Alumni Ambassadors Spread the Oswego Method

The nurseryman Edward Austin Sheldon would probably liken it to the seeds of the maple tree propelled by the wind.

Whatever metaphor is used, one thing is certain: The Oswego Method of learning by doing spread far and wide, thanks in large part to the work of alumni ambassadors who travelled the nation and world to share the founder’s principles.

“Many of the most competent graduates of the school had been invited to different cities to organize city training schools on the plan of the Oswego Training School, and to State Normal schools to organize training departments in connection with schools of practice,” Sheldon wrote in his autobiography.

Jennie Stickney carried the Oswego method to Boston. Sheldon called her “a sort of pioneer missionary for the new methods.”

Amanda Funnelle 1862 taught at the state Normal School at Terre Haute, Ind., and later helped organizing a training school in Detroit. Her travels would take her all over the country before she returned to Oswego to serve as principal of the kindergarten-training department.

Mary V. Lee 1863 and Mary McGonegal 1863 went to Davenport, Iowa, to start a city training school. Lee would go on to teach at the State Normal School at Winona, Minn., after which time she took a medical course and returned to Oswego to head the department of physiology and physical culture. Lee Hall, an athletic facility, is named for her.

Sheldon tells of graduates starting schools in Worcester, Mass., Portland and Lewiston, Maine, Paterson, N.J., and Dayton and Cleveland, Ohio.

Graduates weren’t the only ones spreading Sheldon’s system.

“Many representative educators from different parts of the country, and teachers from every grade were from time to time visitors to the training school and the public schools,” the founder noted.

William Phelps, the first principal of the New Jersey State Normal School in Trenton, now The College of New Jersey, led a delegation invited by Sheldon “to investigate the suspicious proceedings going on in the thriving lake port.”

Phelps would take the Oswego Method back to New Jersey, as well as to Minnesota, where he was to work after his New Jersey tenure. Oswego’s connection with TCNJ is still strong. Dr. R. Barbara Gitenstein, former Oswego provost, current president of TCNJ, was at Oswego from 1984 to 1991.

“From what I have said it will be seen that the Oswego school has had an important influence on the normal school system of this and other States. This influence was particularly felt in western and southwestern States, notably in Ohio, Michigan, Minnesota and California,” Sheldon wrote.

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