A national university
On December 1, 1918, Alma Mater Tartuensis was transferred from German rule to representatives of the Estonian Provisional Government. Peeter Põld was appointed curator and interim rector of the university until 1920 and had the task of reorganising the former Tsarist study and research institution into a national university. The work was halted when Bolsheviks seized the town. Peeter Põld joined the army and went to the front as a private in the Schoolteachers Regiment, but he was soon invited back.
A postcard of Tartu University. Private collection
In March 1919 a commission was set up to reopen Tartu University under the leadership of Peeter Põld. The aims of the university were described as follows:
● To develop the general sciences as well as those related to Estonia;
● To provide young people with a superior research-based education and to promote the study of the sciences among the people;
● To train specialists in the particular subjects needed in Estonia.
They planned to open the university in the spring, but the ongoing war made this impossible. The official admission of students started on September 29, the first lectures were given on October 6 and the opening ceremonies took place on December 1, 1919. Peeter Põld remarked in his opening speech:
A university is similar to a thought, an ideal aspiring to be implemented, it is a task. We cannot borrow it from abroad or copy it from earlier times; it has to emerge as an Estonian University – an original, spiritual creation of the Estonian people, an institution and organisation of a unique kind. This sentiment and understanding has dictated all the activities devoted to organising our university so far...
P. Põld. Speech at the opening ceremony of Tartu University – Republic of Estonia – December 1, 1919. In: P. Põld. Selected works, Volume II, Tartu 1993, p. 12.
A summer course for teachers at Tartu University in the summer of 1920. Estonian Museum of Literature
Peeter Põld was the curator of Tartu University from 1918 to 1925. He was also the representative of the Estonian Provisional Government. The University Law bill was written under his direction and adopted by Parliament (Riigikogu) in 1925.
In 1920 the first independent Chair of Education was established at Tartu University and Peeter Põld was appointed to it. His mandate was to make pedagogy a specialised subject and to start training secondary school teachers at the university.
In September 1922 a special and autonomous department called the Didactical-Methodological Seminar was opened at the university, and Prof. Põld was appointed its dean. In his opinion, theoretical training in education had to include:
● Courses in general education (pedagogy) and didactics, the history of education, experimental educational research and psychology;
● Lectures on the various aspects of child rearing and behaviour, theory of curriculum and the organisation and management of schools;
● Practical training in education – observation of lessons and teaching practice lessons.
Didactical-Methodological Seminar lecturers at Tartu University, 1925-26. Peeter Põld is in the centre of the first row.
Estonian Museum of Literature
Peeter Põld lectured on the history of education, the history of Estonian schools, which was his main topic of research, the pedagogical sciences and general didactics.
His outstanding achievements in establishing and developing the national university were recognised when he became the first Estonian to be awarded an honorary doctorate of philosophy – Dr. Phil. Honoris Causa – in 1927.
On April 30, 1930 he established the Academic Society of Education at Tartu University. It was his last contribution to the development of Estonian education.
Peeter Põld’s greatest works were published posthumously, based on his manuscripts: “General Studies in Education” (Tartu , 1932, edited by J. Tork), and “The History of Estonian Schools” (Tartu, 1933, edited by H. Kruus).
Photo: A commemorative medal of Johan Skytte and Peeter Põld issued
for the 300th anniversary of Tartu University (1932). Private collection