A Safe Haven For Nearly A Century
By Anne Levin | Photos courtesy of Princeton Nursery School
In a colorful classroom lined with child-size desks, bookshelves, and cozy nooks, nap time is coming to a close. Sleepy-eyed 3- and 4-year-olds are beginning to stir on their mats. As soft music plays in the background, their teacher sets out afternoon snacks of apple slices and peanut butter.
It is a ritual that has likely been repeated, at this preschool on Leigh Avenue, for nearly a century. Housed in two simple buildings converted into one, Princeton Nursery School has been a mainstay of the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood since 1929. It was founded by a wealthy Princeton resident, Margaret Matthews-Flinsch, to help working mothers who desperately needed a place for their preschool-aged children to go during the day. As the story goes, Flinsch was motivated to act when she discovered that her laundress was locking her child in the servants’ quarters while she worked.
Matthews-Flinsch persuaded her wealthy friends to contribute. The idea was not only to provide affordable child care, but to also give the children a preschool experience following the philosophy of Dr. Maria Montessori, encouraging development of the whole child.
From its inception, the school was integrated — unlike elsewhere in Princeton, where elementary schools remained segregated until 1948. That posed a challenge.
“The late John Matthews spoke of the difficulty his cousin Margaret experienced in obtaining funding for the school because of its integrated student body,” wrote Wendy Cotton, a former executive director of the school, in a letter to Town Topics newspaper in 2015. “Margaret’s parents, the Rev. and Mrs. Paul Matthews, and many of their friends provided financial support to the school.” more