The Golden Gate Kindergarten Association has been educating San Francisco children since 1879, when Sarah B. Cooper gathered twelve young children off the streets of San Francisco’s Barbary Coast into two small classrooms at 116 Jackson Street. Backed by numerous supporters, Mrs. Cooper was one of a few outstanding kindergarten pioneers who convinced the public that children too young to read and write could greatly benefit by schooling adapted to their age-level. A follower of Frederick Froebel, the founder of kindergarten education who established the first kindergarten in Germany in 1840, Mrs. Cooper soon opened other free kindergartens in San Francisco, and in 1884 she formally organized the Golden Gate Kindergarten Association to supervise those and other kindergarten classes in various parts of the city.
From the beginning, Mrs. Cooper emphasized the importance of free childhood education serving poor children, as well as the group education of children as young as age two: of the children attending the Association’s classes in 1897, the majority were three years old. Children of all colors and creeds were admitted to the Golden Gate Kindergarten Association’s classes.
Mrs. Cooper was internationally known as a pioneer in kindergarten education. Her ideas were endorsed by American educators, and she maintained extensive correspondence with educators and prominent women including Julia Ward Howe, Frances Willard, Clara Barton, Elizabeth Peabody, and Susan B. Anthony. In addition to organizing the Golden Gate Kindergarten Association, Mrs. Cooper led the founding of a teacher training institute, and in 1892 she founded and was elected first president of the International Kindergarten Union.
In 1923 a San Francisco public school (the Sarah B. Cooper Child Development Center, on Filbert Street) was named for her, and a children’s fountain was placed in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park in her memory.
At its founding the Golden Gate Kindergarten Association was supported by three prominent San Franciscans: Phoebe Apperson Hearst, the mother of newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst and a major benefactor of kindergartens and the University of California, who later served as the first Regent of the University of California; Jane Lathrop Stanford, the wife of philanthropist and Stanford University founder Leland Stanford; and Miranda Lux, who contributed to and was involved in the development of schools and aid societies and was a leader in the kindergarten movement.
Mrs. Cooper served as director and superintendent of the Golden Gate Kindergarten Association until her death in 1896, when the Association had expanded to 40 kindergartens serving over 3,500 children. These schools, pioneers in the kindergarten movement in this country, were among the first schools dedicated to early childhood education in the western United States.