Elaine Margolis Wickens grew up in West Virginia. She received her B.A. in education from Sarah Lawrence in 1952 and her master’s from Columbia University Teachers College in 1957. After completing her degree, Wickens worked with special needs children at the Reece School for Emotionally Disturbed Children, in the Teachers College Mental Retardation Unit, and at the Child Development Center in New York, a therapeutic nursery school. In 1960, she became the first second grade teacher at the Bank Street School for Children.
Wickens’ avid interest in photography led to her role as the photographer for Bank Street College. She documented projects she worked on for Bank Street, both on campus and off, including her time as a consultant for the Head Start and Follow Through programs. In 1968, Wickens was appointed as a field representative to the Follow Through program in Tuskegee, Alabama and lived in Nashville until 1970. During her time in Tuskegee, Wickens began working on her first books of documentary photography on children from the area. Elaine also produced films and filmstrips that utilized photographs from her travels. In 1977, Wickens spent her sabbatical studying film production and photography in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She continued to travel between New York and New Mexico for many years.
Following her husband’s death in 1981, she became more devoted to social responsibility in the classroom. She played a pioneering role in research around the children of gay and lesbian parents in the classroom, which lead her to publish a children’s book and a number of academic articles and conference presentations on the subject with her colleagues from Bank Street. Uniting her interests in the arts and in education, Wickens last official role at the College was as Director of the joint program between Bank Street and Parsons School of Design. In 2001, Wickens retired from Bank Street after nearly forty years of service.
Elaine Wickens died in New Mexico on July 19, 2014.