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Onica Prall

The only building on the Hood College campus named for a faculty member is the Onica Prall Child Development Laboratory. Laura Onica Prall was born on February 24, 1905, in Chamberlain, South Dakota. Miss Prall was the second daughter of Thaddeus M. Prall, an insurance adjuster, and his wife Laura Prall.

Educated in the public schools of Emmitsburg, Iowa, she graduated from Iowa State University with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in home economics and did further graduate work at Cornell University, Columbia University and the University of Chicago. She came to Hood from Iowa State University in 1929, and taught at the College for 40 years, retiring in 1969.

As a member of the home economics department at Hood, Miss Prall managed Strawn Cottage, then known as the home management house, and initiated a child development program for the home economics curriculum. It was Miss Prall who developed the program where orphans from the Frederick County Aid Society, known by Hood students as “Strawn babies,” were cared for by students living in the home management facility. This experience was designed to permit students to observe the physical, mental and social development of a child, and at the same time provide practical experiences in child care.

During her tenure at Hood, the child development program grew to be one of the best-known and well-respected programs in the country. Miss Prall was considered an expert on child development and served as a consultant to many organizations, including television’s “Romper Room” and the Greek Ministry of Higher Education. She also established Hood’s connection with the Merrill-Palmer Institute in Detroit, Michigan.

Energetic and resourceful, Miss Prall was a pioneer in child development. In addition to her work establishing the laboratory school at Hood College, she also organized the Child Life Program at Johns Hopkins University Hospital in Baltimore in 1943. Designed to alleviate trauma and ease the hospital stays of young children, the program was revolutionary at the time. It is still in existence today and is one of the most-respected child development programs in a health care facility in the United States.

During 1944 to 1946, as part of the war relief effort, Miss Prall worked for the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, setting up child feeding programs for Greek refugees, first in Palestine and later in Greece. These programs fed more than 1,000 children a day. After the war she was offered a Fullbright Fellowship by the Greek Ministry of Higher Education and spent a year in Greece developing a home economics education program at the college level for the Greek government.

At Hood she served on many committees, including curriculum and code, the advisory council to the president, and the trustee committee.

Active in community and professional organizations, Miss Prall served on fundraising committees for the local YMCA, the Salvation Army, and the Frederick Memorial Hospital. She was a member of the National Association for the Education of Young Children, the American Association of University Professors, the American Association of University Women, and the American Home Economics Association. She is a past president of the Maryland Home Economics Association and a former president and member of the Zonta Club. Miss Prall is also a member of Omicron Nu and Delta Kappa Gamma.

The Onica Prall Child Development Laboratory is located on the west end of the campus in a brick building formerly known as West View Cottage. Built in 1921 by the College’s workmen, it was a residence for the vice president, Charles Wehler. The building was renovated as a child development laboratory school after Miss Prall’s arrival at Hood and was further renovated in 1966. Miss Prall’s life was devoted to improving the quality of early childhood education and in 1971 the building was named in honor of her pioneering work.

According to Susan Bertram ’78, director of the school and assistant professor of education, “The school has contributed significantly to the quality of the early childhood education teacher preparation program by providing an ideal setting for the first student teaching experience. Not every college or university can boast that it has a laboratory school; due to financial retrenchment, many lost their laboratory schools. Today there are approximately 100 lab schools in the nation.”

Miss Prall’s vision still guides the lab school: the curriculum is centered on the social, cognitive and physical development of the preschool child. Director Marisel Torres-Crespo with Clinical Instructors Debra Smith and Debra Hanley are responsible for classroom worlds in which children’s experimentation with blocks and computer software coexist. Classroom observation of the three-and-four-year old children provides an introduction for sophomore-level students and student teaching provides practice for junior-level students. The school also serves as a resource for advanced students in education and other disciplines.

“No wonder that when the children are asked what school they attend they like to brag, ‘I go to Hood College!’” said Dr. Bertram.