee become the second-largest American city, after St. Louis, to offer free kindergarten as part of a public education.


Earlier in the week, I had spoken with Evers about Schurz’s kindergarten, and about Wisconsin’s place in the history of education in America.  He considers himself a defender of this heritage, and believes his path to victory lies in reclaiming the trans-partisan pragmatism that once defined Wisconsin’s politics.  “You don’t have to be a historian to remember that progressivism wasn’t necessarily Democratic or Republican,” he told me.        [link to New Yorker article]


Dan Kaufman is the author of “The Fall of Wisconsin: The Conservative Conquest of a Progressive Bastion and the Future of American Politics,” which was published in July.  Dan Kaufman of Brooklyn, New York, is a Wisconsin native whose work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine and The New Yorker. 


___ 2019 __________________




___ 2020 __________________


Margarethe Schurz and First Kindergarten in American noted  



___ 2023 __________________

-- --           NEW INTERIOR DISPLAY

Link to YouTube video clip







Cross References:


Facebook page dedicated to Friedrich Froebel.




Article on First Kindergarten, mentions Webster School  



01 30 1960 <>  The Sheboygan Press notes founding of German-speaking kindergarten to that of English.  “The honor of Watertown, as well as the entire state of Wisconsin, must be restored.”



In 1871, Oshkosh State Normal School, a teacher-training school was established.  It became the first school of this type (normal school) in the nation to have a kindergarten; Professor Rose C. Swart introduced practice teaching in 1872.




Margarethe Meyer Schurz – A Biography



The book “Margarethe Meyer Schurz – A Biography” by Hannah Werwath Swart has been reprinted by the Watertown Historical Society and is now available in e-book format.







[1]  Kids have never spent less time playing outside . . .






Table of Contents 

History of Watertown, Wisconsin