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Bloomsbury Institutions


Froebelian Kindergarten and Association School

Also known as The Humanistic Schools


It was established in 1851 by two German refugees, Johannes and Bertha Ronge, in their own home, as the first kindergarten in Britain

In 1853 this was moved to 32 Tavistock Place, from which base the Ronges were responsible for introducing the kindergarten system to Britain

The system flourished in Germany in the 1840s, supported by wealthy aristocratic patrons, but after the failed political revolutions across Europe in 1848, repressive governments were suspicious of the liberalism of the kindergarten movement, and many of its practitioners left Germany for other countries

In 1855 the Ronges published the first English guide to the system, the very lavishly illustrated Practical Guide to the English Kinder Garten, described as being “for the use of mothers, nurses, and infant teachers; being an exposition of Froebel”s system of infant training, accompanied by a great variety of instructive and amusing games, and industrial and gymnastic exercises, also numerous songs set to music and arranged to the exercises’

After a slow start, the book went through a number of editions, reaching the nineteenth by 1896

Ronge also gained access to several newspapers, which told the story of his religious and political persecution and increasingly advertised the kindergarten he was establishing with Bertha

The liberal Daily News, in particular, opened its pages to long letters from Ronge and favourable articles about his educational views

Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper announced on 31 July 1853 that Ronge’s ‘humanistic community’ had taken a house in Tavistock Place for its meetings

A decorator was engaged in “painting the solar system on the ceiling of the meeting-hall, adjoining the garden” (Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, 31 July 1853)

The solar system was taught to the children, who often performed a dance by impersonating planets revolving round one another (Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, 31 July 1853)

This dance was demonstrated at several of the lectures given by both Ronges in London, Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle, and Liverpool during the 1850s, as they spread the word about the kindergarten

Bertha also lectured successfully at an educational exhibition arranged by the Society of Arts in St Martin’s Hall during the summer of 1854 (Journal of the Society of Arts, 8 September 1854)

Johannes described the system in the Daily News in 1854, inviting parents and other interested parties to come and observe it in operation at 32 Tavistock Place (Daily News, 24 July 1854)

The Practical Guide was given a welcome boost, as was the kindergarten in Tavistock Place, when Henry Morley, Dickens’s assistant on the weekly paper, Household Words, wrote a detailed and strongly favourable article called ‘Infant Gardens’ (Household Words, 21 July 1855)

Morley describes the history of the movement, its principles, and its practice; anyone, he concludes, ‘may see an Infant Garden in full work by calling on a Tuesday morning between the hours of ten and one on M. and Madame Ronge, at number thirty-two Tavistock Place, Tavistock Square’ (Household Words, 21 July 1855)

Dickens himself was aware of the ‘Child-Garden’, and assured Elizabeth Gaskell in February 1855 that his wife would like to see it, but no more is heard about such a visit in his letters, despite the fact that he was then living in Tavistock House on the north-east corner of Tavistock Square, a stone’s throw from the Ronges’ establishment (Graham Storey, Kathleen Tillotson, and Angus Easson eds, The Letters of Charles Dickens, vol. 7, 1853–1855, 1993)

Later in the century the first Froebelian training college was opened by the Froebel Society, on 3 May 1879, at 31 Tavistock Place, almost next door to the house where the Ronges had started the movement a quarter of a century earlier

In addition to their kindergarten, the Ronges began to train young women, mainly from Germany, in the method; they founded a committee of parents to help establish an Association School for older children

The schools were together known as the Humanistic Schools, in part because of Ronge’s particular brand of humanist religion

After setting up a school in Manchester, Bertha Ronge returned with her children to Germany, in ill health, and was joined there by Ronge in May 1861, after an amnesty for exiles had been declared

Their establishment at 32 Tavistock Place was then taken over by two German sisters, Rosalie and Minna Praetorius (P. Woodham-Smith, ‘History of the Froebel Movement in England’, in E. Lawrence ed, Friedrich Froebel and English Education, 1952; W. A. C. Stewart, ‘Henry Morley and Johannes and Bertha Ronge’, in Progressives and Radicals in English Education 1750–1970, 1972)

At the time of the 1871 census, the Kindergarten School was still there then; its Principal was still German-born Rosalie Praetorius, with her unmarried brother Alfred as Professor, and a househould of governesses, pupil boarders, and children from the United Kingdom, Germany, and Austria

According to the Survey of London, Rosalie Praetorius ran a Ladies’ School in Fitzroy Square (west of Bloomsbury) from 1877 to 1887 (Survey of London, vol. 21, 1949)

What was reforming about it?

Based on the pioneering work in Germany of Friedrich Froebel, the kindergarten system operated on the assumption that very young children could gain knowledge and skills through play

Simple toys like balls, cubes, and sticks were employed to teach letters and numbers through observation and enjoyment; dances and singing games encouraged physical activity and culture; and cultivating plants in a garden kept the child in harmony with nature, and there was no corporal punishment

Where in Bloomsbury

It was established first in the Ronges’ house in Hampstead, and then moved in 1853 to 32 Tavistock Place

Website of current institution

It no longer exists

Books about it

Rosemary Ashton, Little Germany: Exile and Asylum in Victorian England (1986)

Nanette Whitbread, The Evolution of the Nursery–Infant School: A History of Infant and Nursery Education in Britain, 1800–1970 (1972)

See also the resource for Froebelian history and archives, www.froebelweb.com (opens in new window)


There are some relevant records at the successor institution of the Froebel Educational Institute, Froebel College (part of Roehampton University London); details are available via the Roehampton University website (opens in new window)

This page last modified 13 April, 2011 by Deborah Colville


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