A founding department

Jane and Leland Stanford open their “university of high degree” on their Palo Alto stock farm. The emerging academic field of education is one of its departments, exemplifying the founders’ vision of practical and progressive schooling. 

Stanford University's opening ceremonies, Oct. 1, 1891. Jane and Leland Stanford sit beneath a portrait of their late son, Leland Jr., in whose memory the school is built.
Stanford University Archives


The prescient Mrs. Barnes

Historian and education theorist Mary Sheldon Barnes, wife of founding Education Prof. Earl Barnes, becomes Stanford’s first fulltime female faculty member. When university president David Starr Jordan hears Mrs. Barnes give a talk in Palo Alto, he is so impressed that he hires her on the spot as an assistant professor. Before her death in 1898, Mary Barnes pioneers the teaching of history using primary sources.  

Mary Sheldon Barnes wrote this argument for an inquiry-based history pedagogy. Today, the GSE's Stanford History Education Group uses a similar philosophy in lesson plans that engage millions of K-12 students.
Special Collections, The Sheridan Libraries, Johns Hopkins University


Popular from the start

Practice teaching joins the curriculum. The department has 50 majors, and 20 percent of the Stanford student body takes coursework in the department.

More than two-thirds of Stanford seniors expected to go into teaching in 1896, including Frances Tucker, right, who shot the winning basket for the Cardinal that year in the world's first intercollegiate women's basketball game. Other teachers on the team included Jessie Ryan, second from right, and Agnes Morley, fourth from right.
Stanford University Archives


Ellwood P. Cubberley arrives

Cubberley, a former school superintendent with an avocation for science, becomes department chair. Under his leadership, Stanford forges a tradition of data-driven research balanced with theory and practical training.

Education for most Americans in 1888 meant a few years in a one-room school like this one taught by Ellwood P. Cubberley, then 19 years old, in Huntington County, Indiana.
Stanford University Archives


Focus on leaders

The department has 60 majors, straining capacity and forcing a change in rules: Future teachers must major in the subject they wish to teach, while only experienced teachers or future administrators may major in education. 

May Hurlburt '02's first job after graduation was teaching piano, harmony and music history at the New York Institute of Applied Music.
Stanford University Archives


Creating a textbook corpus

Because the emerging research field of education has few textbooks, Cubberley in 1911 begins writing and editing his own. The first of his Riverside Textbooks in Education is published in 1914. The series sells 3 million copies in three decades and ultimately pays for Stanford’s first School of Education building.


Embracing the new: Junior high

Frank Alson Scofield, '13, MA '14, becomes founding principal of Oregon's first junior high school.

In a paper in the New England Journal of Education, published while he was still at Stanford, Scofield praises the junior high school movement, then less than five years old, as remedying "that feeling of bigness which is terrifying to the freshman" when "the home-like atmosphere of the grammar school is supplanted with the general feeling of hurry and competition that characterizes high schools and colleges."   

Frank Scofield, center, with members of Stanford's Phi Delta Kappa education fraternity in 1913. Dean Ellwood Cubberley, with mustache, is on the upper right.


Expanding influence

J. Harold Williams, '13, receives Stanford’s first PhD in education. He goes on to become a dean at UCLA and provost of UC Santa Barbara. 

University of California History Digital Archives


Terman and intelligence

Prof. Lewis Terman publishes his revision of French psychologist Alfred Binet’s intelligence test. In an era that prizes efficiency, the Stanford-Binet test brings Terman -- and Stanford -- worldwide acclaim as a way to allocate social and educational resources. 

Terman rejects criticism that the test is socially conditioned. His seemingly succinct “IQ,” or intelligence quotient, becomes a household word. The pitfalls of tracking individuals on this basis require decades to acknowledge and remedy.

This kit to administer the Stanford-Binet test was made around 1930 and belonged to a school guidance counselor in New Brunswick, Canada.



The Education Department has 100 majors.

Among Stanford's education majors in 1916 was junior and multisport athlete Helen Greening, top left. She joined the inaugural teaching staff at Los Angeles' Fairfax High School.
Stanford University Archives


The School of Education is born

Stanford trustees elevate the Education Department to a School of Education with Cubberley as founding dean. They aim to create a training institution of high standing comparable to schools of law and medicine. Undergrads enter in their junior year after two years of discipline-based coursework.

The School of Education faculty circa 1930.
Stanford University Archives


Teachers stream in

The new School of Education dominates course offerings in Stanford’s first campus-wide summer session. Many teachers and administrators enroll for career development, establishing a pattern that will continue for decades.

Stanford Daily


The IQ era

Maud Amanda Merrill, PhD ’23, comes to Stanford. As longtime collaborator and author of a later revision of the Stanford-Binet intelligence test, she trains thousands of people to administer the test.

In addition to revising the Stanford-Binet test in 1937 and 1960, Merrill opened a psychological clinic for children and consulted for the Santa Clara County juvenile court.
Stanford University Archives


Terman’s gifted children

Terman launches his path-breaking longitudinal study of gifted children, solidifying Stanford’s reputation as a leader in educational psychology. 

Among his subjects are Fred Terman, his son and future university provost, and future faculty members Lee Cronbach and Robert Sears, who go on to direct the decades-long study after Terman’s retirement. 

Stanford University Archives


Women in education

Students form a chapter of Pi Lambda Theta, national women’s education honor society. 


More growth

The school has 509 students: 432 in graduate status and 77 undergraduate majors.

Herbert Hoover prepares to accept the Republican presidential nomination Aug. 11, 1928 at Stanford Stadium.
Stanford University Archives


The hall that textbooks built

Cubberley retires. He and his wife, Helen, give Stanford the invested proceeds from his many books – some $367,000 – for a School of Education building and the Cubberley Lecture Series, which continues today.

Elwood & Helen Cubberley watch the building they funded rise on Lasuen Mall in 1936.
The Stanford Daily


Hanna and his house

Paul Hanna arrives at Stanford in fall 1935 as an associate professor of elementary education. He immediately commissions his hero Frank Lloyd Wright to build him a radical new home on campus, planned on a hexagonal grid. The Hanna House raises eyebrows for its audacity. So does Hanna, who eventually proves his worth to Stanford as a networker as well as an educator.

Frank Lloyd Wright's Hanna House under construction in 1936. Later donated to the university, the house is now a National Historic Landmark.
Stanford University Archives


Disciplinary research focus

Historian of education Isaac James Quillen joins the faculty. As dean starting in 1954, he will bring world-caliber social scientists to the School of Education and raise its reputation for research.

Stanford University Archives


New branches of study

Prof. Rex Harlow, PhD '37, teaches the first U.S. class in higher education organization and management.

Harlow later made his mark in the field of public relations, founding journals and professional organizations, writing textbooks and Stanford curricula, creating a code of ethics and in many other ways elevating the field.

Oklahoma Historical Society/OPUBCO Collection


Lasting legacy

Cubberley's building opens. The massive structure expands Stanford’s classroom capacity by 15 percent and, as the Depression lingers, sends a message as to the status and impact of the School of Education at Stanford.

With other construction halted by the Depression, the Cubberley gift makes a huge visual and institutional impact on the university.
The Stanford Daily


Hanna in Washington

Hanna becomes Stanford’s Director of University Services. He employs his bent for rainmaking to negotiate for Stanford federal contracts for wartime training. His Washington experience sparks his interest in postwar international development, which in turn helps shift the focus of the school toward global concerns.

Grad students make educational toys for war-impoverished South Korean children in 1951 in Paul Hanna's home workshop, left on site by Frank Lloyd Wright's construction workers. Mary-Margaret Scobey, Ed.D ’52, kneeling, later led San Francisco State's childhood education department. Roland Force, ’50, MA ’51, PhD ’58, manning the jigsaw, became director of Hawaii's Bishop Museum and the Smithsonian's Museum of the American Indian.
Stanford News Service

Steeples of excellence