Kindergarten is a term coined in 1840 by Friedrich Froebel in reference to his method of developing intelligence in young children. The term literally means “child garden.” Margarethe Shurz moved from Germany to Watertown with her family in 1856. Excerpts from two of her letters to her sister Bertha tell the story
“We have finally moved to Watertown. Watertown is a very young town. The streets are in a dreadful condition, just a mud bottom with no stone gutters. Pigs that are wandering loose can find mud puddles eighteen inches deep! There are no sidewalks. There are many German immigrants here and we know most of them well. Last year, Watertown became the second largest city in Wisconsin. The population was 10,000 people. The main street is crowded with farmers selling their goods, all kinds of meats and vegetables.” (September 13, 1856)
“Last month I invited four little cousins . . . to play with Agatha, who is three years old now. In the big room downstairs with the bright red carpet that I told you about in the last letter, the girls played games, sang songs, and busied themselves with the exciting boxes that I brought from Europe. I also invited a neighbor girl to stop on her way home from school to teach the children English and to help me take care of Marianna, who is not quite a year old yet.
“I had the gift boxes ready each day for the children, filled with interesting toys and things that they could learn from, like bright balls and blocks of wood divided into curious sections. Sometimes I cut shiny paper into bright strips ready for weaving mats. And I also had some blue cardboard with holes through which the two older girls can push needles and learn how to sew. Then more and more of my friends started asking me if their children could be allowed to join the class. Since our home is outside of the town, the group began to meet in a small house in the center of the town, on the corner of Jones Street and Second Street. And so the first kindergarten in America was founded in Watertown, Wisconsin! You must tell our friend Friederick Wilhem Froebel, who created the idea of a kindergarten and taught me all about it, that I have now started one here . . .” (December 14, 1856)