Patty Smith Hill

From New World Encyclopedia

Patty Smith Hill (March 27, 1868 – May 25, 1946) was a American nursery school, and kindergarten teacher, one of the leaders of the Kindergarten Movement in the United States. She is perhaps best known as the sister of Mildred J. Hill with whom she co-wrote the tune to the song, Good Morning to All which became as popular as Happy Birthday to You. She developed the "Patty Hill blocks" and helped create the Institute of Child Welfare Research at Columbia University Teachers College. Her own childhood experiences influenced her creative approach to developing the kindergarten curriculum. She incorporated many of the progressive education ideas of mentor John Dewey rather than strictly following the system laid down by kindergarten inventor, Friedrich Froebel. Hill's work laid the foundation for the standards of kindergarten education that were adopted in the public school system in the United States, thus impacting the lives of millions of children.


Patty Smith Hill was born on March 27, 1868 in Anchorage, Kentucky, one of six children of William and Martha Hill. Her father was a Presbyterian minister who founded Bellewood Female Seminary. The Hill parents tried to provide their children with the best possible education, encouraging them to become independent thinkers. Their mother believed that children should have fun at every possible opportunity, and she established extensive play areas at their home where the children spent hours playing freely and building with bricks, barrels, and boards.

Patty Hill graduated from Louisville Collegiate Institute in 1887, after which she joined the Louisville Kindergarten Training School. At the time, Froebel’s kindergartens were popular in the United States, and Froebelian education was in almost every training school for kindergarten teachers. Hill’s teacher, and principal of the Louisville Kindergarten Training School, Anna E. Bryan, however encouraged her students to experiment with different classroom techniques, beside that of Froebel. It is there that Hill started to develop her own educational methods.

Patty Hill and her sister Mildred wrote the song Good Morning to All, which they sang to children every morning (Mildred wrote the tune; Patty wrote the original lyrics). The lyrics were as follows:

Good morning to you,
Good morning to you,
Good morning, dear children,
Good morning to all.

The words were later changed to the world-famous Happy Birthday to You, but the tune remained the same.

From 1905 until her retirement in 1935, Hill served on the faculty of Teachers College at Columbia University. After her retirement she continued to give lectures and public speeches until her death in 1946 in New York City. She was buried in Cave Hill Cemetery and Arboretum, Louisville, Kentucky. She and Mildred J. Hill were posthumously inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame on June 12, 1996.


After Anna Bryan left her position at the school, Patty Hill became its principal and superintendent. Her unique style of education attracted the attention of G. Stanley Hall, who invited her to Clark University to study classes in child psychology. At the same time, John Dewey offered Hill the opportunity to study at the University of Chicago. For the next 12 years Hill served as director of the Louisville Kindergarten Training Schools, and at the same time taking summer courses with Hall, Dewey, and Luther Gulick, the founder of the playground movement.

During her stay at the Louisville Kindergarten Training Schools, Hill was very active in the Kindergarten Movement. She participated in numerous conferences and organized events that discussed alternative methods of early childhood education, such as education through free play and so forth. The Louisville Kindergarten Training Schools became nationally famous as the center of innovative ideas about early childhood education.

In 1892, Hill was among the founding members of the International Kindergarten Union (IKU), serving on different committees in its body for the next several years. She spoke on numerous conferences on alternative methods of interpretation of Froebel’s ideas. She held that educators need to study Froebel’s theory deeper, and not only blindly accept his methodology.

In 1905, the Dean of Teachers College, Columbia University, Earl Russell, invited Hill to join his faculty. Hill accepted and joined Mary Runyan and Susan Blow, who were teachers there. Teachers College at the time was a stronghold of Froebelian thought, and all her alternative ideas were not welcomed. Hill’s early years there were thus rather frustrating. She also tried to implement some of her own methods at the Speyer School in New York, but without success.

Things started to change, however, when John Dewey became the head of Columbia University’s Department of Philosophy, and Edward Thorndike the head of Teachers College. In 1910, Hill became head of the College’s Department of Kindergarten Education and a full professor in 1922. In 1924, she helped create the Institute of Child Welfare Research at Teachers College.

Hill followed John Dewey’s principles of education, especially theories of progressive schools and moral education. She believed that children needed free play and socialization to develop their full potential. She introduced the "Patty Hill blocks," building blocks large enough for children to construct a structure and enter inside it to play. In her classroom, children played with cars, trucks, money, pots and pans, everything that is used in everyday life, helping them to learn about life in society.

Together with psychologist Agnes Rogers, Hill developed a “Tentative Inventory of Habits,” which consisted of 84 kindergarten habits toward which instruction should be directed. The Inventory was successfully used first at the Horace Mann School at Teachers College, and then at the University of Chicago and other schools around the United States. Hill also visited Russia and helped establish kindergarten education there.

Hill continued to serve in the International Kindergarten Union and write on the topics of early education. During the Great Depression, she became involved with the Federal Emergency Nursery Schools, and started to work on her Manhattanville Project. The project was a joint plan by Teachers College, Union Theological Seminary, Jewish Theological Seminary, and Julliard School of Music, to revive the Manhattanville area of the New York City. One part of the project was the establishment of a nursery school, called Hilltop, which ran from 1932 until 1938.


Patty Smith Hill introduced progressive philosophy to kindergarten teaching, putting an emphasis on creativity and the natural instincts of children, in contrast to more structured educational methods of Friedrich Froebel. Her work initiated curriculum reforms that permanently changed kindergarten education in the United States.

Hill also became famous together with her sister, Mildred, as the composers of the song Good Morning to All, which later became the internationally known Happy Birthday tune.


  • Hill, P. S. and Amelia McLester. 1936. The child activity readers. Nashville: Augsburg Pub. Co.
  • Hill, Mildred J., Patty Smith Hill, and Diana Rexford Tillson. 1896. Song stories for the kindergarten. Chicago: Clayton F. Summy Co.
  • Hill, P. S. 1914. Experimental studies in kindergarten theory and practice. New York: Teachers College, Columbia University.
  • Hill, P. S. 1923. A Conduct Curriculum for the Kindergarten and First Grade. Charles Scribner's Sons.
  • Hill, P. S. 1931. The Child Builder. Chicago: Foundation Desk Co.
  • Hill, P. S. 1934. The practical value of early childhood education; objectives and results of nursery school, kindergarten and first grade education.
  • Hill, P. S. 1942. Kindergarten. Washington, D.C.: Association for Childhood Education International.
  • Hill, P. S., G. O. Murray, and A. C. Thorne. 1937. Favorites from storyland. Racine, Wisconsin: Whitman Pub. Co.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Fowlkes, M. A. 1984. "Gifts from childhood’s godmother—Patty Smith Hill." Childhood Education (61/1), 44–49.
  • Gwinn, F. F. 1954. Patty Smith Hill in Louisville. Louisville, KY: University of Louisville Press.
  • Patty Smith Hill. Kappa Delta Pi. Retrieved on June 18, 2007.
  • Peltzman, Barbara R. 1998. Pioneers of early childhood education: a bio-bibliographical guide. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press. ISBN 0313304041
  • Rudnitski, R. A. 1995. "Patty Smith Hill, gifted early childhood educator of the progressive era." Roeper Review (18/1): 19–24.
  • Wolfe, Jennifer. 2000. Learning from the past: historical voices in early childhood education. Mayerthorpe, Alta: Piney Branch Press. ISBN 096858490X

External links

All links retrieved November 21, 2022.


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