Meet Frances Campbell, A Pioneering Researcher In Early Childhood Education

May 11, 2015

In 1972, Frances Campbell was a mother of two, simply looking for a part-time job in Chapel Hill, when she stumbled upon what would be a groundbreaking study on early childhood education.

Researchers at UNC-Chapel Hill asked her to examine the benefits of early education on children from poor families. They called it the Abecedarian Project.

(Read a 1974 booklet that describes the project here.)

The cover of a 1974 booklet, describing the Abecedarian Project
Credit UNC-Chapel Hill

It would follow 100 babies of low-income families from infancy through age 5. One group would get full-time child care for five days a week. The control group would receiving free formula and diapers, but were not offered child care from UNC.

Campbell was skeptical. Her experience as an educator and clinical psychologist told her nature over nurture; it was genetics, not child care, that dominated our early development.

But she proved herself wrong.

Today, many scientists consider the Abecedarian Project one of the most significant advances in what we know about early intervention for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. 

An Abecedarian child
Credit UNC-Chapel Hill

Not only does it improve intelligence, but it leads to better health and socioeconomic outcomes more than 40 years later.

Host Frank Stasio meets Frances Campbell, senior scientist at the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute at UNC-Chapel Hill, and one of the original investigators of the Abecedarian Project.