Miss Frances by
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(13 Stories)

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In this season of graduations and reunions, I find myself musing over what kismet brings any of us to a specific campus and class. Such a fateful, shared experience!. To be sure, some of us shared a college class. Before that, fewer of us attended the same secondary and/or elementary schools. But before even that, the greatest number of us went separately (but together) to Ding Dong School.

Broadcast out of Chicago, the popular children’s show aired in 35 U.S.metropolitan markets. In many ways we, its viewers, were participants in the first children’s remote learning experiment.

Students of “Miss Frances” will never forget her. Every day it was the same routine: settle in before the TV and listen for the show’s signature opening: the ding-dong of a school bell. Yup, Miss Frances was the bomb. If you watch clips of her show now (available on YouTube), you will see the unmistakeable imprint of Ding Dong School on PBS’s Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood twenty years later.

For one-half hour each day, our mothers and caregivers enjoyed a welcome respite—to have a quiet moment, finish housework, solve quadratic equations — who knows? I was perfectly happy to be at home. My siblings were in elementary school. Thanks to Miss Frances, it never occurred to me I wasn’t in school too.

Perhaps you were like me. My attendance at Ding Dong School was exemplary. Nothing could keep me from “class” save a firm order to return my cold and myself to bed.

One day my brothers brought home their report cards. What were report cards? Indignant at the attention they were getting, I demanded to know: Where was my report card from Ding Dong School? Our mother pondered the question. She concluded I had a point.

The next day, as the show was ending, the telephone rang. Unbeknownst to me, my mother had arranged for a neighbor to ring us at that very moment. Suddenly I heard Mom speaking, unusually loudly, in the hall. Something clearly was up. I eavesdropped from my perch nearby.

“Hello, Miss Frances! “ she shouted. “Are you calling about Susie? Susie is doing well at Ding Dong School? How wonderful! Thank you for calling!” That did the trick. A preschooler’s heart took wing.

Frances Rappaport Horwich, Ed.D., was a pioneering, highly credentialed educator. She refused to agree to the network’s demand that she extend her hit show to one hour. She believed this would be “too much” for children. Dr. Horwich also abhorred the violence of the new TV westerns. Perhaps ironically, but surely presciently,she felt that children watched too much television. Following a lifetime dedicated to early childhood development and education, Frances Horwich died, age 94, in 2001.

Does any of this ring a bell? (Sorry!) Looking back, is it possible that Ding Dong School seeded in us a love of learning? Did Frances Horwich start us on our path? This may be a stretch—or maybe not. In either case, fellow Ding Dong School alumni, let us take a moment to remember, and salute, the extraordinary contributions of our dear Miss Frances. 

Long before Mr. Rogers, there was Ding Dong School.
Profile photo of Susan Bennet Susan Bennet
I'm so happy to have joined the gracious Retro family. The basics:
I have a background in marketing and museums.
I come alive when the leaves turn red.
I regret every tech mistake I have made or will ever make on this site.
I want a dog.



Characterizations: been there, right on!, well written

Comments

  1. Suzy says:

    Welcome to Retrospect, Susan! I love this story! In my own story on this prompt, I said this: “Ding Dong School with Miss Frances was on from 1952-56, which for me is age 1-5. I remember that she rang a bell at the beginning, and that’s about it.” Reading your story makes me wish I could remember more. Thanks for taking me back!

  2. Betsy Pfau says:

    I’m from Detroit and I’m an alumnus. Your description is a vivid reminder of wonderful children’s programming. It’s clear you were a voracious student.

  3. Laurie Levy says:

    Welcome to Retrospect! Do I ever remember Miss Frances and Ding Dong School. It was my youngest brother who watched it faithfully every day as my middle brother and I were in “regular” school. No one in my neighborhood went to actual preschool, so I know this show was very important to our baby brother, although we did tease him about it a bit.

  4. Marian says:

    This absolutely rings a bell, Susan. I can’t believe I remember Miss Frances so clearly, although a year or so later in my childhood she would be eclipsed by Romper Room. Her history is fascinating. As the oldest child, I didn’t have to worry about report cards, but your recounting warmed my heart and made me smile. Perhaps Miss Frances did set me on the learning path.

  5. Thanx Susan for your sweet tribute to Miss Frances and Mr Rogers who followed her

    I know of Ding Dong School of course, but don’t think I ever watched it, perhaps because my folks were the last one’s on the block to get a TV – literally as I remember going to a neighbor’s house every afternoon to watch Howdy Doody!

    For the past Retro prompt What Are You Bingeing? I wrote about Marie Winn’s 1970s book The Plug-In Drug decrying the kind of violent and mindless children’s TV programming that was so prevalent then. Perhaps you know that book.

    And welcome again to Retro Susan, looking forward to more of your stories!

  6. John Shutkin says:

    Welcome to Retro, Susan, and just a lovely story! You’ll be hapy to know that I knew and loved Ding Dong School myself. OK, Miss Frances was a wee bit frumpy, even to a little kid, but she was both kind and interesting. And my parents (rightly) recognized the show as “not junk” and encouraged to watch.

    Years later, when I became involved with the Bank Street School of Education in New York, I would hear the progressive educators there sing Ding Dong School’s praises as one of the true forerunners of Sesame Street and other such programs that did not talk down to children. And, like you, they also stressed what a gifted and principled educator Miss Frances was.

    Incidentally, I trust you also know the old joke among us Boomers when asked what educational degrees we have. The answer is “D.D.S.” and, if further inquired of, one should explain it stands for “Ding Dong School.”

    • Susan Bennet says:

      John, how perfect — I will have to add the D.D.S. to my “resume”. But will people think I’m a dentist? I’m of the opinion that there are too many animated children’s programs now. I learned so much from real adults, even
      the likes of Roy and Dale!

  7. Khati Hendry says:

    Thanks for this–I laughed out loud at your mother getting your report card from Miss Frances! I remember Ding Dong School, but was never quite the diligent student you were. Maybe we just got a TV in our house too late for that, and I was already attending the real deal. Happy memories and shout out to Miss F.

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