The Steward Society
Ella Flagg Young
She was born in Buffalo, New York to Theodore and Jane (Reed) Flagg in 1845. She didn’t attend school until the age of ten, after teaching herself how to read and write at age 10. After only a few months she dropped out because she wasn’t being intellectually challenged and the lack of support from her parents. At age 15 Ella took the certification examination to become a teacher and passed but was told she was too young to be a teacher. Ella was told she would never make it as a teacher by her mother but persevered on decided to set up her own practicum to test her potential in the classroom. Ella decided the classroom was right for her and she graduated in 1862 from the Chicago Normal School. She later studied at the University of Chicago under John Dewey at age 55 and received her Ph.D. in 1900.
She was married to William Young in 1868. They had no children together, and William died when she was 27 years old. Her parents and brother and sister had already died leaving her with no close relatives. She devoted her life to her teaching career, which spanned 53 years (1862-1915). She became superintendent of schools in Chicago in 1887; professor of education in the University of Chicago in 1899; principal of the Chicago Normal School in 1905; and was superintendent of schools of Chicago from 1909 until her resignation in 1915. She served on the Board of Education for the State of Illinois from 1888 to 1913. She was the first woman in America to head a large city school system.
In 1910-1911 she was appointed the first woman president of the National Education Association. Mrs. Young also identified herself strongly with the woman’s suffrage movement. She died in the 1918 flu pandemic, on October 26, 1918, at age 72.
Young always tried to let the voices of all be heard; teachers in deciding the curriculum and women in society. In education she encouraged teachers to step up and be active in decisions. Young wanted to give more authority to school systems as opposed to central offices. This way those who are actually close to the classroom can make decisions. Young continued to stay involved in education and woman’s suffrage until her death. Young died in October 1918 during the great influenza pandemic.
The University of Illinois conferred on her the degree of LL.D