A Distinctive Voice and Vision: Ann Fabe Isaacs, NAGC Founder

Ann Robinson, Ph.D.

In the 1950s, from her home in Cincinnati, Ohio, Ann Fabe Isaacs drew up articles of incorporation for the National Association for Gifted Children. She was the parent of two daughters, Margery, and Susan, had recently moved into a new home with her husband Ted, and had established a nursery school that was largely attended by children from the neighborhood. Her energy exploded into a life balanced by action, advocacy, and curiosity.         

Ann felt passionately that not enough was being done to assist bright children, their families, and their teachers. She wanted to do more. She could write. She could organize. She could buttonhole prospective sympathizers and move them to act.

At Xavier University, she had been trained in counseling, guidance, and assessment and early on was sensitive to the psychosocial needs and development of young people. She preferred to refer to them as gifted, talented, and creative and wrote about them in her publications with all three descriptors simultaneously.

Ann was both audacious and accomplished. She founded not one but two national organizations—the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) founded in 1954, chartered in 1956 and incorporated in 1957 and the National Association for Creative Children and Adults (NACCA) in 1974. She established two official journals—the Gifted Child Quarterly (GCQ) (which began its existence as the Gifted Child Newsletter) and the Creative Child and Adult Quarterly (CCAQ). Ann wrote copiously for both of her scholarly journal offspring for a combined 30 years. As the charter President of NAGC, she organized the Association’s first national conference co-sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). In her bumpy transition in the 1970s from NAGC to NACCA, Ann maintained long-standing professional friendships with E. Paul Torrance and Stanley Krippner who served on the Board of NAGC and subsequently on the Editorial Board of CCAQ. All three were fascinated by creativity and its manifestations.

Ann’s own creative productivity was prodigious. A multi-talented individual who loved the arts, she composed music and painted. While juggling a job, a family, and an active life as the volunteer CEO of a national organization, she wrote, drew, painted, composed, and recorded musical performances. She was particularly fond of case study approaches and of interviews of accomplished adults and published both kinds of manuscripts in GCQ and CCAQ. In a scholarly examination of her life and work, researcher Karen B. Rogers studied in the Jacob Radar Marcus Center for the American Jewish Archives at Hebrew Union College where Ann’s papers reside and found a whopping inventory of editorials, articles, books, sketches, paintings, fabric arts, songs, and preludes for piano, violin, viola, cello, or flute (Rogers, 2014).

Ann’s powerful personality was a distinctive feature; those who knew her personally frequently offered comment on their experiences with her. In 2009, when Professor Abraham J. Tannenbaum received the Ann Fabe Isaacs Founder’s Memorial Award, he stepped to the podium at the national convention in St. Louis and remarked, “I knew Ann Isaacs. She was MEMORABLE.” Ever the diplomat, Dr. Tannenbaum confined his remembrances about her to those eloquently spoken words delivered with sonorous inflection. She made an impression. She left a legacy.

Her vision for NAGC was captured in five purposes from the 1957 articles of incorporation:

  1. Stimulation of interest and research in gifted education including guidance, developmental, remedial, and preventive instruction related to education and training
  2. Dissemination of scientific information regarding the gifted
  3. Analysis of the problems of the gifted and dissemination of information about good practices in all phases of working with them
  4. Provision of opportunities for classroom teachers to study about and improve methods of working with gifted learners
  5. Publish and report scientific and experimental investigations as well as practices that result in improved methods for working with the gifted (NAGC, 1957).

Elements of her vision find echoes in the current aims of the Association and the field of gifted education today. Ann was a parent and a professional comfortable with both research and practical concerns as the NAGC purposes she penned suggest. Her vision had staying power. Thirty years after she left NAGC and the year following her death in 2001, Ann’s family established a fund to support the Ann F. Isaacs Founder’s Memorial Award to be given to an individual who served NAGC with distinction. In 2002, the first award was presented to Dr. Mary Mack Frasier, Founder of the Torrance Center for Creative Studies and Past President of NAGC. Each year, the recognition of Ann Fabe Isaacs’ commitment to lifelong talent development is renewed.

Learn more about Ann Fabe Isaacs through her archives at:

National Association for Gifted Children (1957). Articles of Incorporation. NAGC Archives, Washington, DC.

Rogers, K. B. (2014). Ann Fabe Isaacs: She made our garden grow (1920-2001). In A Robinson and J.L. Jolly (Eds.)  A century of contributions to gifted education: Illuminating lives. (pp. 256-276). New York: Routledge.

Ann Robinson, Ph.D., is the Distinguished Professor and Founding Director of the Jodie Mahony Center for Gifted Education, University of Arkansas at Little Rock. Dr. Robinson is also a past NAGC President

The opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of NAGC