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William J. Fowler was born on March 28, 1921 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. His university education was undertaken at Dartmouth College following service as Lieutenant Commander in the US Navy in World War II. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1946. His Master of Arts degree was awarded from Harvard University in clinical psychology and social relations. He continued his doctoral studies at the University of Chicago in the Committee on Human Development department where he received his Ph.D. in 1959.
During his academic studies at the University of Chicago, he studied under Dr. Helen Koch (1895-1977), a pioneer in the study of child development and a former director of the University of Chicago Nursery School. His thesis, “Teaching a two-year-old to read: an experiment in early childhood learning” was based on his study of his own two year old daughter, Velia. His thesis was one of his first publications, appearing in Genetic Psychology Monographs in 1962. Following his doctorate he was awarded a postdoctoral research fellowship from NIMH for studies at the Institute of Human Development University of California at Berkeley. Throughout this period in the mid 1950s, Dr. Fowler was employed in various capacities as teaching assistant (University of California, Berkeley), Instructor (University of Chicago) and Director and Head Teacher at the Telegraph Hill Coop Nursery School in San Francisco (1956-1959). Following a year as Instructor in the departments of Pediatrics and Psychology at Yale University, Dr. Fowler returned in 1963 to the University of Chicago as Assistant Professor, Education and Human Development and Principal, University of Chicago Laboratory Nursery School, one of three laboratory schools at the University.
During 1966-1967 Dr. Fowler was an Associate Professor in Educational Psychology and Guidance at Yeshiva University, New York. In 1967, Dr. Fowler was appointed as Associate Professor in the Department of Applied Psychology at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) in Toronto. As the graduate school for education, OISE was affiliated with the University of Toronto. While at OISE Dr. Fowler led a major joint project between OISE and the Canadian Mothercraft Society (CMS). Two years earlier CMS had opened one of the first infant child care centres, becoming a leader in infant care and education. It continues to operate today, offering diploma courses in early childhood education. This two year project (1968-1970) involved the development of a model infant day care centre for disadvantaged children from four months to two and one half years of age. As a result of this work by Dr. Fowler and his research staff, Mothercraft produced a new curriculum for Early Childhood Education.
Among his teaching responsibilities, Dr. Fowler supervised numerous doctoral candidates, some of whom became co-authors of studies published in the 1970s and 1980s. In addition, Dr. Fowler taught a number of courses relating to child studies including Child and Adolescent Psychology. He was promoted to professor in 1975. Dr. Fowler resigned his position at OISE in 1980 to devote more time for his writing and scholarly work.
Following his departure from OISE at the age of 60, Dr. Fowler returned to the United States to become a research associate with Harvard University (1979-1981), and then became Visiting Research Scientist and Lecturer in the Department of Child Study at Tufts University, Medford, Mass. (1981-1986).
It was during the mid 1980s that Dr. Fowler established his own not-for-profit company, Center for Early Learning and Child Care, Inc. Incorporated in 1985, its purpose was to conduct and disseminate research and information about early childhood education. One of the main products he produced was Talking from infancy, a video and book geared to parents and caregivers published in the early 1990s. Like his thesis produced some 40 years before, his granddaughter, Neva, was a main subject of research.
During his long career, Dr. Fowler was a prolific author in the area of early childhood education publishing more than 40 articles and seven books. In addition he produced numerous unpublished papers for conferences, workshops and presentations. His obituary summarized his contribution in the area of early childhood development which “showed that all children, both the gifted and the disadvantaged, could achieve substantial gains through consistent early enrichment. Today these ideas have been widely accepted and applied.”.
Dr. Fowler died in Cambridge, MA on December 1, 2003, leaving his wife, Neva and four daughters.