American educator; founder of the Walden School and pioneer in art therapy.
Margaret Naumburg was not a psychologist, but her work as an educator and as a therapist influenced twentieth century ideas about creativity and mental illness. Her work with children and with the mentally ill was widely studied by psychologists and psychiatrists. She was able to achieve all this despite her lack of training as a scientist.
Naumburg was born in New York on May 14, 1890. She attended Barnard College (graduating in 1911) and continued with graduate studies at Columbia University. Later, she studied in Europe; while in Rome, she studied briefly with the educational innovator Maria Montessori. Part of Montessori's educational philosophy was that children learn more effectively when they are allowed to explore ideas on their own rather than have information merely fed to them.
Naumburg, impressed by Montessori's theories, returned to the United States and in 1915 opened the Walden School in New York City. The school began with two teachers and 10 students, and the educational focus was on letting children develop their own ideas and interests. In this way, believed Naumburg, children would not merely acquire knowledge but learn how to use that knowledge to their best advantage.
In 1916 Naumburg married the writer Waldo Frank. Through him she became acquainted with a literary and intellectual circle that included such artists Alfred Stieglitz, Van Wyck Brooks, Countee Cullen, and Jean Toomer. The couple, who had a son, divorced in 1924, but Naumburg continued her involvement in the artistic community. In the 1930s she began to develop art therapy programs for psychiatric patients. Naumburg believed that art gave emotionally ill people an opportunity to express themselves and reach into their unconscious; this in turn would give therapists a better idea of how to help them.
Naumburg continued her work with art therapy, writing several books on her theories. She remained active in the art therapy movement in New York until she moved to Massachusetts in 1975. She died at her home in Needham, Massachusetts, on February 26, 1983.
George A. Milite
Naumburg, Margaret. Child And the World: Dialogues in Modern Education. New York, Harcourt Brace, 1928.
Naumburg, Margaret. Schizophrenic Art: Its Meaning in Psychotherapy. New York, Grune & Stratton, 1950.