by Carole Losee © 2005-2018

ELIZABETH SEEGER:

A SHORT BIOGRAPHY


by Carole Losee © 2005

 

 

 Elizabeth Seeger
(1889-1973)


Elizabeth Seeger was a remarkable teacher, as well as an historian, a poet, artist, and writer. Born in 1889, she was educated at The Brearley School in New York City and studied art in Boston. "Then," as Elizabeth Seeger said of herself, "for my sins and like most girls of my generation I went back home while my brothers went on to college."


When she was thirty, she decided that the only way to get any freedom was to earn her own living, and she turned naturally to teaching. Her first job was in a one-room school in Dutchess County, New York. In 1922 Miss Seeger joined the newly-formed progressive Dalton School in New York City, first as a teacher, and later as a teacher and an administrator. For the next thirty-five years she entranced and inspired hundreds of young people.

When she could not find an interesting history of China suitable for her young students, she sat down and wrote one. Seeger's The Pageant of Chinese History was gratefully received by teachers and children's librarians across America and won The Newbery prize in 1935. It was followed by The Pageant of Russian History. Next came the retelling of the two great Indian epics, The Five Sons of King Pandu: The Story of The Mahabhárata in 1967 and The Ramayana in 1969. Her final book, Eastern Religions, was published in 1973, the year of her death.

There is no single combination of talents that all great teachers possess, although most share some of the same ingredients: love and mastery of subject, energy, integrity, concern for the individual student, the ability to communicate, and so on. The list is long and individually-cast. Elizabeth Seeger had all of the above, but her most endearing and enduring talent lay in story-telling. She could instantly hush an auditorium filled with squirming children by just starting to tell a story. The children instinctively knew that they were joining generations of other children of other lands and places who had sat spellbound by the same wonderful tales.

Elizabeth Seeger's books retain the great simplicity and timelessness of the storytelling tradition. She continues to teach us all.


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