Nina Anderson Pape

The Nina Anderson Pape historical marker was dedicated on April 14, 2005. View the Nina Anderson Pape historical marker listing.


Historical Background

Created by SCAD student Annihka Murray as part of her SCAD art history department coursework with guidance from art history professor Holly Goldstein, Ph.D., 2015.

People say “well-behaved women seldom make history” yet Nina Anderson Pape was a well-behaved woman that made history with her work that radically shaped Savannah’s public opinion of childhood in the early nineteen hundreds. As an established member of Savannah’s upper class, she was well suited to bring progressive era ideals of education and childhood development to her conservative hometown of Savannah. Pape’s legacy includes founding a school that showcased progressive education and advocating for public play.

Pape was also well-traveled and well-educated with a worldview broadened by extensive travel to Europe and a higher education from Columbia University’s Teachers College. [i] She championed national progressive movements to improve children’s education on a grassroots level in Savannah. When she founded the Pape School (Figure 2 and Figure 3) at the beginning of her career in 1905 she paved the way for the ideals of progressive education to extend beyond the schoolhouse. She was an educator in Savannah for nearly half a century and an industrious member of her community. Her contributions can be seen in a multitude of local institutions and associations that directly impact Savannah’s youth to this day. As stated in the marker text her work wasn’t limited to founding a school, she also helped to establish the Girl Scouts and kindergartens, revealing her commitment to providing recreation and healthy early childhood development to all children. Nina Anderson Pape’s involvement and achievements in these areas cannot be overlooked and are well documented in Paul Pressly’s article  “Educating the Daughters of Savannah’s Elite: The Pape School, the Girl Scouts, and the Progressive Movement.” [ii]

A lesser-known institution that Pape and the Progressive Education Movement contributed to Savannah is the public playground. It is a culmination of all of her efforts, a pièce de résistance that links her work in children’s education, recreation, and development. Although today playgrounds are understood as an essential part of public parks, in the early 1900s the idea was still somewhat radical. The creation of a whole new public space dedicated to children’s play required the support and participation of the community. One of the original public spaces carved out for play at the turn of the century is located two blocks north and across Drayton St. in the center of Forsyth Park (Figure 4). This playground has gone through many updates and renovations since its humble beginnings, but stays true to its original purpose of enhancing the lives of children.

Women and Children’s Shifting Role in Society at the Turn of the Century: the Play Movement as a Gateway to Women’s Suffrage

The Progressive era of 1890-1920 sought to improve society through modernization and reforms of public institutions including education. Progressive education in Pape’s words meant, “educating the entire child, training the eye through art, the ear through music, the head through sewing and manual work, the body through physical exercise and grammar, and the spirit through service to others.” [iii] This holistic view of education took into account the multitude of experiences that affect how children develop, including recreational play. The importance of play was emphasized by the progressive German pedagogue, Friedrich Froebel, who modernized education with his concept of Kindergarten. Pape subscribed to Froebel’s philosophies and shared them with the community of Savannah by founding the Froebel Circle and becoming an active member of the Kindergarten Club.

As Hortense Orcutt, a member of the Kindergarten Club and supervisor of The Kate Baldwin Free Kindergarten explains in an article in the Savannah Morning News, “The highest form of human activities are joyous: the painting of a picture, the writing of a poem, the constructive thinking that evolves a great engineering feat or origins of great industry; in all these things there must be the play spirit, the spirit that delights in doing.” [iv] The initial emotional training for success in those creative endeavors is conveniently built into the Kindergarten curriculum in the form of play. The Savannah Kindergarten Club met monthly on the first floor of the Pape School, where the Savannah Kindergarten was located (Figure 5). In 1911, “Play in Education” was the yearlong focus of the club. Over the course of the year, the club dissected the topic of children’s play and its relation to morality, stages of development, community and the national and international scope of the Play movement. These discussions were supplemented with visiting lecturers and scholarly essays on the subject of play. Pape was a member of the committee responsible for selecting the speakers and curating the reading material presented (see the yearly program in figure 6). As early as January 1911, the Kindergarten club was advocating the construction of public playgrounds in Savannah as a way to bring the countless benefits of play to all the children of the community. [v]

The work these women did for the betterment of society marks an important milestone in women’s history. It challenged the boundaries of women’s efforts in the public sphere. A municipal playground deals with children’s development, which had traditionally been a part of the private domain and considered the responsibility of women. Major accomplishments of the progressive movement such as child labor laws and compulsory education laws reflect how the responsibility of children’s development and welfare was shifting from private to public. A public space dedicated to children’s development was such a radical idea that its dominion was unclear. Women, like Nina Anderson Pape, who had a knack for civic leadership but couldn’t lawfully hold civil office took advantage of this temporary grey area. By 1916 the city of Savannah had formed a playground commission, where unfortunately the women who had done the legwork to bring public playgrounds to Savannah, could not serve as members. As stated in a letter from Mayor Wallace J. Pierpont to the Board of Alderman, “females are not entitled to the privilege of elective franchise nor can they hold any civil office or perform any civil function” and therefore could not lawfully be appointed to the playground commission. [vi] The blatant hypocrisy of the fact that people who had dedicated an entire year to rigorously educating themselves and the community on the importance of a public institution couldn’t even govern surely contributed to the eventual introduction of the 19th Amendment granting women’s suffrage.

Savannah’s Efforts to Establish a Public Playground

The Kindergarten Club cultivated an understanding of the importance of recreational play that allowed the playground initiative to move forward with support from the community. Festivals, petitions, and the formation of committees were necessary in order to obtain the use of public land, purchase equipment and appoint a director so that the proposed playgrounds could become a reality.

As a conclusion to the “Play in Education” program of 1911, The Kindergarten Club sponsored the “Play Festival” in Forsyth Park. New forms of play were demonstrated and 400 costumed children from Savannah performed folk dances and paraded around the park. In 1913, the elaborate pageantry, costumes and spectacle of the annual Play Festival brought crowds of onlookers to Forsyth Park (Figures 7 and 8). Civic leaders working for the welfare of children in Savannah saw the positive attention this festival was creating for the play movement, and hoped it would awaken the public to the need for municipal playgrounds. Nina Pape, Hortense Orcutt, Mr. AWS Chairsell (director of the Savannah YMCA), and Edith Johnston (secretary of the Girl Scouts) formed the Savannah Play Festival Association in 1913. By 1916 the association had achieved its goal of establishing municipal playgrounds. [vii]

The initial municipal playgrounds erected in Savannah by the Playground Commission contained humble structures (if any) and employed a “play director” in order to offer supervised play. Mr. Montague Gammon, a native Georgian with a background in physical education, was appointed to be head play director. Play equipment in 1914 included swings, slides, sandboxes and jungle gyms. [viii] The original playgrounds of Savannah probably didn’t look much different than the 1936 play yard located behind the Pape School pictured in figure 8. Some playgrounds, like the one located on Forsyth Park, didn’t originally have permanent play equipment because the space was sanctioned to be used by older children who found sports like basketball or lawn tennis more appealing than swings and slides. [ix]

The playground movement in the United States during this time period had two apparently clashing objectives that can be personified by two Savannahians directly involved with the first playgrounds. The first, championed by Orcutt was to nurture creative play and holistic development of children. Her work in the kindergarten movement emphasized the importance of joy and creativity being proactively provided for in a child’s formative years. In an article in the Savannah Morning News she explains the benefits of outdoor play:

The joys of the nature-world are opened to [the child]; he is deliberately made conscious of the delights of the seasons, the cycle of the sun, the wonder of the moon and the stars; the gladness of the song of the bird and the brook; the loveliness of flowers; the mystery of the wind, and the abiding law of growth and development. [x]

The second, facilitated by the appointed play director, Mr. Gammon, was to achieve “strong, healthful, sturdy manhood and womanhood” through physical exercise. [xi] Gammon helped to write a book detailing marching drills titled “School Tactics and Maze Running” pictured in figure 10. The military methods of physical training advised in Gammon’s book dramatically contrast the free-spirited play endorsed by Orcutt and the Kindergarten club. The design of playgrounds is a major feat in collaboration to fulfill these varied purposes and agendas.

When playgrounds were first introduced to public spaces in Savannah the response was mixed. The Park & Tree commission moved forward with caution in 1913, explaining to the Mayor that “the question of using these squares as playgrounds for children is experimental, and it may or may not be a benefit to the public at large.” [xii]

While many parents and children alike petitioned to have a playground added to public squares in their neighborhoods, an overwhelming amount of sundry citizens opposed such developments. When it was proposed that a playground be established on the east side of Savannah at Grayson Park in 1914 some citizens were concerned the plant life would be trampled and the park would be made unpleasant. The Mayor received letters from property owners stating, “we do not wish this Park to be converted into a Playground, because it is too beautiful to be ruined in any such manner… we are heartily in favor of Playgrounds for the children but are not in favor of destroying Parks for such.” [xiii] The squares of Savannah are a part of the original Oglethorpe plan and are a major point of pride for the city, to this day making changes or additions to what exists can be met with resistance.

The Continued Evolution of Playgrounds

Today, many parks around the United States continue to evaluate the play structure’s ability to engage children in creative play that will lead to vital developments. In the 1960s and 1970s, highly regarded designers worked on playground commissions, treating playground equipment like a public sculpture that children were allowed to play on. A local Georgia example would be the “Playscape” designed in 1976 by Isamu Noguchi for Piedmont Park in Atlanta. [xiv] Savannah’s playgrounds have gone through many reincarnations, each one building upon the last to become more useful for the development of all children. During the Civil Rights Movement NAACP Youth worked to desegregate Forsyth Park. [xv] In the 1980s, Forsyth Park underwent a comprehensive revitalization, which included installation of new playground equipment and updates to the basketball and tennis courts, (see map in Figure 11). [xvi] In 2014, the 100th anniversary of municipal playgrounds in Savannah, the rotary club of Savannah funded the $342,000 construction of a playground in Forsyth Park that is “accessible to all children, including those who have wheelchair limitations and other specialized conditions.” [xvii] Figures 12 and 13 show the Forsyth Park Playground in 2015. These modern improvements build upon Nina Anderson Pape’s activism to bring playgrounds to Savannah at the turn of the century.


[i] Travel Diaries. From the Nina Anderson Pape Papers, MS 605.

[ii] Paul Pressly. “Educating the Daughters of Savannah’s Elite: The Pape School, the Girl Scouts, and the Progressive Movement,” The Georgia Historical Quarterly 80, no. 2 (1996): 246-75.

[iii] Nina Pape. “A Progressive School,” Pape School Bulletin (1927).

[iv] “The Philosophy of Kindergarten: Miss Orcutt Explains the Theory of the Education of the Child.” Savannah Morning News, June 7, 1908.

[v] Minute Book of the Savannah Kindergarten Club, 1904-1912. From the Savannah Kindergarten Club Records, MS 694.

[vi] Playground/Recreation Commission, 1914-1918. From the City Council Meeting Papers [0115-001-AI69 PET 1], Research Library and Municipal Archives City of Savannah, Georgia.

[vii] “A Brief History of the Savannah Festival Association.” From the Savannah Festival Association Administrative Records, MS 688.

[viii] Minutes of the Park and Tree Commission, 1909-1929. From the City of Savannah, Georgia Records- Park and Tree Commission [5600PC-010 Volume 2], Research Library and Municipal Archives City of Savannah, Georgia.

[ix] Playground/Recreation Commission, 1914-1918.

[x] “The Philosophy of Kindergarten: Miss Orcutt Explains the Theory of the Education of the Child.”

[xi] Playground/Recreation Commission, 1914-1918.

[xii] Minutes of the Park and Tree Commission, 1909-1929.

[xiii] Playground/Recreation Commission, 1914-1918.

[xiv] Hannah Martin. “Isamu Noguchi’s Architectural Playground in Atlanta.” Architectural Digest, October 9, 2014.

[xv] Ralph Mark Gilbert Civil Rights Museum. 460 Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd., Savannah, Georgia. Visited May 20, 2015.

[xvi] “Meeting On Forsyth Park Tonight.” Savannah Morning News, January 10, 1980. From the Parks and Squares—Savannah—Forsyth verticle file.

[xvii] “Rotary Club of Savannah dedicates new playground in Forsyth Park.” Savannah Morning News, December 9, 2014.

Figure 1. Nina Anderson Pape. Courtesy of the Massie Heritage Center.

Figure 2. Photograph of Savannah Building, on Drayton Street. From the Georgia Historical Society Collection of Photographs 1870-1960, MS 1361PH.

Figure 3. Photograph of the Pape School, 1911. From the Georgia Historical Society Collection of Photographs 1870-1960, MS 1361PH.

Figure 4. Nina Anderson Pape marker text, 2015. Courtesy of Annihka Murray.

Figure 5. Photograph of Savannah kindergarten, Thanksgiving 1910. From the Savannah Kindergarten Club Records, MS 0694.

Figure 6. Photograph of “Play In Education,” Seventh Annual Program, Savannah Kindergarten Club, 1910-1911. From the Savannah Kindergarten Club Records, MS 0694.

Figure 7. Photograph of Reception of General Lafayette, 1913. From the Savannah Federal Association, MS 688.

Figure 8. Photograph of The Spirit of Savannah and Elizabeth Pettus as the Year 1919. From the Savannah Federal Association, MS 688.

Figure 9. Photograph of Pape School children playing on playground, 1936. From the Foltz Photography Studio (Savannah, Ga.), photographs, 1899-1960, MS 1360.

Figure 10. Front cover of Mr. Montague Gammon’s Marching Drill Book. (New York, NY: American Sports Publishing Company,1905)

Figure 11. Photograph of map of proposed Forsyth Park Renovations, January 1980, Courtesy of Savannah Morning News.

Figure 12. Playground in Forsyth Park, 2015. Courtesy of Annihka Murray.

Figure 13. Playground in Forsyth Park, 2015. Courtesy of Annihka Murray.

Figure 14. Playground in Forsyth Park, 2015. Courtesy of Annihka Murray.


Further Reading

Ayers, Ed; Onuf, Peter and Brian Balogh. “Young Americans: a History of Childhood.” BackStory with the American History Guys, January 24, 2014. Podcast.

Deborah Bishop. “Structured Play.” Dwell, January 1, 2009.

Arelene Brett and Robin C. Moore. The Complete Playground Book. (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1993).

Nina Anderson Pape. Dir. Tina Calhoun and Julian Modugno. Perf. Paul Pressly. Georgia Public Broadcasting. Film.

“Four Hundred Marched in Elizabethan Pageant: Brilliant Scene in Forsyth Park During the Play Festival.” Savannah Morning News, May 11, 1911.

“Gymnastics and Folk Dances.” Savannah Morning News, April 9, 1910.

Peter Heseltine and John Holborn. Playgrounds: The Planning, Design and Construction of Play Environments. (London: Mitchell, 1987).

Rebecca Mead. “State of Play: How Tot Lots Became Places to Build Children’s Brains.” The New Yorker, July 5, 2010.

Marta Rojals. Designing a Playground. (Barcelona: Links Books, 2006).

Susan G. Solomon. American Playgrounds: Revitalizing Community Space. (Hanover NH: University Press of New England, 2005).

James Trainor. “Reimagining Recreation.” Cabinet, Spring 2012.