Adolph Douai, educational reformer, abolitionist, newspaper editor, and labor leader, was born in Altenburg, Thuringia, on February 22, 1819, to Carl Eduard and Eleanora Douai. He attended elementary school and gymnasium in Altenburg and subsequently studied philology and history at the University of Leipzig. After receiving his doctorate in 1841 he embarked on an extended trip that eventually took him to Russia, where he worked as a private tutor. On September 26, 1843, in Königsberg, East Prussia, he married the baroness von Beust, with whom he eventually had ten children.
In 1846 Douai returned to Altenburg and founded an experimental private secondary school that emphasized the natural sciences and modern languages instead of the traditional classical curriculum. He participated in the uprisings of 1848 and wrote articles for various newspapers supporting revolutionary aims. For his role in the revolt Douai was arrested and eventually tried on five different occasions for high treason. Although acquitted of the more serious charges, he was convicted of several lesser offences and imprisoned for a year.
After his release he immigrated to America; he arrived in Texas in May 1852 and settled first in New Braunfels, where he founded a school. He moved the following year to San Antonio to serve as the editor of the newly founded San Antonio Zeitung. The Zeitung at first was educational and literary in tone, but within a short time Douai began to use it as a platform for abolitionist views. In a series of editorials he attacked the institution of slavery as an evil incompatible with democratic government and called for a nation of "free tillers of their own soil." Douai's protest elicited a storm of controversy and fueled the growth of the American (Know-Nothing) party in Texas. Sentiment against Douai and the newspaper reached such a pitch that members of the local German turnverein (see TURNVEREIN MOVEMENT) volunteered to protect his offices against proslavery mobs. After the Texas State Convention of Germans in 1854, however, Douai's support within the German community began to erode. Several German towns passed resolutions condemning the paper's abolitionism, and many local German merchants withdrew their advertisements. The stockholders of the Zeitung decided to sell the newspaper, which Douai, with the help of northern abolitionists including Frederick Law Olmsted, purchased. Despite repeated threats, he continued to agitate for abolition and in the February 9, 1855, issue of the Zeitung called for a separate free state in western Texas. But in 1856, as revenues declined and ill-feeling grew, Douai was forced to sell his interest in the paper to Gustav Schleicher and leave the state.
He moved his family to Boston, where he established a kindergarten in 1859, reputedly the first in the United States, under the auspices of a German workingmen's association that he had organized. But controversy still followed him. Because of his public avowal of atheism he again met with opposition and left Boston in 1860. He moved first to Hoboken, New Jersey, where he became the director of a local German school and served as editor of the New York Democrat. In 1866 he moved to New York, where he continued to pioneer the kindergarten movement. He founded several schools and wrote a kindergarten manual and other education textbooks. From 1868 to 1870 he worked as the editor of a labor journal, the New York Arbeiter-Union, and from 1878 until his death he was the editor of the Neu Yorker Volkszeitung. In addition to his work as teacher and journalist, Douai was also a gifted musician and wrote over sixty compositions. Late in his life he wrote his autobiography, in which he described his years in Texas. He died in Brooklyn, New York, on January 21, 1888, and his body was cremated. See also GERMAN ATTITUDE TOWARD THE CIVIL WAR.