Abbie Sawyer: Kindergarten Teacher and Principal (1894-1972)
“The greatest personal satisfaction I’ve had is watching these children grow up and develop,” said Abbie Sawyer, a long time teacher and later principal who devoted her career to children in the Ames School District. Sawyer is most remembered for starting the first kindergarten class in Ames in the old Central school in 1917, her first year in Ames. In 1952, she retired after 35 years in the Ames school system, and in 1962, an elementary school building was named in her honor.
Kindergarten was Sawyer’s specialty. She came to Ames from Chicago, Illinois where she worked in kindergarten studies at the University of Chicago. She graduated from the Kindergarten Collegiate institute in Chicago and already had a year of teaching experience at Glen Ellyn and Wheaton, suburbs of Chicago before moving to Iowa. At the time, there were a lot of private kindergarten classes being conducted, but not in schools. When Sawyer organized the first kindergarten class as an experiment in the Ames school system, she had to make the best of what equipment there was – leftover desks and chairs.
The kindergarten was quickly added to the other three elementary schools in Ames. She taught kindergarten at the old Central building until 1923 when she was named supervising principal at the newly built Roosevelt Elementary. Nine years later, in 1932, she was transferred to the Crawford building, then just two years old, and served as a supervising principal and kindergarten teacher. For 20 years, she remained at Crawford. In 1949, she was relieved of her teaching duties because of the expanding enrollment to devote her full attention to her principal’s duties.
Sawyer was much loved among both students and staff throughout her career. She was widely known as “schoolm’arm,” and truly loved young people, especially the “littlest-folk.” At her retirement in 1952, she was presented with a watch by students from Crawford Elementary, the building where she spent that last 20 years of her career. Looking back on her teaching career in Ames, Sawyer said, “It’s been a most happy 35 years. And if I had it to do over again, I would elect kindergarten and Ames.”