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This 1986 Rutgers University Ph.D. dissertation has been made available with the permission of the author.


The Bryn Mawr Summer School for Women Workers: 1921-1938, exemplified the progressive era's vision of social progress through education, cross-class cooperation, and gradualism. The women who conceived it, Bryn Mawr President M. Carey Thomas and her then-dean Hilda Worthington Smith, were products of their time, filled with enthusiasm for the liberal education offered at universities and colleges, particularly at women's colleges. Thomas and Smith, intent upon spreading women's influence in the area of social change, drew on the accomplishments of contemporary social feminist organizations, most notably, the National Women's Trade Union League, the National Consumers League, and the Young Women’s Christian Association. All were mixed class undertakings which wished to remedy the harsh results of industrialization and reduce inequities between rich and poor.

With Brookwood Labor College, also started in 1921, the Bryn Mawr Summer School launched the American workers education movement. Brookwood, sponsored by unionists and socialists, became the leading co-educational, year-round program for training labor activists. Bryn Mawr became the flagship humanistic program for women workers.

In a unique follow-up study conducted forty to sixty years after the experience on 3% of the students, this researcher documented the School's impact. An overwhelming proportion of the canvassed women stated that the School had had a considerable impact on their lives and had significantly contributed to enhance self-image and skill development. A survey of twenty-eight faculty members revealed that many became New Deal leaders of note.

In the Fall of 1938 the School ended when the novelty wore thin, the money ran out, and a legitimized labor movement made its work less necessary. As early as 1934-1935 a crisis over involvement with the Seabrook Farms Strike had slowed the operation's momentum. During its lifetime the utopian School linked the educated elite with workers, introduced experienced women reformers to the newly militant laboring classes and progressives to nascent New Dealers.

Rita Heller co-produced a National Endowment for the Humanities documentary film, on the same subject, also entitled "The Women of Summer," and released in 1985.

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The Women of Summer: The Bryn Mawr Summer School for Women Workers: 1921-1938