It was a few minutes before eight o'clock on February 24, 1934 when she entered the Carter Hotel's Ballroom. Well over a thousand members of the National Society for the Study of Education had already assembled to hear her defend her controversial Activity Movement yearbook, which she had prepared in the name of the Society.
More than a decade had passed since she and Frederick Gordon Bonser had established the new field of "industrial arts." One of their students, William E. Warner, was the best-known industrial arts educator of the day, and a few of their ideas were taking hold in some high schools in the northeast United States. But progress had been slow. Although industrial arts had been intended for students in elementary and junior-high schools, manual education programs in high schools were being rapidly renamed "industrial arts." But rather than focusing on industry as a function of culture and society, as Mossman and Bonser had intended, these programs remained technically oriented.
So Mossman turned her attention to infusing the ideals of industrial arts into the nation's elementary curriculum. Part of that plan was the activity movement. Back in Cleveland, her fifteen-minute address was scheduled to be followed by a full hour of speeches denouncing her Activity Movement book--speeches with titles like "Criticisms of the Yearbook" and "Controversial Areas in Connection with the Yearbook." But Mossman knew that her colleague William H. Kilpatrick, one of the nation's most respected educators, would come to her defense in the final address of the night. It was now exactly eight o'clock. Where was Kilpatrick?
Dean M. E. Haggerty of the College of Education, University of Minnesota, called the meeting to order and Mossman addressed the crowd. As she spoke she must have scanned the audience earnestly for Kilpatrick.
Kilpatrick! One of the few men at Teachers College, Columbia University, who treated Mossman as an equal. When their mutual friend Bonser died three years earlier, it was Kilpatrick who saw to it that Mossman take over Bonser's position as chair of the Activity Movement yearbook committee. He even hosted the meetings of the committee at his home. At those meetings he had tried repeatedly to persuade committee member William Gray to see the need for the group to reach a consensus on the book's direction. But Gray remained adversarial.
And now it was Gray addressing the restless crowd, which at this point numbered in excess of the Ballroom's capacity of 1,200. Not reserving his criticism solely for the yearbook, he attacked the activity movement itself.
Mossman envisioned a child-centered classroom which encouraged the active participation of the students. Gray--and many others--felt that the movement was in serious conflict with traditional practices in education. Gray's criticisms were followed by an address by Guy Whipple, the secretary of the Society. Kilpatrick was due to speak in twenty minutes. He was still absent.
Whipple had been very ill all day, but as Kilpatrick would later write in his diary, "fortified by drink, he still came and spoke." Whipple intended to speak against the yearbook, but in his impaired state he managed to turn the assembly against himself. For Mossman, this was the perfect time to get the crowd on her side, for as Whipple stepped down, it was William H. Kilpatrick's turn to speak.
But Kilpatrick never showed.
Long before she was hired to teach industrial arts at Teachers College in 1911, Mossman had been a collaborator more often than a loner. Even when working on personal projects, she frequently sought the advice and association of others. She benefited greatly from the encouragement of her mentors, from Alfred Bayliss, Illinois State Superintendent of Public Instruction, to James E. Russell, Dean of Teachers College. Similarly, Kilpatrick had been a valuable aide on the Activity Movement project, and she had counted on his support that night in Cleveland. But this time she was truly on her own.
Haggerty opened the floor to one of the most vigorous debates the Society had experienced. Mossman found her work rebuked not only by those opposed to the activity movement, but by progressive educators as well. In fact, the latter group plainly accused the Board of Directors of organizing the yearbook to "discredit the cause of progressive education."
Haggerty apparently had some difficulty in keeping the discussion within the stated guidelines. It was probably approaching ten o'clock when Mossman was asked to defend herself, her committee, and her yearbook--a formidable task she had expected Kilpatrick to undertake.
Mossman addressed to crowd.
"By one means or another," Whipple later recounted, "the storm that seemed to be progressively approaching was allayed in intensity and a satisfying, calm serenity replaced it entirely when Professor Mossman, in the last few minutes of the evening, skillfully guided the discussion to a safe port." The official minutes of the meeting indicate that she was able to convince the Society that the yearbook was a fair representation of the problems and progress of the activity movement. But by all accounts it was a close call, and on Monday morning Mossman was in Kilpatrick's office. Where had he been?
"Mrs. Mossman comes in much excited over the Yearbook meeting," Kilpatrick's diary entry reads. "I had planned to go to Cleveland for no other purpose than to support her before the National Society meeting. . . " It seems that Kilpatrick had fallen ill and had wired Mossman more than twenty-four hours prior to the meeting to inform her that he would not be present. But Mossman had switched hotels without leaving a forwarding address--and never got the message.
Early life and career
Even though she is mentioned more than fifty times in Kilpatrick's diaries, Lois Mossman, co-author of the landmark book Industrial Arts for Elementary Schools (Macmillan, 1923), is not an easy person to research. Available biographic information on Mossman is limited to records, usually either difficult or impossible to obtain, of events in some cases a century old. Her contemporaries are no longer living; anecdotal observations and quotations with which to enliven a recounting of her life are rare. Even the story of her shooting death in 1944 is unclear.
Nearly all of the personal information about Mossman in this article was gleaned from employment, marriage, census, and other records.1 In addition, proceedings and minutes of meetings, official documents from Teachers College, Columbia University, and the diaries of William H. Kilpatrick were used to help construct the story.
Anna Coffey, called "Lois" most of her life, was born in the fall of 1877, to Adolphus and Susan Francis (Frances?) Coffey, in Newark, Indiana, a tiny village in Beech Creek Township. Her father was a minister, and she had at least one sister. Census records suggest that the family moved from Newark within a few years of her birth. By her 18th birthday she had secured a teaching certificate and was teaching at a "country school" in Pottawotomie County, Kansas. The following school year, 1897-1898, she taught at the Wamego, Kansas, school, for $40 per month. Like all but two of the ten teachers there, she had a teaching certificate but not a college diploma.
Of course, education one hundred years ago was very different than today. It was quite possible, for instance, to be a legally qualified teacher without having attended college. "Colored" and "white" students were counted separately. At Coffey's school the lone male teacher was paid $80 per month, while the average monthly salary of the nine female teachers was $41.
Bonser and Mossman
She continued to teach in Kansas until 1902, when she was named principal of the Las Vegas, New Mexico, High School. She resigned the following year when a job teaching English became available in Macomb, Illinois, where her parents and sister had been living for several years. A few years later, Coffey accepted the position of critic teacher at the training school of the Western State Normal School in Macomb. It was likely there that she first met Frederick Gordon Bonser, himself also new to the school. For the next twenty-six years she and Bonser were always at the same university.
Bonser (1875-1931) had earned two degrees in psychology from the University of Illinois before being named professor of education at the State Normal School in Cheney, Washington. He resigned that position in 1905 to begin work on his doctorate at Teachers College, Columbia University. He left his studies the following year to accept the position of professor of education and director of the training school at Western Illinois State Normal School.
Despite the fact that Bonser and Mossman co-authored Industrial Arts for Elementary Schools--probably the most famous book in the history of industrial arts and technology education--Bonser is often referred to as the book's sole author. But Before he met Mossman, Bonser had done no work in the field of industrial arts. Yet he is remembered as the man who founded the industrial arts movement.
And Bonser deserves much credit for his work--but no more than Mossman deserves.
Mossman at Macomb
Lois Coffey's four years at Western Illinois State Normal School in Macomb, IL (now Western Illinois University) can be pieced together from information in the institution's yearbooks and the Western Courier, a weekly newsletter she edited. She was a very demanding teacher--but at the same time a very respected one. "Imagine," her students wrote in the 1910 yearbook, "five minutes peace around Miss Coffey." And earlier: "we are learning that it is better to be seen than heard, especially when Miss Coffey is in the study hall." The previous year's graduating class had some advice for the other students. "Thou shall not cut classes," they warned, "for thou wilt be caught by Coffey."
But Coffey was busy doing more than simply being strict and demanding. She found time outside of class to be with her students. There are accounts of her ice-skating on weekends, advising the YWCA club, and even dressing in costume for a Valentine's day party. "One could scarcely have recognized the little girl with long auburn curls as our sedate Miss Coffey," students would later write.
Coffey repeatedly emphasized that the integration of school subjects could be achieved by practical classroom activities. Once, in illustrating this to prospective teachers she discussed the use of poems in a lesson in agriculture. She then went on to meaningfully connect the study with arithmetic, geometry, reading, art, geography, nature study, physics, and botany.
In addition to aligning the school's practical work with the traditional curriculum, Coffey emphasized the need for students to design their own projects. When learning about clothing, some students designed and made their own shirtwaists; when learning about shelter, students planned and drew houses.
Western Illinois University historian Victor Hicken noted that Coffey left the school to pursue a Bachelor's degree in New York in 1910. He characterized Coffey's departure from the school as "regrettable, and a blow to Western's reputation as a normal school." After leaving Illinois Coffey married Niles Roy Mossman on June 12, 1913. They had a home in rural New Jersey, but Lois Mossman lived in New York City while school was in session.
New York was by far the biggest city Mossman had ever lived in--and it seems she took full advantage of the situation. "Miss Coffey, it was noted in Macomb's Western Courier of November 17, 1910, "is busy attending political speeches by Roosevelt and others, aviation meets, grand opera, sermons by great divines, excursions, and other devices for enjoying herself, and, incidentally, classes."
The founding of industrial arts
When Lois Coffey was hired at Western Illinois State Normal School in Macomb, she had been teaching in public schools for ten years. She had come to the realization that practical (we would say "technological") activities made education come alive for children.
Bonser, on the other hand, had one year of public-school teaching experience, and that had been a decade earlier. He had written several articles on psychology and pedagogy by the time he arrived in Macomb, but he had not written about practical or industrial arts. Once he began to work more closely with Coffey, however, industrial arts became one of his most common topics.
But that wasn't until about 1908. By then Coffey had begun to attract attention for her work from the state department of education in Illinois. While at Macomb Mossman, probably aided by several other teachers, set up the first "general shop," in which students rotated through experiences in shopwork, drawing, and home economics. This eventually led to the integration of manual training, drawing, and home economics into "industrial arts," a term Coffey was using by 1909. William E. Warner's interpretation of the "general shop" would later revolutionize industrial arts.
In earlier years, Bonser had viewed manual training for elementary students as a means of self-expression. But this integrated study of industrial arts clearly had promise as social education--which was absent from contemporary elementary schools. Mossman's lengthy curriculum for industrial arts in the seventh and eighth grades, accompanied by an editorial by Bonser, was published in December 1909. That's when things really started to happen. Within weeks James Russell, Dean of Teachers College, Columbia University, paid for Bonser to visit New York. Teachers College was the foremost college of education in North America. In the 1915-1916 academic year, for example, the college reportedly had more matriculated graduate students in education than all other colleges and universities in the US and Canada combined. Bonser was not only offered the Directorship of the college's training school, but was asked to head the newly established Industrial Education department as well. He completed his dissertation over the summer and began work in September.
Immediately Russell and Bonser issued a pamphlet outlining the "social-industrial theory" of industrial arts, and the rest, as they say, is history. Mossman began her thirty-year career teaching at Teachers College in 1911. She continued to write and speak about industrial arts, co-authoring Industrial Arts for Elementary Schools with Bonser in 1923. But while Bonser and Russell are remembered for their contributions to the founding of industrial arts and technology education, she has all but been forgotten.
On a cold and damp day late in December, 1961, Niles Roy Mossman, then 83 years old, received a letter from Rex Miller and Lee Smalley, professors of industrial arts education at the State University of New York at Buffalo. They were writing to request permission to reprint the first chapter of Industrial Arts for Elementary Schools in a book of selected readings which they were preparing.
He granted the permission, and provided biographic information about his wife. Miller later recalled being told by Mr. Mossman that "Mrs. Mossman was killed on a pistol range while checking her target. She was an avid sportswoman and loved to shoot the pistol."
On June 19, 1944, Betty Pratt of the News Offices of Teachers College, issued this official press release:
"Mrs. Lois Coffey Mossman, retired associate professor of education at Teachers College, Columbia University, was accidentally shot and killed by a ricocheting bullet at her Cherry Hill Farm in Gladstone, New Jersey, Sunday afternoon, June 18th. The gun was fired by a young man who was hunting on the Mossman's property with their permission and no charges are being pressed."
According to the local paper in Bernardsville, New Jersey, Lois Mossman was trimming a tall hedge when she was fatally wounded by a single bullet which "entered her left shoulder, took a downward course and severed a vein near the heart."
There are clearly similarities between Mr. Mossman's story and the account provided by Teachers College. But straightforward questions--such as whether Mossman was killed on a firing range or at home--do not have straightforward answers.
And so goes researching Anna "Lois" Coffey Mossman. Research in five states, countless attempts to locate--much less contact--living relatives or acquaintances, days and days in "special collections" departments of university libraries, and hours spent trying (with varying success) to convince records clerks to provide documents have raised as many questions as they have answered.
Even when records are available, getting a clear picture of who Lois Coffey Mossman really was demands more reading between the lines than can be justified. But nothing in this article has been fabricated. Every assumption is clear--every "probably," "perhaps," and "maybe."
But it is clear that historians of industrial arts and technology education have neglected to consider that a woman--Lois Coffey Mossman--had more to do with the establishment of industrial arts than did any other person.
P. Foster, 1995