Purpose – In Australia as elsewhere, kindergarten or pre-school teachers’ work has almost escaped historians’ attention. The purpose of this paper is to investigate the lives and work of approximately 60 women who graduated from the Adelaide Kindergarten Training College (KTC) between 1908 and 1917, which is during the leadership of its foundation principal, Lillian de Lissa. Design/methodology/approach – The paper is a feminist analysis and uses conventional archival sources. Findings – The KTC was a site of higher education that offered middle class women an intellectual as well as practical education, focusing on liberal arts, progressive pedagogies and social reform. More than half of the graduates initially worked as teachers, their destinations reflecting the fragmented field of early childhood education. Whether married or single, many remained connected with progressive education and social reform, exercising their pedagogical and administrative skills in their workplaces, homes and civic activities. In so doing, they were not only leaders of children but also makers of society. Originality/value – The paper highlights the links between the kindergarten movement and reforms in girls’ secondary and higher education, and repositions the KTC as site of intellectual education for women. In turn, KTC graduates committed to progressive education and social reform in the interwar years.