Dorothy Lillard


Dorothy Lillard began teaching in the Kansas City public schools at the age of 18. When she retired 50 years later, she had traveled the world, taught school in four countries, and become something of a Kansas City legend.

Lillard was born in Kansas City and grew up in the Westport area. At the time, the city and its schools were highly segregated, and she attended all-black Lincoln High School. She attended Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Missouri, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree. She later earned a Master’s degree in primary education from Columbia University in New York and did further graduate work at the University of California at Los Angeles, the University Southern California, and the East-West Center at the University of Hawaii.

Lillard began her teaching career in 1927. Her first assignment was with a first-grade class at the W. W. Yates Elementary School at 13th and Lydia streets. She quickly earned a reputation as an exacting instructor, a stickler for excellence, and a teacher who insisted that parents take responsibility for raising their children. As a result, she made a lifelong impression on generations of young Kansas Citians.

Lillard was also a pioneer in the field of education. She set up remedial-reading programs in the still-segregated Kansas City school district and became the district’s first reading consultant. She served for a time as head of the district’s Title 1 program and was principal of the Melcher School when she retired in 1978.

During her 87 years, Lillard traveled all over the world and taught school in three countries outside the United States. In 1954, she was recruited to teach reading at schools for the children of American military personnel stationed in France and Germany. In the mid-1960s, she taught at an elementary school in Worcester, England. While there, she taught her students to sing Negro spirituals; a choral concert they gave proved so popular it was recorded. Lillard was later invited by the Queen of England to lunch at the Lancaster House.


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