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History 1981 Graduation Landscape

Impacting Early Childhood over 50 Years


Since Erikson Institute’s founding in 1966, our people, knowledge, and programs have made an indelible imprint on the journey to learn more about the early years.

Our founders, child psychologist Maria Piers, social worker Lorraine Wallach, educator and activist Barbara Taylor Bowman, and businessman and philanthropist Irving B. Harris, recognized the need for professionals who work with young children and families to understand child development and the promise the first years of life hold for a person’s long-term well-being.

The vision of these extraordinary individuals has fueled our work across multiple decades and through significant social and cultural changes and it remains the foundation of our effort to become the single most influential force for change in the early childhood field.

Our 56 Year History


The National Association for Nursery Education is founded.

 In 1964, it becomes the National Association for the Education of Young Children.

The High/Scope Perry Preschool Project begins.


Maria Piers and Irving B. Harris have an important dinner.

Lorraine Wallach, Barbara Bowman, and Maria Piers in discussion

Maria Piers, a child psychologist, and Irving B. Harris, an investor and businessman, have dinner to discuss concerns that so few teachers were prepared to work with children enrolled in Head Start. Piers enlisted the help of social worker Lorraine Wallach and educator and activist Barbara Taylor Bowman.

Irving Harris - The History of Erikson Institute
President Lyndon B. Johnson officially announces Project Head Start from the White House Rose Garden. The Economic Opportunity Act is passed and includes funding for the project.

Lady Bird Johnson - Erikson Institute 1966


The Launch

The Launch

Together, Piers, Harris, Wallach, and Bowman launch the Chicago Institute for Early Childhood Education, today’s Erikson Institute. Recruitment for the first class is done through advertisement in the Hyde Park Herald, on WFMT radio, and in places the founders think intelligent, socially conscious people might listen.


The Chicago Institute for Early Childhood EducationThe Chicago Institute for Early Childhood Education enrolls its first class of 16 students in the fall and opens in the Hyde Park Bank Building at 1525 E. 53rd St.

Maria Piers, PhD - Erikson InstituteMaria Piers, PhD, is named Dean.


Psychoanalyst Anna FreudPsychoanalyst Anna Freud, the youngest of Sigmund Freud’s six daughters, is one of Erikson’s earliest visitors and serves as a consultant to the Board of Trustees.


First Graduation

Erikson Graduation

Graduation is held for the first time at Barbara Bowman’s home for five students who are given yellow roses instead of diplomas. Graduation in her backyard becomes an annual tradition for more than three decades.

The Child-Parent Center program is established through funding from the landmark Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, and our faculty members serve as advisors on the development of the national model.


The Chicago Institute for Early Childhood EducationErik Erikson, renowned developmental psychologist, visits the school to teach a class and take part in discussions with faculty and students.


The Chicago Institute for Early Childhood Education holds a summer training program for Head Start teachers, which is affectionately called “The 40-Hour Wonders.”


New Name

erikson institute for early education

Inspired by Erik Erikson’s work and 1967 visit, school leaders change the name to Erikson Institute for Early Education with the support of the psychologist. His book “Childhood and Society” is an essential component of the school’s curriculum.

Sixteen students receive diplomas for the first time from Erikson in affiliation with Loyola University Chicago.

Affiliation between Erikson and Loyola University ChicagoAn affiliation between Erikson and Loyola University Chicago begins, creating a program that leads to a Master’s of Education from Loyola.


Branching out

Erikson begins a four-year effort to train Head Start teachers on Native American reservations.


The National Black Child Development Institute is founded.


Working with Chicago Public Schools

A long history of working in the Chicago Public Schools begins with Erikson’s Chicago Public Schools Improvement Project.


Jane Goodall at Erikson Institute

Jane Goodall - Erikson Institute

To kick off Erikson’s 10th anniversary, renowned primatologist Jane Goodall gives a benefit lecture.


The Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 is passed.


Diversifying Curriculum

Head Start develops bilingual and bicultural curriculum models and uses them for training teachers.


Joan Costello is named dean of Erikson.

Joan Costello - Erikson Institute

Erikson moves to Two Illinois Center at 233 N. Michigan Ave.

Erikson moves to Two Illinois Center at 233 N. Michigan Ave.

Bonnie Litowitz, PhD, is named Dean of Erikson.


Infant Studies Launches

Infant Studies Launches

The Infant Studies Certificate Program is launched with a concentration in Early Intervention/Prevention. In 1996, a second concentration in center-based child care is added.


The Higher Education Commission on Early Childhood is convened, working on high-quality programming as well as on developing an early childhood teacher certification.


James Garbarino, PhD, is named president of Erikson.

James Garbarino, PhD, is named president of Erikson.

Partnership with Loyola

Erikson and Loyola University Chicago enter into an academic partnership to offer the PhD in Child Development.


Erikson professors launch numerous community-based literacy projects, including the Hull House Head Start Family Literacy Center program for children and parents held on the north side of Chicago.


Erikson moves to 25 W. Chicago Ave.


Erikson begins a training program for early intervention specialists, funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs.


Erikson moves to 420 N. Wabash Ave.

420 N. Wabash Avenue


Erikson offers its first independent degree program, the MEd in Child Development, with optional specializations in infancy and teacher certification.


Barbara T. Bowman, a founder of Erikson, is named president.

Barbara T. Bowman, a founder of Erikson, is named president.


Congress passes landmark Head Start reauthorization, including the creation of Early Head Start, establishing services for pregnant women, infants, and toddlers.


Erikson’s Edward Neisser Library is dedicated.

Erikson’s Edward Neisser Library is dedicated.

A gift to Erikson from Jeffrey and Toby Herr funds applied faculty research.


DCFS Collaboration begins

DCFS Collaboration begins

Erikson collaborates with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services on the Early Childhood Project, which continues today. The project provides assessments, trainings, and referrals to thousands of children and families in the child welfare system across the state of Illinois.


Erikson’s Alumni Endowed Scholarship fund is established.


Erikson launches the M.S. in Child Development and the M.S. in Early Childhood Education.

Erikson launches the M.S. in Child Development and the M.S. in Early Childhood Education.

Final backyard commencement

2001 Graduation in Barbara Bowman's backyard

Commencement is held for the last time in the backyard of Barbara Bowman. Thirty-nine students attend. The following year, graduation moves to Harold Washington Library where Irving and Joan Harris are recipients of Erikson’s first honorary degrees.


The City of Chicago names a portion of Wabash Avenue near Hubbard Street Barbara Taylor Bowman Place.


Samuel J. Meisels, EdD, is named president.

Samuel J. Meisels, EdD, is named president.


Erikson launches two new graduate certificate programs: the Infant Mental Health Certificate and the Early Childhood Bilingual/ESL Certificate.

The Daniel Hale Williams Elementary School in Chicago closes due to poor performance, an event that eventually spurs the creation of the New Schools Project at Erikson.


Fussy Baby Network® Launches

Fussy Baby Network® Launches

Erikson launches the Fussy Baby Network®, its first program to directly serve parents and their children who struggle with crying, sleeping, or feeding during the first year of life.


The Children’s Mental Health Act is approved, paving the way for work on a comprehensive children’s mental health system.


The Illinois Early Learning Council is created to help guide early childhood policy decisions, and income eligibility guidelines are improved for families in need of child care assistance.


Maggie Daley receives honorary doctorate


Former First Lady of Chicago Maggie Daley is the first political figure to receive an honorary doctorate from Erikson for her service to Chicago’s children and families as the founder of Gallery 37 and After School Matters and past president of Pathways Awareness Foundation.


Erikson’s Herr Research Center is established to promote the well-being of young children and families by supporting faculty research on what makes effective early childhood policy and programs. It has since been supported by the Jeffrey Herr family, McCormick Foundation, Joyce Foundation, Spencer Foundation, and the Children’s Initiative, a project of the Pritzker Family Foundation.


With Preschool for All, Illinois becomes the first state in the nation to offer voluntary access to preschool for all 3- and 4-year-olds while expanding programs to at-risk infants and toddlers.


Early Math launches

Early Math launches

Erikson’s Early Math Collaborative, with funding from the CME Group Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, launches with a “whole teacher” approach to professional development aimed at helping early childhood educators acquire knowledge of 26 foundational math concepts called “Big Ideas,” and approach the teaching of these concepts with confidence.

The Early Childhood Block Grant supports more than 1,000 early education programs statewide serving children under age 5 through an appropriation of $318 million — 11%, or $35 million, supports programs for infants, toddlers, and their families.


Erikson moves to its permanent campus at 451 N. LaSalle St.

erikson's building

Erikson’s Distance Learning department is established. The following year Erikson offers its first online degree program, the M.S. in Early Childhood Education.

Erikson’s Distance Learning department is established. The following year Erikson offers its first online degree program, the M.S. in Early Childhood Education.


The Center for Children and Families becomes Erikson’s first initiative to provide comprehensive assessment and counseling for children with a broad range of developmental, behavioral, and social-emotional issues.


Erikson’s Early Math Collaborative expands, thanks to a $5 million Investing in Innovation (i3) grant awarded by the U.S. Department of Education.


TEC Center is Founded

TEC Center is Founded

Erikson’s Technology in Early Childhood Center is founded as a trusted source for digital age educators and parents seeking information at the intersection of child development, early learning, and children’s media.


Erikson’s Cari B. Sacks Scholarship is established with a gift from Cari B. Sacks, an alumna, and her husband, Michael Sacks.


Erikson receives approval to offer the Master of Social Work degree. The MSW program is the only program in the country to infuse its social work curriculum with a deep understanding of child development. Previously, Erikson and Loyola University Chicago had partnered to offer a dual degree program, which combined a Master of Social Work from Loyola and a Master of Science in Child Development from Erikson.


The Jane Addams Hull House Association closes due to financial difficulties after 122 years.


Erikson’s Center for Children and Families establishes its first satellite clinic in Chicago’s Austin neighborhood, bringing services into a community where many at-risk families live.


Geoffrey A. Nagle, PhD, is named president of Erikson.

Geoffrey A. Nagle, PhD, is named president of Erikson.

Mindfulness study begins in CPS

Mindfulness study begins in CPS

Erikson’s groundbreaking mindfulness study, funded primarily by a prestigious federal i3 grant, launches in Chicago Public Schools, looking at whether mindfulness can improve academic performance and social-emotional well-being in young children.


ECLA is Established

ECLA is Established

Erikson’s Early Childhood Leadership Academy is established, offering opportunities for early childhood stakeholders to influence the development of key early childhood policies to create positive outcomes for children, families, and communities.

Erikson graduates its first nine students from the newly accredited Master of Social Work program.


50th Anniversary Year Begins

We kick off our 50th year with a new logo, street banners around the downtown campus, and a “thank you” party for faculty, staff, students, alumni, board members, and longtime friends.


The launch of a special 50th Anniversary website increases our ability to tell our story and raise awareness about our history and work.


A window display on the ground floor of our building, generously designed and styled by board member Ikram Goldman, goes up to help define and call attention to the importance of the work we do.


mothPeabody Award-winning storytelling organization The Moth partners with us to host a unique evening of live storytelling featuring three members of the Erikson community who shared tales of their own experiences and professional passions.


Our 50th Annual Luncheon becomes the most successful luncheon fundraiser in our history, raising $1.1 million. More than 700 guests attend to hear from New York Times columnist David Brooks and learn about Erikson through videos and live testimonials from four individuals whose lives have been impacted by our work.


Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel sends his regards in a letter that recognizes our “lasting legacy” and “work that continues to impact generations of Chicagoans,” and the Chicago City Council issues a special proclamation honoring our service to young children and families.


Our first class of Barbara Bowman Leadership Fellows graduates, completing a program to help mid-career leaders enhance their capacity to improve the well-being of young children and their families by influencing public policy.


Former U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan joins co-founder Barbara Bowman for a discussion about “the cradle-to-prison pipeline” as part of a President’s Council event at The Arts Club of Chicago.


More than 90 board members, faculty, staff, students, and alumni participate in our first Service Week, a partnership with the Christopher House family of schools in Chicago, by reading books to children, volunteering in classrooms or schools, and donating books.


An anonymous donor gives us $5 million — one of the largest single gifts in our history —to support our Graduate School in Child Development, helping fund scholarships to make graduate degrees more affordable.


More than 70 students graduate during our 50th Anniversary commencement ceremony. Philanthropist Gigi Pritzker and Cynthia García Coll, PhD, an influential professor of psychology at Albizu University in Puerto Rico, receive honorary degrees.


We usher in Erikson’s next 50 years with a ceremony at Ignite Glass Studios in Chicago to celebrate our pioneering spirit and consider how our influence will grow in years to come. Among the highlights is a special tribute to Barbara Bowman and our founders.


50th Anniversary Year Ends


Erikson receives $5 million anonymous gift—one of the largest single gifts in its history to fund scholarships to make graduate degrees more affordable.


Juliet Bromer, PhD, launches a new, first-of-its kind research project studying family child care networks on a national scale.


US Senator Dick Durbin speaks to the inaugural class of Erikson’s Early Childhood Leadership Academy (ECLA) McCormick Foundation Executive Fellows.


Ta-Nehisi CoatesAward-winning author Ta-Nehisi Coates keynotes at Erikson’s annual luncheon.


Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, an expert on toxic stress in childhood and its lifelong effects speaks at a President’s Council event.

Dr. Nadine Burke Harris


Erikson launches a new online master’s degree program offering concentrations in five early education-focused concentrations.


Dr. Samina Hadi-Tabassum and Dr. Pamela Epley launch a first-of-its-kind study on lead exposure in early childhood.


Long-time Erikson trustee Michelle Collins receives the Spirit of Erikson Institute Award at annual luncheon, which raises a record $1.5 million.


Erikson's Early Math CollaborativeErikson’s Early Math Collaborative awarded $1.4 million to develop a new research tool


Barbara Taylor Bowman with students, faculty, and staff at her 90th birthday celebrationBarbara Bowman’s 90th birthday is celebrated by the entire Erikson community.


Erikson presents data from Illinois’ first “Risk and Reach” report at City Club of Chicago

$2 million scholarship fund established in honor of long-time faculty member and executive leader, Jie-Qi Chen

CCF Little VillageOur Center for Children and Families/Centro para Niños y Familias opens in Little Village


Erikson started planning early and successfully pivoted to fully remote operations at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic

Erikson experts were consulted often by the media for advice and tips for parents with young children navigating the pandemic


June 19th | Starting this year, Juneteenth will be a permanent day of recognition for Erikson staff and students. - Erikson InstituteIn the wake of civil unrest in the spring of 2020, Erikson establishes Juneteenth as a permanent day of recognition for the Institute



Geoff Nagle ends his term as President and CEO in February

Jie-Qi ChenErikson receives $6 million gift for the Early Teaching and Learning Academy

portrait of Mariana Souto-ManningMariana Souto-Manning, PhD, becomes Erikson’s fifth president on September 1.