Early Childhood Education: The Cora Bussey Hillis Story

A woman named Cora Bussey Hillis helped start early childhood education in the state. Cora was born in 1858 in Bloomfield, Iowa. As an adult she and her husband and son lived in Des Moines. Cora was interested in getting things done in her community. When she decided to make things better for children, there was no stopping her!

Cora organized a Mother's Club so Iowa mothers could attend meetings all over the state to learn about childcare. The members worked for better health care for children and safer conditions in the schools.

Cora helped set up the juvenile court system in Iowa. Before there was a special system for juveniles, kids who broke the law were treated as adults. Cora believed that children should be treated differently by the courts.

Learning About Children

Cora began thinking about the advice women received on child-rearing. She learned that a lot of it came from imagining and not from watching and studying real children. In fact, more was known about raising animals than raising children.

So Cora wanted to develop a Child Research Study Station. In this place adults could learn more about the ways children grow. Researchers working at the station could find better ways to care for children as they grew from infancy into their teen years. Iowa parents would be able to take better care of their children. But Cora had trouble getting this project started. She needed money and the state legislature did not support her ideas at first.

In the hot summer of 1912, Cora set up a camp for mothers with small children. She and other women cared for babies giving the mothers a needed break.

In 1917, Cora tried again to persuade the state to give money to study how children grew and developed. Some legislators still did not support Cora's idea. But then World War I broke out an many young men from Iowa wanted to join the war. But many could not pass the physical exam required for military service. for example, in one day in Des Moines, 259 young men were examined and only 50 passed. Most of their problems were physical handicaps. Many of these handicaps could have been prevented had their parents know about simple healthcare. This helped Cora win her battle. The bill was passed.

Cora's Work Is Remembered

Today early childhood education is considered an important part of life in Iowa. Cora Bussey Hillis didn't know it at the time, but her determination to help children and parents in the early 1900s helped to set the stage for childcare in the 21st century.

Adpated from original article in The Goldfinch 12, No. 2 (November 1990). Iowa City: State Historical Society of Iowa.
© State Historical Society of Iowa, Des Moines, Iowa

 

 


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