National debut of "Ding Dong School"
Ding Dong School, created by and starring Frances Horwich, was one of the first television shows to offer quality educational programming for young children. It appeared locally on the NBC affiliate in Chicago beginning in the fall of 1952. National syndication began on December 22, 1952. The Chicago Tribune estimated that 2.4 million preschoolers and their mothers were watching the daily program by January 1953. Ding Dong School ran nationally for four years, until December 1956. It continued on a Chicago station for two more years and ran in syndication until 1965.
Equipped with an old-fashioned brass school bell and simple props, Horwich—whom viewers knew as "Miss Frances"—addressed her young audience directly, asking questions, telling stories, and leading them in simple games and activities. Through crafts and movement, she encouraged children to participate rather than watch passively. Her respect for children's abilities was a crucial aspect of Horwich's philosophy and of her program. In a 1966 interview, she commented that "too many programs on television rob children of their own ideas, without giving them a chance to create and think for themselves."
Horwich, who left her position as head of the education department at Roosevelt College to appear on the show, became NBC's Supervisor for Children's Programming in 1955. Ding Dong School won a Peabody Award in 1952; the citation called the show "simple, sincere, and unpretentious." The Chicago Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences honored Horwich with a "Silver Circle" award for lifetime achievement in June, 2001. She died in Scottsdale, Arizona, later that month, at age 94.
To learn more about Frances Horwich, visit Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia.
Sources:Chicago Daily Tribune, January 1, 1953, January 24, 1954, April 25, 1953; www.peabody.uga.edu; www.richsamuels.com/nbcmm/dds.html; magazine.uchicago.edu/0110/class-notes/deaths-print.html