Neva Leona Boyd was born in Sanborn, Iowa on February 25, 1876. After graduating high school she moved to Chicago where she began her 60 year professional life in education. During her high school career she realized that there were no social activities in her school. This led her to donate her time to show the values she thought were intrinsic in social group activities.
She enrolled at the National Louis University (at the time of her enrollment the institution was called the Chicago Kindergarten Institute). The university was one of the first teacher colleges in the US to offer a four year Bachelor of Education degree.
The university teamed up with Jane Addams, founder of the Hull House. The Hull House is a settlement house in Chicago that housed European immigrants most of whom were poor. They teamed up with the intent to make education available to these poor European immigrants at the Hull House. Neva, upon her acquaintance with Hull House developed her notion that the social education of young children could not be left to chance.
After she graduated, she moved to Dallas to teach a big kindergarten group from a low economic class for several years. In 1904 she taught kindergarten Buffalo, New York before returning to Chicago to attend University of Chicago in 1908. During her time at the University she volunteered in several settlement houses where she demonstrated her views and methods.
At the time, public recreation programs focused on exercise, sports and competitive games which she thought to be constricting and unproductive. She thought the goal should be social development, not physical exercise. In her programs she stressed the point of social games that improved the social relationships. Regarding her views she said “…The greed for power, the hatred and dishonesty which have become associated with competitive games are not an inherent part of them but have found their why in them through a false sense of values. Prizes separate people, pit them against each other, discourage the less able and set the more able apart.”
Around this time the playground and recreation movement had started as well as the founding of youth programs and social service organizations. The staff for this movement was mainly made up of volunteers within the communities who had no special training and the few of them who were paid workers still were not qualified enough because they were not skilled graduates of any customary training programs. They needed training so the organizations had their own seminars and on the job training courses.
The West Chicago Park Commission employed Neva Boyd as a social worker for Eckhart Park mainly to manage social clubs, direct dramatics, supervise social dances and play activities for groups of young children. Very soon she realized how much some sort of discipline towards training procedures was a necessity. Her colleagues working alongside her faced many adversities that were apparent from a lack of educational training on their part. Since she was a graduate of the Chicago Kindergarten Institute and had experience in early childhood education she applied this knowledge to her work mainly through play and game related activities. Encouraged by the lack of training she witnessed in her colleagues and wanting the raise the standards of playground workers she founded her own school with the intent of developing a formal education for people interested in working with groups. This action led to the addition of group play as a method of social work practice.
In 1909 she established the Chicago School for Playground Workers. Then from 1914-1920 the school ran under the Recreation Department of the Chicago School of Civics and Philanthropy.
The Recreation Training School, opened at Hull House in 1920, as the successor to the Recreation Department of the Chicago School of Civics and Philanthropy. Her institution taught a one year educational program in the form of group games, gymnastic, dancing, theatre arts, play theory and social problems. Most of her classes were held at the Hull House where Jane Addams served on the Board of Directors.
The Recreation Training School was the peak of Neva Boyd’s work to formalize an education approach to social development through group activities. The school closed seven years later mainly due to the fact that she was offered an invitation to give courses at the Northwestern University.
The program developed as she hoped it would, and she taught her courses in play theory, leadership, group organization, and other subjects until her retirement in 1941. Even after her retirement Neva Boyd persisted in the field of education she served as a consultant in hospitals, conducted many courses at universities, colleges and through touring and began the preparation of the papers on her work on play theory and leadership until her death on November 21, 1963.