Dorothy Enderis

Dorothy Enderis

Known as “The Lady of the Lighted Schoolhouse,” in the early 20th century Dorothy Caroline Enderis developed leisure time recreation into an internationally recognized program that “demonstrated what a city can do to help its people live happy lives.”1 Dorothy believed that, “Blessed is he who is trained not only for work but for play, not only for labor but for leisure, who has stored within himself a wealth of simple skills and interests in games, handicraft, music, drama, literature, nature, contemplations, comradeship – all these upon which to draw for leisure-hour happiness.”2 Or, said more succinctly, “During working hours, we make a living. During leisure hours, we make a life.”3

Though Dorothy was born in Elmhurst, Illinois in 1880, by the time she was two years old they had moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where she lived the rest of her life. After high school she attended the Milwaukee Normal School, a two year school for training elementary school teachers. She augmented her teacher's degree with a summer course in library science and then began working in the Normal School Library in 1901.4 Eight years later Dorothy became a fourth grade teacher in the Fifth Ward, known as “The Bloody Fifth,” located in the inner city.

In 1912, the School Board created an Extension Department that was being established by Harold Berg. Dorothy was hired to assist him in setting up two afterschool centers.5 By the time she became director in 1920 they had 6 social centers and 14 playgrounds. Under her leadership, growth continued until in 1948 they had 32 indoor centers and 62 playgrounds.6

The playgrounds directed under Dorothy reflected her German heritage in that they were segregated as to gender both in design and operations. As such, Milwaukee was one of the last cities in America to keep boys and girls separate in play.7

Her German background also explained her philosophy of recreation work. She would use the word “leutselig” which literally meant “people is holy.” She taught that “the finest attribute with which you could credit a recreation worker is to say that he is leutselig, meaning that people are holy to him.”8 Later, in the Department's The Playleaders' Guide, Dorothy explained:

“A playleader who perfunctorily carries on activities and guards his playground against physical mishap has a job. He who adds skill and technique to these duties creates a profession, but he who crowns his profession with consecration and devotion performs a mission, and the children, youths, and adults who come to him for play and sport carry away deeper values and greater riches than the mere memory of a happy day, and the community which has entrusted to him the leisure hours of its citizenry shall call him blessed.”9

This philosophy was not only taught to her own staff of recreation workers and exemplified in her own life, but was also communicated to numerous National Recreation Association apprentices and future Association leaders. Dorothy's department, which had become the Municipal Recreation and Adult Education Department, trained more Association apprentices than any other city at that time.10 Though she wasn't an author, she was a popular lecturer at the National Recreation School and taught classes at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, Wisconsin.

Due in part to living her beliefs, Dorothy's department benefited from a small turnover rate, which brought crucial stability and continuity to their recreation program, which was simply known as “The Lighted School House,” since the schools were “lit” for evening recreation. Desiring to make a difference in their “health, knowledge, (and) happiness,” Milwaukee citizens were urged to come and “Play-Study-Create.”11 Classes were held on such topics as leather tooling, lip reading, knitting and crocheting, reed furniture weaving, metal work, and needlework. They also had sports and game activities, citizenship classes, debating clubs, English classes for immigrants, bands, singing clubs, drama productions, dancing classes, parent training classes, girl and boy scouts, and various social clubs, to name a sampling of their wide variety of activities. Additionally they offered lectures, recitals, motion pictures, ”rough house” rooms for men and boys, “drop in” rooms for teenagers, Saturday evening dances, library stations, and children's entertainment.

Dorothy also believed in furthering citizens' skills and included in the Lighted Schoolhouse program a more advanced School of Drama, advanced instruction in chess, and a city-wide competitive sports program.12 She also established, during the American Depression, a center for unemployed men that included a repair center for clothes and shoes and an orchestra – thus serving the needs of both the body and soul. In November of 1932, the National Recreation Association printed a one page feature on Milwaukee's recreation centers in their magazine, Recreation.13

Dorothy focused the most on the people as she structured the programs. She said,

“We must be concerned with what the boy does with the basketball, what the man who comes to join the orchestra does with the fiddle, what the woman does with the piece of cloth she brings to the sewing class, because we want to give them skills; we want them to learn something. We must be far more concerned, however, about what the ball does to the boy, what the fiddle does to the man, and what the four yards of cloth and the membership in the dressmaking class is doing to the mother.”14

Though technically her title was Assistant Superintendent of Schools, in actuality she directed only after school recreation and initially she was not allowed to use high school buildings for these programs. Even as she believed that people were more important than organizations and programs, Dorothy uniquely and effectively organized her department with all supervisors having dual responsibilities: each supervisor was over a section of the city and over a category of recreation being offered throughout the whole city.15 In this way the leader was able to understand the concerns of both regional management and program development.

Another reason for Dorothy's success over the 28 years of directing recreation in Milwaukee was the recreation tax levy that gave stable financial support for her department. During the Depression in the 1930s, she had to fight to keep that funding source from being diluted to other school needs, but not only did she keep the established funding, in 1938 she was successful in seeing the support increased through a referendum. Milwaukee had an “exceptionally” low delinquency rate and it was felt that their recreation programs were the main reason.16

For her accomplishments, Dorothy was one of the first people to receive the degree of Doctor of Recreation Service, given by Carroll College in Waukesha, Wisconsin. She also was awarded an honorary Master of Arts from Lawrence College in Appleton, Wisconsin who recognized her “profound sympathy, prophetic vision, administrative skill, and great wisdom.”17

Nationally, she served on the Civilian Advisory Board for the Women's Auxiliary Corps, the Committee on Social and Religious Activities for Servicemen, and the Committee for Leisure Time Services of the U.S. Children's Bureau.

Dorothy retired in 1948 and died four years later in 1952. She was inducted into the National Recreation and Park Association's Robert W. Crawford Recreation and Park Hall of Fame in October of 1989.18

  • 1. Butler, George D. Pioneers in Public Recreation. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Burgess Publishing Company, 1965. p. 145.
  • 2. Ibid., p. 142.
  • 3. Hartsoe, Charlie E., M Douglas Sanders, and Meredith Bridgers. Profiles in Leadership: Robert W. Crawford Recreation and Park Hall of Fame. Champaign, Illinois: Sagamore Publishing, 2009. p. 43.
  • 4. Op.cit., Hartsoe., p. 43.
  • 5. Op.cit., Hartsoe., pp. 43-44.
  • 6. Op.cit., Butler, p. 143.
  • 7. Op.cit., Butler., p. 144.
  • 8. Op.cit., Butler., p. 145.
  • 9. Op.cit., Butler., p. 146.
  • 10. Op.cit., Butler., p. 145.
  • 11. Op.cit., Hartsoe., p. 46.
  • 12. Op.cit., Butler., p. 143.
  • 13. Op.cit., Hartsoe., pp. 45-46.
  • 14. Op.cit., Butler., p. 146.
  • 15. Op.cit., Butler., p. 144.
  • 16. Op.cit., Butler., p. 145.
  • 17. Op.cit., Butler., pp. 146-147.
  • 18. Op.cit., Hartsoe., p. 43.