Eliot-Pearson’s Evolving Mission

A new name to reflect the broader scope of the department’s work

The department familiarly known as Eliot-Pearson will keep part of its name as well as its purpose as it becomes the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Study and Human Development. The new name was approved by the Tufts University Board of Trustees in May and reflects the broadened scope of the department.

“We’ve come a long way from simply being a community for early childhood education,” says George Scarlett, senior lecturer and deputy chair. Formerly called the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Development, the department now encompasses faculty whose work includes research in the areas of public policy, neighborhoods, adolescent behavior and the media.

In addition, says Scarlett, emerging projects include literacy and its relationship to world poverty, cross-racial adoption policies and practices and disparities in access to health resources among families enduring poverty. At the same time, the department is maintaining its traditional focus on early childhood education, including a refocused teacher education program aimed at urban children in their first years of school.

While the new name of the department reflects change, discussions leading up to the renaming demonstrated a commitment to the department’s legacy, Scarlett says. “The term child study resonates with those of us who have dedicated our lives to understanding children in a scholarly way,” he says. “The child study movement began in this country around 1900, and its historical meaning is tied to applied issues, to bringing science to answer important questions about how to educate and care for children. It’s very much what Eliot-Pearson has been all about.”

The department, which will celebrate its 50th anniversary on Oct. 25, was originally named to honor two forward-thinking women, Abigail Eliot and Elizabeth Ware Winsor Pearson. Eliot, who was known for advocating the integration of scholarship and practice, co-founded and directed the Ruggles Street Nursery School in Roxbury in the 1920s and expanded it into the first nursery school training program in the country. Pearson co-founded the nursery school with Eliot, and headed of a group of women who raised funds to support it.

Marjorie Howard can be reached at marjorie.howard@tufts.edu.

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