Children playing at Ravinia Nursery School

Kathryn Rieser, Stephen Sickle and Michael Hirsh play in the snow at Ravinia Nursery, circa 1930. The children in the background are unidentified. (Handout, Highland Park Historical Society photo / January 10, 2014)

In 1926, Peggy Rieser opened Ravinia Nursery School in her home's basement along a ravine adjacent to Ravinia Park.

Twelve young children attended.

In 2014, Ravinia Nursery, located on Red Oak Avenue in Highland Park, continues to thrive as a preschool with more than 115 students.

Few early education programs in Illinois, or in the country, predate Ravinia Nursery and its successful developmental program.

As a University of Chicago student, Margaret (Peggy) Rieser (née Wallerstein and remariée Fisher) studied education when a group of women established the University of Chicago Nursery School in 1916.

Awarded a bachelor's degree in 1918, Rieser worked at Jane Addams Hull-House before moving to Dean Avenue in Highland Park with her husband Leonard and their growing family in 1923.

The Riesers advocated for equal access to education. Leonard Rieser, an attorney, served as adviser to the [Julius] Rosenwald Fund and served on its board.

Peggy served on the District 108 School and Chicago Community Music Foundation boards. She established Ravinia Nursery to be open to all children "regardless of race, color, sex, religion, national origin or ancestry."

African-American poet and Rosenwald Fund fellow Owen Dodson considered Rieser a second mother, signing his Mother's Day card to her, "Another son, Owen." Dodson also dedicated a poem in "Powerful Long Ladder" and his first novel to the Riesers.

As the nursery school grew, Rieser continued as director, and the school moved to 742 Judson Ave. By mid-20th century, Ravinia Nursery welcomed 65 students and began to plan its move to the "Little Blue School" on Red Oak under the direction of Rosalie Weinfeld who joined the staff in 1930. Weinfeld succeeded Rieser as director for a tenure of 42 years.

In 1969, Ravinia Nursery cited its goals: "to have a happy and rewarding first school experience and to guide each child to develop his maximum potential."

Marilyn Strauss succeeded Weinfeld as director, teaching at the school for 38 years and receiving the "Humanitarian of the Year Award" by the Highland Park Human Relations Commission in 2000.

Katheleen Olsen is the 4th and current director of Ravinia Nursery as it continues to serve and impact community with developmental play to foster a love of learning.

Webster is the archivist at the Highland Park Historical Society. This article was written using resources in the society's Archives and Research Collections, funded in part by Henry X Arenberg Archives Preservation Fund. Ravinia Nursery Director Kathleen Olsen and "Sorrow Is the Only Faithful One: The Life of Owen Dodson" by James V. Hatchwere also provided information for this article. Visit highlandparkhistory.com for more information.

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