Mary Ann Hamilton was born in 1845 in Pictou, Nova Scotia. Mary made her mark on history as the first kindergarten teacher in Dartmouth and was responsible for bringing it to the area. Under Miss Hamilton’s instruction, Dartmouth had the first kindergarten class in Nova Scotia.
In 1866, Miss Hamilton was hired to teach at Central School, the first school opened in Dartmouth after the passing of the Free School Act. (If you read our #BacktoSchool post, you’ll recognize the name Central School. If you haven’t, you can find it here!) She was hired as an intermediate teacher, but only taught at Central for three and a half years before she became sick and had to resign. She was rehired in 1889 to lead Dartmouth Public School’s new kindergarten department. Miss Hamilton was trained on Fröbel’s concepts at the Normal School in Truro, which was later renamed the Nova Scotia Teachers College. Interestingly, Miss Hamilton came from a family of teachers. According to the 1891 Census of Canada, her two sisters, Agnes and Janie were also teachers.
Mary Ann Hamilton was one of the most highly praised and best-paid female teachers of her time.She won numerous rewards and was even sent to the Chicago International Exhibition of 1893 to showcase her curriculum. It consisted of a morning talk, drawing, weaving, and parquetry. She not only taught as many as ninety students a class, but she also trained upwards of three new kindergarten teachers a year. One of her student teachers, Miss Hiltz, can be seen in this photo from 1909.
After her retirement in 1916, she resided at Victoria Hall in Halifax. In 1932, Judge Benjamin Russell referred to Miss Mary Ann Hamilton as “the best teacher we had ever had in our schools in Dartmouth”.