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Miriam Finn Scott

by Marjorie Lehman

Miriam Finn Scott, a child diagnostician and specialist in parent education, advocated that “the soil of a child’s life was his home” and that parents could ensure the proper growth of their children if only they transformed their homes into “gardens.” Scott’s belief that good parenting was not instinctual fueled her desire to provide advice to parents in child rearing. She mourned the loss to humanity of contributions that could have been made by children had their parents enabled them to explore and develop all of their inherent qualities.

Born in Vilna, Russia, around 1882, she immigrated to the United States in 1893 with her parents, Moses and Gittel (Selechnyck) Finn. Motivated by the need to support her family, the young Miriam began working at a roof playground for children in 1898. In 1899, she began to manage the roof playground at the University Settlement, an institution established in 1886 to ease the adjustment of immigrants into New York City’s Lower East Side. The foundations of her future career were formulated at the settlement as she embarked on a mission to better the world by contributing to the growth and development of its children. She married Leroy Scott on June 24, 1904. He was an author who devoted his life to writing after leaving his position as assistant headworker at the University Settlement in 1903. He was born in Fairmount, Indiana, on May 11, 1875, and died tragically on July 21, 1929, by drowning. The Scotts had three children: Helen (Waltz Jr.), Hilda (Lass), and David Scott.

From 1903 to 1906, Miriam Scott, prompted by her concern for the plight of the children of the urban poor, worked for the Speyer School. Initially, this school was established so that the faculty and students of Columbia University’s Teachers College could examine and test new educational methods. However, one of the terms of Mr. and Mrs. James Speyer’s gift to enlarge the early twentieth-century quarters of the school was that the school’s role be expanded to that of a neighborhood settlement in Harlem. Scott continued her work for the University Settlement at this location. According to Scott, the chief objective of this settlement was to reach as many families as possible and make them recognize the need for substituting degrading influences from their environments with forces that would enable them to live better lives. Therefore, clubs and activities were set up for children as well as for adults. Miriam Finn Scott was the director of the “children’s and girl’s club work.” “Children’s work” was carried on each afternoon and consisted of a playroom for children age one to eleven. Scott’s commitment to the education of children through play led to the introduction into the playroom of games, which were carefully chosen for their educational as well as recreational value. A small supervisory staff was present to ensure that the children played honestly and unselfishly, learning to be considerate of one another. Girl’s club work provided classes for young women in cooking, sewing, and home nursing. In an entry in the Speyer News from 1904, Scott commented on the success of the settlement at the Speyer School, remarking that large numbers of people not only took advantage of its services, but also volunteered to help promote many of its programs.

While working for the University Settlement, Scott also attended Hunter College, receiving her bachelor’s degree in 1903. She did postgraduate work in the field of educational psychology at Columbia University, New York State University, Moscow University, Zurich University, the University of Bern, and the University of Berlin. Her advanced education and confidence in her ability to make independent contributions to the field of parent education led her to found a clinic in 1915 called the Children’s Garden. This institution, located originally at 125 East 57th Street in Manhattan and later in her home at 208 East 16th Street, became one of the first laboratory clinics where the relationship between parents and their children was explored. Scott’s approach centered upon the idea that children’s problems were often the result of the improper attitudes and habits of their parents. As a result, she worked intently with parents in an attempt to make them recognize where improvements in their own behavior could be made so that they, in turn, could aid their children.

Scott’s suggestions to parents can be found in her books, How to Know Your Child (1915) and Meeting Your Child’s Problems (1922). Her substantial observations became even more widely available to colleagues and parents throughout the United States and the world via translations of How to Know Your Child into Russian, German, and French, through lectures she gave at universities such as the University of Moscow (summer of 1928), and through radio broadcasts.

To assist parents in understanding the natures of their children Scott also became the director of the School for Parents at the YMHA (Young Men’s Hebrew Association, today the 92nd Street Y). There she offered courses entitled “Practical Guidance for Parents” and “Preparation for Parenthood.” Her course descriptions invited the married as well as the unmarried to attend, reflecting her desire to see all adults develop qualities necessary for fostering harmonious marriages with sound foundations. She hoped to make the world better for children through the education of their parents, while conveying the feeling that parenthood could become “the most enriching and inspiring business in life.” Unfortunately, by the spring of 1939, a limited enrollment forced the YMHA to cancel her classes. She did, however, continue to work at the Children’s Garden until her death on January 6, 1944.

SELECTED WORKS BY MIRIAM FINN SCOTT

How to Know Your Child (1915); Meeting Your Child’s Problems (1922).

Bibliography

Cremin, Lawrence. A History of Teachers College (1954): 104–106; Obituary. New York Times, January 7, 1944; Scheuer, Jeffrey. Legacy of Light: University Settlement’s First Century (1985); Speyer News 2, No. 19 (1903–1904) [entry March 8, 1904]: 3, and [entry June 4, 1904]: 3–4, and Teachers College Record 3 (1902): 1–12. Special Collections. Teachers College, Columbia University, NYC; UJE; University Settlement, NYC. Archives. State Historical Society of Wisconsin, University of Wisconsin, Madison; WWIAJ (1938); WWWIA 2; Young Men’s Hebrew Association. Correspondence, and Education Bulletin (1937–1938). YMHA Archives. 92nd Street Y, NYC.

How to cite this page

Lehman, Marjorie. "Miriam Finn Scott." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 1 March 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on October 24, 2014) <http://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/scott-miriam-finn>.

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