Barnard Summer School for Women Workers in Industry 1927-1933

Industrial Summer School, c. 1928

From 1927-1933, Barnard ran the Summer School for Women Workers in Industry. Barnard modeled its summer school on Bryn Mawr’s pioneering program, started in 1921. Barnard’s school was, however, non-residential, and students travelled to campus every day. They 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 their daily routine. They commented 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 the women 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.

BC13-06_Industrial Summer SchoolC1928
The students in the lab, c. 1928

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 for 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 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. Her family labelled this last interest as for boys, not girls. She responds in her essay, “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 determination 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. Yet, for the seven summers the school was in session, the program was an excellent example of education for education’s sake, and the work produced by the students remains impactful and inspiring.


-Cleo Levin ’14, Archives Assistant