Wisconsin Historical Society

Historical Essay

America's First Kindergarten Teacher

A Brief Biography of Margarethe Schurz

Margarethe Schurze | Wisconsin Historical Society

Note: This is a grade-level appropriate biographical essay about a significant figure from Wisconsin's past and was originally part of the "Essays for the Elementary Student" series.

Did you know that the first kindergarten in the United States was in Watertown, Wisconsin?

EnlargeHead and shoulders portrait of Mrs. Margarethe Meyer Schurz, the first kindergarten teacher in the United States.

Margarethe Schurz

Portrait of Mrs. Margarethe Meyer Schurz, the first kindergarten teacher in the United States. View the original source document: WHI 4681

Margarethe Meyer Schurz was born in Hamburg, Germany. She immigrated to the United States when she was only 19 years old. She and her husband Carl first settled on the east coast. In 1855 they moved to Watertown, Wisconsin. In 1856, Margarethe started the very first kindergarten in the United States. Where did she get the idea? Margarethe had studied the idea of kindergarten in Germany.


Kindergarten is a German word meaning "a garden where children grow." It’s a special place for beginner students. Schooling in the 1800s was very strict and formal. Education meant memorizing lots and lots of things. If you had a good memory, you were a good student. Kindergarten was very different.

Children in kindergarten learn by playing games and singing songs. They work together in groups. Students have fun while they learn new skills. Children in kindergarten still learn this way today.

Elizabeth Peabody

EnlargeThe first kindergarten, a small one to six room school.

Margarethe Schurz's Kindergarten

Margarethe Schurz founded the first kindergarten in America in 1856 in Watertown Wisconsin, where it still stands today. View the original source document: WHI 7126

In 1859 Margarethe met Elizabeth Peabody. Elizabeth was a well-known writer and teacher from Salem, Massachusetts. Margarethe described her kindergarten to Ms. Peabody. Elizabeth loved the idea. She helped start kindergartens all over the United States.

Margarethe was proud of her school. She worked hard to make education better. But she didn’t stay in Wisconsin for long. She was in poor health and very sad after her daughter died in 1867. She decided to return to Germany. Margarethe’s first kindergarten class had only five students. Now children all over the United States attend the “garden where children grow.”

 Reading Level Correlations

  • Level S (5th Grade)

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