October 17th – A.S. Neill

“If the emotions are free the intellect will look after itself” 

A.S, Neill

On October 17th, 1883, educator and author Alexander Sutherland Neill was born in Scotland. 

He taught at multiple schools before attending the University of Edinburgh from 1908 to 1912, where he graduated with an MA degree.

His first book A Dominie’s Log (1915), is an autobiographical novel written about his time as a headmaster at Gretna Green Village School during WWI. 

Upon returning to England in 1924, he founded an international school, which would eventually become Summerhill School. Summerhill became known for its philosophy of self-regulation. Because of its unconventional teaching practices, it was moved a few times before finally selling in Leiston, Suffolk, in 1927. 

 At Summerhill, Neill created a community where children could be free from adult authority. The students were self-governing, and the curriculum was flexible, emphasizing the students’ interests and motivation to learn. This was very different from Neill’s own childhood and education, raised under a strict father and taught always to submit. 

The school gained renown in the 1930s, and then in the 1960s and 1970s because of progressive and counter-cultural movements. In 1960 Neill published Summerhill: A Radical Approach to Child Rearinga book about his school and educational philosophy. Although Neill was unknown in the US at the time of its publication, by the end of the decade Summerhill had sold millions of copies. 

Mr. Neill’s first wife, the former Ada Lindesay‐Neustadt ter, died in 1944, and the next year he married Ena May Wood. Ena’s son attended Summerhill, and when she was going to withdraw him for financial reasons Summerhill hired her as a cook. Neill and Ena had one daughter, Zoë. Upon Ena’s retirement in 1985, Zoe took over as headmistress of Summerhill.

AS Neil wrote 20 books. His other books include The Problem Child (1926), The Problem Family (1949), The Free Child (1953), and an autobiography, Neill! Neill! Orange Peel! (1972).

He died at the age of 89, on September 24th, 1973. 

Neill on his birthday, taken by his daughter Zoe

Lesson from Neill:

Stop trying to control everything. Follow your interests, don’t give in to shame or guilt, and you will become exactly who you were destined to become.

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