Born in rural Pennsylvania at the turn of the Twentieth Century, Margaret McFarland was the youngest of three children. Her father’s passing, just five years later, would have a monumental impact on the trajectory of her life.
Years later, Ms. Mc Farland pursued an education in childhood psychology, earning degrees from Goucher College (1927), and both a Master’s (1928) and Ph. D. from Columbia University. For a woman to do so at the time, took will, determination and a fierce passion for the work that lay ahead.
At the start of her career, Margaret worked in early childhood education. Teaching in classrooms both abroad and stateside throughout the 1940s she then moved into upper education at the new decade begun. By 1951, she had become a professor at the University of Pittsburg. It was there that she first met the young Fred Rogers.
At the time, Fred Rogers was a puppeteer pursuing a divinity degree. He had a show for children on a local Pittsburg public television station and came to talk to Margaret about how to better connect with his audience. It was the start of a professional relationship that would last more than forty years. When he moved to WQED with his new show, Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood in 1968, Margaret became his Chief Consultant, meeting with him weekly to discuss the show’s content, music, and scripting. Fred took her advice so seriously he was said to have taken copious notes by hand, and by voice recording for later review during the editorial process. He is quoted as giving McFarland credit for the tremendous influence she had on him and the legacy of the show they built together.
Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood would leave a positive, lasting effect on the generations of children who tuned in to regularly watch the PBS program. Fred Rogers’ demeanor on the show, is evidence of the unique talent McFarland had to use story and art to connect with children and to make each one feel so very special and important.
After her passing in 1988, Fred Rogers honored his mentor by naming a character from the Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood spin-off show, Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, after her. Margaret McFarland remained unmarried throughout her life and chose not to have children of her own. Toward the end of her life, she developed a rare bone disease, though kept working until her death in 1988 at the age of 83.
photo courtesy: pittwire.pitt.edu