#WCW Zonia Baber, 1862-1956
Zonia not only transformed the way that geography and geology were taught, but believed that an understanding of geography could unite the world.
After studying to be a teacher, she became head of the Geography Department from 1890-1899 for Cook County Normal School (now Chicago State University). She founded the Chicago Geographic Society in 1898 which was unique in that it was open to the public and gave priority to women speakers. From 1901-1921, she was principal of the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools and head of geography and geology in the Department of Education at the University of Chicago.
Her teaching methods encouraged field work and first-hand observations which was radically different than the traditional memorization of facts from established books.While she did not disparage the use of books, she is quoted as having said “[t]he measure of progress in teaching geography is nowhere more strongly marked than in the use of fieldwork.” In 1896 she even designed a better desk for geography students that would allow for trays and compartments for learning supplies and samples.
She was involved in a myriad of important causes. As an early environmentalist, she was a strong advocate for the creation of the Indiana Sand Dunes National Park. She promoted Civil Rights as chair of the Race Relations Committee of the Chicago Women’s Club and was on the executive committee of the NAACP in Chicago. In 1926 she assisted the territory of Puerto Rico in granting women’s suffrage. She was chairwoman of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) and created a committee to replace outdated phrases that perpetuated negative cultural stereotypes in textbooks. She also created a plan to install over 40 monuments to peace throughout the world.
In her book The Scope of Geography, she wrote that the study of geography “leads to the development of a fraternal attitude toward all peoples—a world of sympathy—which is one of the highest aims of our teaching.”