From 1927-1933, Barnard ran the Barnard Summer School for Women Workers in Industry. The school was modeled on the Bryn Mawr Summer School, the pioneering program started in 1921. Unlike the Bryn Mawr program, Barnard’s school was non-residential. Students travelled to campus every day and stayed from 9 AM to 9:30 PM, eating in the cafeteria, attending lecture, and participating in extracurricular activities such as tennis or musical instruction. The students felt that they could not be productive studying all day, so athletics played a large part in the daily routine. They wrote in their “Write-Ups on Athletics, “If you have never been to the gymnasium during the session of the Barnard Summer School you have missed one half of your life. And if you have never been on the tennis court then you are dead to what is most fun.” The Barnard program accepted around 50 students for their seven-week term, and they only needed to have attended school through the 6th grade . The students were 20-35 years old and were mostly immigrants, the majority being of Russian or Polish descent. They came primarily from the garment trade, but also from millinery, upholstery, electrical, and waitress trades. Their tuition was free, raised through contributions from donors.
Students took classes in three categories: Modern Industrial Society, English Literature and Composition, and Science. The program was not meant to help the women obtain promotions or better jobs, but to develop in the women, “an increased understanding of their own industrial problems.” The Calendar of Special Events for 1931 included activities like a dance given to the current students by the summer school alumnae, a visit to the I. Miller & Co. Shoe Factory in Long Island, and several lectures and tea hours at which labor issues were discussed. The hope was that the students would also come away with a better understanding of the world at large and would be encouraged to engage in studying and creative activities in their free time.
At the end of the summer, the students compiled their writings into “The Barnard Record.” The pieces were mainly personal essays and opinion pieces on industry and women’s roles. One student wrote an essay, “The Importance of Reading to Me” in 1931. She relates how a life-long interest in reading morphed from a passion for fairy tales, to religious pieces, to geography and stories about foreign lands. This last interest was labelled as for boys, not girls. She writes, “The resentment against the injustice arose in me. I started to think, and later…. I started my reading on feminism.” This type of energy and defiant attitude is typical of the tone of the summer students’ writing.
In 1931, in the wake of the Great Depression, the Barnard Summer School was able to accept only 34 students, despite increasing interest. The program closed in 1933. For the seven summers the school was in session, the program was an excellent example of a purely educational endeavor that in turn inspired its ideals in its students.
-Cleo Levin ’14, Archives Assistant