For Roses, Too

Leaving their Mark on History: The Legacy of the Summer School

    A majority of the initial scholarship on the Summer School came from its administration, with Hilda Worthington Smith writing extensively on her experiences with the School in her 1929 publication, Women Workers at the Bryn Mawr Summer School, which outlined day-to-day life on campus while meditating on the value of education for those that passed through Bryn Mawr’s many arches for a short few months. Other contemporary publications included the 1927 book of poetry The Workers Look at the Stars and several writings by professors on the best way to teach academic subjects to continuing education students, which were intended to be used by those starting their own continuing education programs. Bryn Mawr Summer School professors and administrators also attended multiple academic conferences focused on workers’ education both during and after the program’s time on campus, participating in a forum where the experiences of the Summer School could be used as teaching tools to other educators hoping to continue the School’s legacy. Ultimately, much of the Summer School's history has been included in Hilda Worthington Smith's 1978 autobiography, Opening Vistas in Worker's Education: An Autobiography of Hilda Worthington Smith. While accessible digitally today, Opening Vistas was not traditionally published, and thus was not heavily read for decades. Today however, this book is an invaluable resource for those studying both the Summer School and the worker's education movement as a whole, following Smith's journey with the School both on Bryn Mawr's campus and off, alongside her work in the American federal government through the Great Depression and beyond.

    One of the first comprehensive retrospectives of the Summer School’s time on Bryn Mawr’s campus was Patterns of workers' education: The story of the Bryn Mawr Summer School, published in 1941 by Dr. Florence Hemley Schneider as part of her doctoral research. Patterns of workers’ education sought to quantify the effect of students’ education at Bryn Mawr in returning to the workforce and their home communities. With a wide-reaching survey of Summer School alumnae, Schnider was able to provide quantitative data on their employment prospects, union involvement, and community engagement  after graduating the program. While at this time the School continued off-campus under the banner of the Hudson Shore Labor School, Schnider’s work was instrumental in solidifying and contextualizing the history of the Bryn Mawr Summer School with her efforts to substantiate the ephemeral sentiments of growth and progress that the program had represented.

    Also vital to the definition of the Summer School’s legacy is the work of Dr. Rita Rubinstein Heller, whose doctoral research helped to centralize and institutionalize narratives of the Summer School through an astounding collection of oral histories and documents. Working with interviews of former students, activists, and educators alike through the 1970s and 1980s, Heller’s work provides an essential retrospective of the program, cementing the program’s value to those that participated in it, even half a century on. In conjunction with Heller’s research, a reunion was held in 1984, inviting alumnae and teachers to return to Bryn Mawr’s campus for the three days of celebration in June. 

    Footage from the event was included in the 1985 award-winning documentary The Women of Summer, a collaboration between Heller and filmmaker Suzanne Bauman. The documentary put the history of the Summer School into the American public consciousness, and helped to tie a lineage between contemporary workplace progress to the struggles and progress embarked upon by the participants in the Summer School. 

    Ultimately, the scholarship on the Bryn Mawr Summer School reminds us again and again that the program does not exist solely as a historical event; ripples of its presence still echo through both Bryn Mawr’s immediate community and American society at large. The School’s legacy is one that encouraged progress and constant interrogation of how to be better, how we can empower and embolden those that are disenfranchised in ways that had otherwise been unexplored among out communities. 


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