MarionVan Campen, circa 1930sMarion K. Van Campen, EdD, Professor Emerita of Elementary Education, taught at Kent State from 1938 to 1961. Known nationally for her work, she was the first chair of the Department of Elementary Education.

Van Campen was born in Laramie, Wyoming. She attended elementary and secondary schools in Alabama, Canada and North Carolina. She received a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Tennessee in 1911, a Bachelor of Philosophy from the University of Chicago in 1912, and a Master of Arts (1935) and Doctor of Education (1938) from Columbia University. 

Her career began as a kindergarten teacher in the Summer School of the South at Knoxville, Tennessee. Her salary was $350 a year. “Money is not the most important part of teaching," she said in an Aug. 27, 1961 article in the Plain Dealer upon her retirement. “When I was young it was perhaps more difficult to realize. But the real joy of teaching is in watching the growth of your pupils and students.”

At Chicago, she studied the works of the father of progressive education, John Dewey. Although she acknowledged that some progressives went too far in applying his ideas, she thought they were sound: “We determine the child’s needs and society’s needs and try to combine the two, accelerating studies for the bright and trimming the curricula for the middle and slower learners.” 

Apparently, Dewey’s approach worked for her, as she said she never had to discipline a child. “I found that children became restless if they worked too long at one task or the task was too hard,” she said. “The teacher must be alert to capture their interest. I do not say that physical discipline should not be used. I just never had to.”

She taught at a Settlement House in Knoxville, Tennessee, the University of Pittsburgh’s Demonstration School and at private schools in Boston and Philadelphia. Her experience included public-school supervision in Pennsylvania, statewide supervision and extension work, and teaching summer sessions at the University of Tennessee and the University of Pennsylvania. She came to Kent State as an assistant professor in 1938, having previously taught there during summer sessions. 

“The real joy of teaching is in watching the growth of your pupils and students.”

In 1946, when Van Campen was promoted to a full professorship and named head of the Department of Elementary Education (a position that had been vacant for a number of years) there was only one faculty member and fewer than 100 students. By the time she retired in 1961, the department had 15 faculty members and 1,500 students. 

During Van Campen’s tenure, the “Space Race” between the United States and the Soviet Union accelerated with the launch of the Soviet satellite Sputnik 1 on Oct. 1, 1957. Americans were shocked that the Soviet Union was able to achieve this milestone first—and called for an increased emphasis on sciences and mathematics in education. 

Van Campen disagreed. “I feel American education must swing back to the humanities and arts instead of concentrating on sciences and mathematics,” she said in 1961. “The Russians forced us to do that because some of our leaders got scared. We should always be prepared to re-evaluate our program, but I think we went too far as a defensive attitude. We should be able to express to the world the depth of our educational feeling instead of copying some other system because it appears to be accomplishing more.” She said there was no way to compare the Russian and American systems because “they concentrate on their brightest pupils whereas we try to teach all.”

Working with individual international students and with US Department of Health, Education and Welfare-sponsored groups, she extended the influence of the elementary education faculty beyond Ohio into the international field. 

She was also active in community recreation work and youth organizations. During World War II she helped in several Portage County Youth Commission Recreation workshops for young children and averaged at least one talk each week to local groups on recreation and elementary education. She was listed in Who’s Who in American Women in 1959. 

At her retirement in 1961, she was granted emerita status. Van Campen, who lived at 545 Rellim Drive in Kent, continued to teach at Kent State as a visiting professor until 1967.  But she also devoted more time to her hobby of pen and ink drawings, an avocation she previously had practiced only at Christmastime.

Van Campen died on April 28, 1980, and her memorial service was held on May 13 in the chapel at the United Methodist Church in Kent.

Corrections: The print edition incorrectly listed the year of her Bachelor of Philosophy from the University of Chicago as 1935 instead of 1912, and omitted her Master of Arts  from Columbia in 1935. Also, we are unable to confirm that she studied under John Dewey at the University of Chicago in 1912, since he had left there for Columbia University, where he taught from 1905 to 1930. However, she had studied and applied his ideas. Those corrections have been made in this digital edition.

Van Campen Hall was dedicated to Marion Van Campen in 1969. It was a part of 11 two-story residence halls comprising the small-group housing complexes, which also included Altmann, Apple, Heer, Harbourt, Humphrey, Metcalf, McSweeney, Munzenmayer, Musselman, and Stewart. These dorms were designed to assist first-year students with their transition to campus life. 

At various times, the 60-bed dorm building was home to the International Village Experience Living-Learning Community and the Rho Kappa Chapter of Phi Mu. In recent years, Van Campen Hall has housed the Office of Global Education. It is currently being used as on-campus quarantine housing during the COVID-19 pandemic. 


  • The Chestnut Burr, 1946, 1947 
  • The Kent Stater, 15 January 1937
  • The Kent Stater, 1 November 1938
  • The Kent Stater, 30 April 1946
  • The Kent Stater, 26 July 1946
  • The Kent Stater, 8 November 1946
  • The Kent Stater Summer Bulletin, 9 July 1954
  • Daily Kent Stater, 21 January 1959
  • Cleveland Plain Dealer, Aug. 27, 1961, “KSU Professor at End of 49 Years in Class.”
  • KentWired, Nov. 29, 2015, “Phi Mu will make a home in Van Campen Hall.”

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