"We prepare students to engage in the world that is and to help bring about a world that ought to be."
Edes Powell Gilbert '49
“We haven’t given enough of our children the tools to pursue their dreams.” Edes Powell Gilbert ’49 has had a long and distinguished career in education, including serving as the Head of School of The Spence School for 15 years. She is a compassionate and visionary leader who has spent her career pursuing justice through educational opportunity. Edes now serves as a founder and board member of Hawthorn Leadership School for Girls in St. Louis, the only all girls’ charter school in the state of Missouri.
Much of Edes’ career has been focused on single sex education within independent schools, particularly girls’ schools. Her passion for educating young women as a means of correcting systemic inequalities is clear. “When more women have the opportunity to believe in themselves, it means they can speak up in class, they can expect to have equal voice and equal pay.” It was the same desire to correct systemic injustice that drives her current work at Hawthorn, a school which predominantly serves young women of color.” I got involved with Hawthorn because the whole issue of inequality in society and in St. Louis, where I now live, is predominantly a racial issue. I looked at public education and it wasn’t structured or focused on giving all children access to opportunity. We cannot permit our children to be defined by poverty. I wanted to take what I had learned over the years and in some way make a contribution to this terrible inequality.” Edes now draws upon her wealth of experience in education as a board member to help guide Hawthorn towards ambitious goals. “I want to see our first senior class graduate next spring and for every one of them to pursue something she cares about and feels proud of; that’s the near term. In the long term, I would love to see Hawthorn become a leader in education in St. Louis and in the midwest. Not because it’s a girls school, but because it’s a really good school. Building a community of learners and teachers that can lead public education in St. Louis is my biggest dream.”
The Quaker testimony of Community is tantamount to Edes current work as a board member at Hawthorn and a driver of her own personal ethos. “I’ve been reflecting on this profundity of the Quaker experience. It sank into my bones and into my psyche. You cannot take community for granted.” Edes cares deeply about improving educational outcomes for all students. She is adamant that an inclusive community and culture is a prerequisite to an empowering educational experience. For Edes, inclusivity requires work and thoughtful engagement. “I don’t think our communities have been truly inclusive just because we have a variety of people there. (At Hawthorn) we worked with one seventh grade girl who was homeless, and every afternoon she would go into the Principal’s office where she’d call her mother who would tell her where they were sleeping that night. She is a lovely girl and her passion was dance. We couldn’t afford a dance teacher at that point, but we could offer it as an activity. That spring, the students put on a dance recital and watching this child dance—the expression on her face—she added something to the culture of the school and to her own sense of self. We have figured out how to keep a dance teacher ever since.” In Edes’ view, community means nurturing and honoring the strengths, talents and passions of each individual. “Being able to help a child believe in herself builds her confidence and makes it possible for her to make things happen. None of us achieve alone, we achieve in community.”
Edes is an inspiring public servant who works with energy, determination and grace. She has dedicated her life to the education of children and to the eradication of injustice. Her philosophy can be summarized in the wisdom of her grandmother. “I had a terrific grandmother who used to mutter as she was sweeping and would say ‘if everyone would just take care of their own corner of the room, the middle of the room would just take care of itself.’ When I’m working with Hawthorn, it’s my little corner of the room.”