Maria Louise Baldwin had reached a turning point in her life.
She'd been offered a dream career, but she felt inadequate. After starting out as a teacher in 1882, the Cambridge, Massachusetts school system asked her to become the principal of Agassiz School in 1889.
She wondered if she was the right person for the job. Highly respecting the previous principal, Charlotte Ewell, Maria felt unworthy—could she replace such an exceptional person?
The Board of Education thought she could, and asked her to reconsider. Upon thinking it over, she agreed with this stipulation: if the Board was unsatisfied, or if she was not happy in her new position, she could return to full-time teaching.
Miss Baldwin’s willingness to try something new, in spite of her doubts, led to remarkable accomplishments and a presence her students remembered the rest of their lives.
Miss Baldwin’s Superpower
Right now, I’m reading a fascinating set of six unconventional “nonlectures,” given by poet e.e. cummings at Harvard University in 1952-53. I first heard about Maria Baldwin's fascinating life in the book based on his lectures— e.e. cummings named her as one of his premier early influences. His parents had enrolled him in Miss Baldwin’s school because of her reputation. She quickly became his favorite teacher.
Later, he remembered Maria Baldwin “was blessed with a delicious voice, charming manners, and a deep understanding of children. Never did any demidivine dictator more gracefully and easily rule a more unruly and less graceful populace. Her very presence emanated an honour and a glory...From her I marvellingly learned that the truest power is gentleness."
He remembered her as one of the most truly alive people he had ever met.
From Doubt to Accomplishment
Maria Baldwin’s school recounts her accomplishments on their website:
Organized the first parent-teacher group in the Cambridge Public Schools,
Introduced new methods of teaching mathematics,
Began art classes,
Inspired the beginnings of a “museum of science” program in the school system,
Established the first open-air classroom (the first in Cambridge and perhaps in the entire United States),
Miss Baldwin also started the practice of hiring a school nurse.
Never Stop Learning
I especially loved finding out that she never stopped discovering—she was an advocate of life-long learning, taking classes at Harvard University and reading extensively. She then passed on her insights by giving lectures to a wide variety of people.
W.E.B. Du Bois
Sociologist, educator and journalist W.E.B. Du Bois, who took one of her weekly reading classes at Harvard, wrote that Miss Baldwin’s school “is one of the best in the city and is attended by children of Harvard professors and many of the old Cambridge families. The teachers under Miss Baldwin, numbering twelve, and the 410 children are all white.”
Miss Baldwin also curated her own excellent private library, reflecting her wide-ranging tastes and passion for learning.
In 1916, Maria L. Baldwin became Master of the Agassiz School, one of only two women at the time in the Cambridge school system to attain that distinction.
On May 21, 2002, the Agassiz School was officially, and unanimously, renamed the Maria L. Baldwin School.
A Life, and a Quote, to Remember
When I’m writing my novels, I also have doubts that I’m not good enough; I sometimes feel inadequate. I need to remember what master teacher and life-long learner Miss Baldwin said,
More to Explore
Fear and feelings of inadequacy can hold us back when we're trying to work on a creative project. I've been thinking quite a bit about this, since I've recently been struggling with that fear every time I sit down to write. Here is what I've been learning (and relearning) about how to make that creative fear work with me, rather than against me: