Clapp, Elsie Ripley. | Southern Illinois University Special Collections Research Center
Elsie Ripley Clapp was born on November 13, 1879 in New York City. In 1908 she received a B.A. in English from Barnard College and in 1909 an M.A. in Philosophy from Columbia University. She took all courses required for a doctorate in both English and Philosophy, but never completed either degree.
During her graduate studies she assisted John Dewey in teaching Philosophy of Education courses at Teachers College. Clapp devoted her professional career to the propagation and application of Dewey's educational theories. Dewey believed that school should be a social institution functioning in a community, for community purposes. He was interested in the processes of community education and the use of community resources for educational purposes. Inspired by Dewey's idea that schools in rural districts have a unique opportunity to function socially, Clapp undertook work at Ballard Memorial School in Kentucky to test Dewey's theories (1924-1929).
From 1929 to 1934 Clapp taught teachers "The Principles and Methods of Education" and "Educational use of Environmental Materials" in Rosemary Junior High School, Connecticut. This experience in rural education and her previous work in private progressive schools in the eastern United States (Ashley Hall, Charleston, South Carolina, 1913-1924) gave Clapp the practical experience and self-confidence to undertake another research project in community education at Arthurdale. Arthurdale was a community created as a homestead for unemployed miners on land purchased by the Federal Government. Her experiment at Arthurdale allowed Clapp to examine the school as a social instrument, testing its utility in developing community life. Eleanor Roosevelt, who was interested in the Arthurdale resettlement project not only as an educational experiment, but also as an experiment in creating a community, personally raised the money to pay Clapp's salary as head of the Arthurdale School System (1934-1936). From 1936 to 1939 Clapp served as editor of the national journal Progressive Education. The remainder of her life was devoted to teaching a variety of places and to writing two books about community education, Community Schools in Action (1939) and The Use of Resources in Education (1952).
Elsie Ripley Clapp died on July 28, 1965 in Exeter, New Hampshire.