Ella Flagg Young, First Female Superintendent (1845-1918)
Ella Flagg Young was ahead of her time. She was ahead of our time. Flagg Young was born in New York; she did not attend school until the age of ten, after teaching herself how to read and write. After only a few months, she dropped out because it did not intellectually challenge her. At 15 years old, she took the certification examination to become a teacher and passed. She then went on to receive her master’s degree, also at age 15. She later studied at the University of Chicago under John Dewey and, at age 55, received her Ph.D.
Flagg Young devoted her life to her teaching career, which spanned over 53 years. She became a professor of education at the University of Chicago and the Chicago Normal School principal. In 1909, she was named Chicago school superintendent, breaking the glass ceiling for female educators by becoming the first woman to lead a major urban district. She also served on the Illinois State Board of Education and was the first woman in America to head an extensive city school system. In 1910 the National Education Association elected her its first woman president.
Flagg Young identified strongly with the women’s suffrage movement. She advocated for an increased teacher voice, child-driven learning, and individual student growth over strict discipline during her 50-year career.