Gertrude McCushing1891 - 1979
Playground Director and Physical Education Teacher.
On January 17th, 1891, Gertrude Katherine McCushing was born in Keene, the fifth daughter of Irish immigrant Patrick McCushing and his wife Annie Bowen. Gertrude’s father had moved to Keene, NH, by the 1870s and had established McCushing Grocers with his brother on High St. by the time she was born. As a child, Gertrude and her siblings often helped their father in the store when they weren’t in school. Unfortunately, her mother died in 1902 and her father only five years later. Orphaned at 16 years old, Gertrude and her siblings were left to care for each other and the family business.
Gertrude graduated from Keene High School in 1910 and began pursuing her career as a teacher. In 1912, she taught gymnastics and private dancing at the Ivy St. School in New Haven, Connecticut. She was also the Supervisor of South Worcester Playgrounds for some time. Gertrude later taught in an elementary school in Brooklyn, New York. She split her time between Brooklyn and Keene, staying with her siblings in their childhood home when in town.
At the start of the 20th century, it was common practice for children to play in streets and alleys, which occasionally led to accidents and injuries. Progressive reformers throughout the United States sought to establish public play spaces and youth programs to keep children safe. Many believed that playgrounds were the key to safer cities, lower crime rates, and a general increase in happiness.
The Playground Movement extended to the streets of Keene, NH, in the early 20th century. By 1917, the city had established multiple playgrounds and city programs to address these issues. Gertrude, as a playground movement reformer and a physical education teacher, worked as one of the playground directors and was paid about $125 a year for her work.
Many of the city programs separated girls from boys. Gertrude supervised dance lessons for the girls while the boys played in a baseball league. Other city programs included swimming lessons, story hours, and movie nights.
More and more parents encouraged their children to participate in these supervised and safe programming. In the month of August 1920 alone, an estimated 2,000 children played at the playground in Wheelock Park under Gertrude’s supervision. In her report, she noted that the children ranged in age from 3 to 16, with an increase in attendance from those under 7.
Gertrude continued to teach and to create positive educational experiences for children throughout the region. On May 17th, 1979, Gertrude Katherine McCushing died in Raleigh, North Carolina. She is buried in St. Joseph Cemetery in Keene, alongside her family.