The Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Study grew out of an association between Tufts College and an early-childhood teaching program in Boston created by pioneers in the applied developmental science movement. Initially an affiliate in the Division of Special Studies, it became a department in 1964. Undergraduate and graduate students could train to be teachers or prepare for the study of child development as a behavioral science. With its laboratory school that permitted observation as well as teaching opportunities, the department became the hub for a variety of professionals engaged with early childhood issues. In 1981, it established the nation's first doctoral program in Applied Child Development.
In 1951, the Nursery Training School of Boston became one of a group of autonomous schools that became affiliated with Tufts through the college's Division of Special Studies. The Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Study grew out of this association.
The Nursery Training School of Boston was founded by educators Abigail Adams Eliot and Elizabeth Ware Winsor Pearson (Mrs. Henry Greenleaf Pearson). In 1922, Eliot accepted Pearson's invitation to become the inaugural director of the Ruggles Street School, which was located in Roxbury and served children living in poverty. The previous year, Eliot had been sent by the Boston-based Women's Education Association to observe teaching techniques used at the Rachael McMillan Nursery School and Training Centre in London. What she saw there informed her holistic approach to pre-school education, with its emphasis on health-sustained by good nutrition, outdoor play, and naps-and parent education. In 1926, Eliot and Pearson established the Nursery Training School, the students of which gained experience by practice-teaching at Ruggles Street and at the Cambridge Cooperative Nursery School. In 1936, the NST moved into quarters on Marlborough St., Boston, that housed a dormitory, offices, a library and classrooms.
Eliot and Pearson's philosophy regarding the education of young children can be gleaned from this 1944 statement of fundamental principles, as listed in Martha H. Chapman's history of the Nursery Training School: Children are persons; Education should always be thought of as guidance which influences the development of persons; Maturing and learning must go hand in hand in the process of development; It is important that personalities be well balanced.
Eliot, holder of the first Ed.D. given by Harvard in pre-school education, firmly believed that a college education was essential in the training of teachers of young children. During the 1930s, the NTS became affiliated with the Boston University School of Education, through which their students could earn degrees. In 1951, the Corporation of the Nursery Training School voted to affiliate with Tufts College. The NTS became one of five specialized schools that united under the Division of Special Studies (later called the College of Special Studies) umbrella.
The Tufts course catalogue for 1951-1952 announced that students could combine professional training at the Nursery Training School with academic work at Tufts. Qualified candidates who completed the four-year program would receive a Bachelor of Science in Education at Tufts and a Certificate from the Nursery Training School. In addition, there was a one-year graduate training program for students who already held a Bachelor's degree. By the end of the decade, there was also a graduate program in which students earned a Master of Education (Ed.M.) from Tufts and a Graduate Certificate from the NTS, which had by then become the Eliot-Pearson Children's School.
Since the commute from Boston to Medford proved difficult for students and faculty, the decision was made to move the Nursery Training School to Tufts' Medford campus. The move took place in the fall of 1954, and in 1955 the institution's name was changed to the Eliot-Pearson Children's School for Nursery and Kindergarten Teaching, in honor of its founders.
The Eliot-Pearson, like its fellow specialized schools, had its own administration and its students had their own government and organizations. There was an active NTS alumnae association, which published a newsletter three times a year. The Tufts catalog for the academic year 1959-1960 proclaimed that the Eliot-Pearson School presented the "advantage of a small school within a university." It offered students "a balance between liberal arts and education courses at Tufts and professional courses at Eliot-Pearson." The advantages of this arrangement did not only flow one way: Tufts students, particularly those studying education and psychology, benefited greatly from Eliot-Pearson's wealth of knowledge and from their laboratory-school facilities. For example, students could study child behavior in the school's Observation Room and, as stated in the course catalog, "opportunities for experience with atypical children" were numerous.
The school took major strides forward after Dr. Evelyn Goodenough (later Pitcher), who had studied with child-development pioneer Arnold Gessell at Yale, was made director in 1959. The founders' dream of a dedicated facility on campus came true when, in 1962, Massachusetts Governor John A. Volpe broke ground for the new one-story brick building which would house the Eliot-Pearson Children's School. This was followed by additional buildings for administrative offices. The Eliot-Pearson School chose to fully integrate into Tufts University after Tufts President Nils Wessell, seeking to raise academic standards in the College of Special Studies, directed the affiliates to either merge with the university or disaffiliate. Members of the school's Board of Managers were invited to become an advisory committee for the new Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Study, which was established in 1964. Dr. Evelyn G. Pitcher was named Chairman of the department and Executive Director of the Eliot-Pearson Children's School.
The department's overall approach was a mingling of the practical and the theoretical. Its curriculum initially involved the migration of some courses from the Department of Education. For the first few years, its students took courses offered by the Department of Psychology, until Child Study created its own research-oriented courses in development. The Tufts Bulletin for 1966-1967 stated that "Master's programs in Child Study are designed as preparation for teachers or as preparation for the study of child development as a behavioral science." In recognition of its students' varying lifestyles, there was the announcement that "to meet the needs of teachers in service and homemakers wishing to fit themselves to make a further contribution to the community, some courses are scheduled in late afternoon, evening, and summers. Part-time students are accepted."
As described by Sol Gittleman in his book An Entrepreneurial University: The Transformation of Tufts 1976-2002, the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Study was "an extraordinary interdisciplinary group of educators, psychologists, physicians, attorneys, social policy analysts, child life specialists, socio-linguists, and other professionals committed to early childhood issues." The department was consulted on child development issues by civic, business and media groups (a liaison between Eliot-Pearson and Boston public television station WGBH dated back to the 1950s). In 1974, a Curriculum Resource Laboratory was created. Now called The Evelyn G. Pitcher Curriculum Laboratory, it is "designed to stimulate and support creativity in curriculum development and documentation of student learning."
In November of 1978, a fire caused by defective electrical wiring gutted two of the Eliot-Pearson School's three classrooms. The department moved its operations to other facilities until, after a fundraising campaign, the damage was repaired in 1980. In the meantime, David Elkind, who had established a child development training program at the University of Rochester, succeeded Pitcher as chairperson in 1979. In 1981, the department established the nation's first Ph.D. in Applied Child Development.
In 1996, the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Study changed its name to the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Development.