A good idea a century ago: school gardens in Providence

October 20, 2008 at 9:58 pm Leave a comment

One hundred years ago…May 15, 1908, to be exact…the Providence Journal ran an illustrated article titled “Gardening a New Public School Study.” It noted that one of Providence’s first primary school gardens was established around 1900 by Principal Ella L. Sweeney at the Benefit Street School.

As the city’s Assistant Superintendent of primary grades in 1908, Miss Sweeney aimed to have a garden in every school so that every student could study and care for at least one plant. Ideally, each student would have his or her own garden. The initiative marked a shift in the popular “nature study” movement, which introduced the natural world inside the classroom. Miss Sweeney wanted students to take it outside.

She worked with others to secure a 1/2-acre plot at Roger Williams Park, soil from the RI College of Agriculture (now URI), and an instructor from the State Board of Agricluture. Students from Manton Avenue, Broad Street, Peace Street, Lexington Avenue, Vineyard Street, and Oxford Street schools were offered plots at the park and on vacant lots near their school to farm. According to the Journal, “The little gardens allotted to the children at the park are as much their own property as they would be were they started in their own back yards.”

Other school gardens noted in 1908 included the Open Air School on Meeting Street, Aldrich Street School for bad boys [heir words, not mine], vacant lots near Manton Avenue School, and a school in Pawtuxet Village.

One hundred years later, the Children’s Garden Network is aiming for a garden at every school and youth organization in Rhode Island by 2010. There are 40+ sites and counting. Furthermore, environmental advocates, education leaders, and government officials like Rhode Island’s Senator Jack Reed are supporting the “No Child Left Inside” initiative. Miss Sweeney had the right idea.


Entry filed under: children's gardens, gardens, Providence, school gardens, urban agriculture. Tags: , , , , , , .

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