Centennial History

A Century of Educational Excellence: Protecting the Wonder of Childhood

For over a century, Baker Demonstration School has been a nationally-recognized pioneer in exemplary progressive education.  

Founded in 1918, Baker was established to provide a high-quality, innovative education for children in preschool through 8th grade.  For our first 87 years, Baker was the lab school for the teaching college at National Louis University (NLU).  

Elizabeth Harrison, the founder of NLU, was inspired by the progressive education pedagogical movement and sought to infuse progressive practices into the school culture and curriculum.  She believed that children should be treated as individuals and were capable of shaping their own learning. She believed in creating a school that would cultivate a lifelong love of learning.   And above all, she believed that the quality and depth of learning would be profoundly enhanced through the accumulation of hands-on experience.  

Clara Belle Baker, an educator and protégé of Ms. Harrison, became the first school director and remained in that role for the school’s first thirty-four years.  

In 2005, Baker Demonstration School became an independent school, still retaining an academic relationship with NLU.  The summer of 2006 heralded the purchase of the NLU Evanston campus from the university, allowing Baker to remain in the location it has called home since 1926, while simultaneously upgrading its facilities to better serve students.  


“As we reflect back on our centennial, it is important to remember that from its inception, Baker has protected the wonder of childhood,” said Head of School, Carly Andrews. “The women who founded our School worked tirelessly to enact legislative reform to extend childhood—and free children from harmful work environments during an era of child labor. We are proud of our history and continue to carry on that work by striving to protect the freedom of childhood, the wonder of childhood, and the exploration of childhood.”

Baker’s first kindergarten class


Baker students learning by doing circa 1920s

Baker Kindergarteners explore in the woods as part of there weekly off-site explorations – Wandering Wednesdays – to study the local ecosystem. Learning by doing circa 2019.