Question of the Week
Dr. Lucy Wilson served as principal of what Philadelphia school?
Answer: South Philadelphia High School for Girls
Dr. Lucy Wilson—an internationally acclaimed advocate of progressive education—was perhaps best known for her role as founder and principal of the South Philadelphia High School for Girls. Born Lucy Langdon Williams in Vermont in 1864, Wilson had an innate drive for education. As a “stunt” as she called it, Wilson took and passed the examination for a teacher’s license at age 10. Her family moved to Philadelphia where she attended Girls High School and then graduated from the Philadelphia Normal School in 1883.
Wilson became the head of the biology department at the Normal School, and went on to become principal and teacher at the private all-boys Rugby Academy; teacher of mathematics at Girls High; and founder and principal of the city’s first evening high school (for working students) and of the War Emergency High School, a forerunner of today’s summer schools.
In 1916 Wilson founded and became the principal of South Philadelphia High School for Girls, where she remained for the rest of her public school career. Here she introduced “laboratory methods” for the teaching of all subjects, not just science. Wilson encouraged teachers to apply her theory of individualization of instruction, which was based on each student’s individual level of learning and interest. Wilson initiated a scholarship fund to enable low-income students to complete high school, providing money, food, medical and dental care, and other assistance to impoverished students and their families. She was the first woman to receive the Philadelphia Award in 1933, and she retired as principal in 1934.
HSP has the records of the Philadelphia Award (#3081), which contain a small amount of information on Wilson. Our library contains other material about and written by her.
About the Author
Look for these history stories every Sunday in the Philadelphia Inquirer. The stories, called Memory Stream, are published in the Currents section of the newspaper.