Friedrich Froebel

Baroness Bertha von Marenholtz-Buelow

presented kindergarten to a wider audience, through her connections to the Weimar court, Thuringian nobility and liberal urban intellectuals.
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Friedrich Froebel:
His Life, Times and Significance

Baroness Bertha von Marenholtz-Buelow

Friedrich Froebel was known to speak often in an antiquated and unaccessible fashion for most of his listeners. Von Marenholtz became his interpreter and contextualized his oft-times esoteric lectures. She remarked that his ideas were based on such elevated and other-worldly foundations, that it was of the utmost importance for them to be presented in a more down to earth fashion. And this she accomplished, for the baroness won Froebel favor with the Arch-dukes of Weimar, the Royal family of the Netherlands, and the Saxon court.

One might well conjure up a physical idea of Froebel as a New England Puritan - long hair, old fashioned overcoat and an almost messianic presence. Once while dining with von Marenholtz and the Duchess of Weimar, all remarked that there was a distinct farm odor prevailing at his own world of thought, Froebel had forgotten to change his everpresent overcoat which he wore while working with farm animals. All heartily laughed. Even the royals were enamored of his honest love of all of Nature.

The King of Prussia was another matter, indeed. Though friendly with von Marenholtz, he had heard threatening reports of another Froebel, Julius, Friedrich's nephew, who was active in liberal and reformist politics. The kindergarten must be a subversive plot to influence children and set them against the ruling structure of the day. The king had already dealt with Froebel by taking the funds he had gathered for art stipends and giving them to Franz Liszt. Artists were bad enough when they did not stick to prescriptive subjects, but a whole educational movement based on free development - the only answer was a Kindergartenverbot, not lifted until after Froebel's death. Von Marenholtz could sway no hearts in Berlin immediately, so she took his philosophy to Switzerland, Holland, and Belgium. In France, she instructed the Empress Eugenie in her friend's ideas. This resulted in the Empress's beginning the French Comite du Patronage des Jardins d'Enfants. In London, Charles Dickens attended her lectures and wrote that he was favorably impressed. Other liberal educators and followers of Froebel transplanted the educational system to the United States, Canada, and even Japan.

The influence of Froebel's system was not to end in the 19th century by any means. Although modified, child-centered kindergartens are now found throughout the world. There is a Froebel College on Roehampton Lane in London and another in Dublin, Ireland, which together with the Pestalozzi Froebelhaus in Berlin to this day further the child-friendly ideas started by the Thuringian educator over 150 years ago. Norman Brosterman, in his recent book Inventing Kindergarten (New York: Harry Abrams, 1997), theorizes that Froebel was the impetus for the creations of a number of renowned modern architects and artists, all who had attended Froebelian kindergartens where abstraction of natural forms through geometric shapes was explored. Hence, one finds commonalities in the work of such figures as Georges Braque, Piet Mondrian, Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Le Corbusier amongst others.

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