Friday, October 22, 2010

In Search of: Ella L Sweeney (1908)

May 15, 1908, 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.”

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