School Days at the House

April 20, 2013 § 4 Comments

This week I had the opportunity to lead two groups of seventh graders through the Dana-Thomas House. One bus was from St. Louis, and the other traveled all night from a small town in Mississippi.  Both groups were extremely attentive, well prepared for their tour, and asked intelligent questions.  Their teachers had prepared them before they came with information about Frank Lloyd Wright, architecture, and the Dana-Thomas House in particular. Their enthusiasm and curiosity reminded me once again of the potential of sound educational experiences.

Susan would have been pleased.  She understood the value of experiential learning and supported it in many ways with her time and money.  I describe her close relationship with Frank Lloyd Wright’s aunts and their Hillside Home School in Chapter 16 of Susan Lawrence: The Enigma in the Wright House.  The school was a residential progressive school where students learned by doing.  Susan not only supported it with generous financial gifts, but she paid for the art and science wing of the building and served on the school’s board. Furthermore, Susan donated equipment to the Springfield Montessori school where exposure to appropriate materials and experiences is central to the educational methodology.

Despite the fact that she had no children of her own, Susan supported education in several other ways.  I recalled in an earlier post (click here) how she paid for the design and books in the first public school library in Springfield.  In Chapter 5 of Susan Lawrence: The Enigma in the Wright House I describe the two annual student contests that she established in honor of her father.  One competition was a high school oratorical contest, and the other was for manual training students.  Susan and her mother underwrote the project and annually awarded money to the top two winners of both contests.  Furthermore, in May of 1919 Susan invited a class to complete the school term in her home when a national crisis closed the Springfield schools (see Chapter 16 of Susan Lawrence: The Enigma in the Wright House).

This is the time of the year when buses of field tripping students invade Springfield. It is exciting to me when some of them come to the Dana-Thomas House prepared to expand their world by experiencing Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpiece first hand.  I think Susan smiles too. 

school bus

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§ 4 Responses to School Days at the House

  • Mary Beaumont says:

    Your tour members don’t realize how lucky they are to have you as their guide Roberta!

  • Roberta, I would love to talk with you about a short bio of Susan. I am the webmaster for the League of Women Voters of Illinois and we issue an ENews each month. We are featuring famous Illinois suffragists and I wanted to use Susan this month. I need about a 250 word sketch. I could borrow some of your blog and cite it but would love a short bio. We have to get this out by May 5 so I’m on a deadline. Hope to hear from you – and hope to get to Springfield to see the house one day. We live in Evanston. Thank you so much,

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