Pestalozzi Froebel Teachers’ College / Columbia College of Expression
1929 - 1936
Bertha Hofer was born December 14, 1862 in Claremont, Iowa to Andreas Franz and Marie (Ruef) Hofer. She spent her childhood there and also in McGregor, Iowa where her father and two brothers became owners and publishers of the McGregor News. When she was twelve she went to Jersey City, New Jersey, where she lived with an aunt and with whom she traveled through Europe, returning to McGregor, Iowa a few years later.
She was educated at the National Kindergarten and Elementary College in Chicago and graduated in 1890, then did further gradate studies at the Pestalozzi Froebel Haus, Berlin in 1895, where she studied under the tutelage of a niece of Froebel, the father of the kindergarten movement. From 1897 until 1898 she studied at the University of Chicago and from 1920 to 1921 she studied at Columbia University, New York.
She taught at the Alcott School in Lake Forest, IL from 1890-94, and started the first kindergarten at the Chicago Commons Social Settlement where she served as the kindergarten's first director from 1895-1904. Out of that grew the present Pestalozzi-Froebel Teachers’ college of Chicago, which she founded in 1896 and served as president until 1936.
In 1896 she married the Reverend Herman Frederick Hegner, a Congregational minister, and in addition to her duties at the school, assisted him in his ministerial work for five years at Bethany Congregational Church in Chicago and for four years in the Congregational Church at Harvey, Illinois. Rev. Hegner then left the church to join his wife in developing the kindergarten college. He retired in 1931.
In 1927, the Pestalozzi Froebel Teachers’ College acquired the Columbia College of Expression which suffered financial setbacks after the death of its founder, Mary Blood that same year. The PFTC and Columbia College operated as separate schools but shared the same faculty, staff, and resources until Columbia College became its own institution in 1944. She served as president of Columbia College until 1936 when she retired.
She was a member of the International Kindergarten Union, the Illinois State Kindergarten-Primary Association., the Central Country Childhood Education, and Delta Phi Upsilon. She also was author of the monograph, “Home Activities in the Kindergarten,” for U.S. Bureau of Education.
She retired from active teaching in 1929 due to illness and she and her husband moved to California in 1931 for her health. In the spring of 1936, she was made president emeritus of the institutions and her son, Herman Hofer Hegner, became president.
The couple returned to Chicago around November 1, 1937 to fulfill her wish to live out her days in the Midwest. She died November 14, 1937 at her Chicago residence.