Margaret McFarland: A Neighborhood Genius

Margaret McFarland was born near Pittsburgh in 1905. Her father died when she was 5 and her mother never remarried, and she had a lifelong regret for a lack of fathering growing up. Her mother however did provide inspiration for her future interests in child development.

She obtained a Ph.D. in childhood development from Columbia and began an academic career at Mount Holyoke. She came to realize that two things were critical in the development of a child: the role of women in the development of a child and the value of creative play.

She moved to the University of Pittsburgh where she developed a center to train physicians and other professionals in the proper development of children. She believed that children developed an attitude toward learning based on the energy and excitement of their teachers.

She became the supervisor of a seminary student who was taking a course in counseling. The student was part-time and was employed as a puppeteer on a local TV show. She encouraged him to appear on camera with his puppets so that children could distinguish between the fantasy world of puppets and the reality world of an adult. Her advice led to a new TV show and Margaret became a professional consultant.

On numerous occasions, she guided her former student in how to appear on camera. Although she was considered to be the most important influence on her former student’s life, she chose to never appear on the show.

When she was diagnosed with a bone marrow disorder and was receiving regular blood transfusions, she continued to meet her former student and advise him on show scripts and how he could relate to children.

When she died, her former students eulogized her and described her influence on them as their professional mothers. One tribute was especially touching. It was delivered by her former student, Fred Rogers of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.

Margaret McFarland was a true hero in how she mentored a young seminary student but never needed recognition for herself.

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“Nobody else can live the life you live.” – Mister Rogers

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