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November 18, 2011

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Helen French Greene (1868-1952), who wrote the following for the Smith Alumnae Quarterly in 1928, was raised in Lowell, Massachusetts, where her father was minister of the Eliot Union Church. In 1870, the Rev. John Morton Greene influenced a wealthy widow, Sophia Smith, to endow a women’s college to be named in her honor. After graduating from Smith College in 1891 and earning a master’s degree there in 1901, she ran a settlement house in New York City and helped organize the Manhattan Trade School for Girls, where she subsequently worked as its social secretary. Her higher education career began as dean of the State Normal School in Plymouth, NH. She would spend ten years at Antioch College in a variety of administrative and academic roles, most importantly in cooperative education securing jobs for Antioch College women. Her contributions to the College are honored with a residence unit named for her in North Hall, traditionally a women’s dormitory.

Her article is highly indicative of the time in which it was written, a time of dramatic change in American history, particularly for women, and that change that did not always come easy. She would have great difficulty, for instance, placing women students in jobs typically reserved for men, and even greater difficulty getting decent wages for them. It is also a clear and concise description of what kind of college Antioch was trying to be, and is an especially good explanation of how alternating work and study not only functions, but how it enhances classroom learning.


My first visit to Antioch College was in December, 1922. Yellow Springs, Ohio, with its railroad “ports,” Xenia and Springfield looked far distant on the map and proved still farther in reality as a blizzard stretched the nineteen hours of schedule into twenty-four. There was, however, great charm in the sincerity and simplicity of the hospitality that welcomed me; in the informal fireside talk with Mr. Morgan; in the friendliness of faculty and students. But the country looked bleak and drear; students delightful to meet individually appeared unlovely in their holiday revels; buildings were old and inadequate; and the flame of adventure that flared in my middle aged heart was quenched. Lingering sparks were fanned in May when I found a violet-carpeted campus and the Glen—comparable to “Paradise”—wearing a garment of indescribable loveliness. In September 1923, my name appeared as an instructor—sub rosa, a volunteer in the English department for a semester’s course; “The Social Aspects of English Literature in the Nineteenth Century.” Thus timidly—I confess with humility—did I join the band of those “Who love adventure more than security,” to quote one of their number, who are finding that adventure in the educational experiment of Antioch.

The prophet and genius of this experiment is Arthur E. Morgan, a noted flood prevention engineer who has brought his keen, active mind unfettered by academic tradition, to the consideration of the procedures we call Education. Many of these as he finds them functioning in the college of liberal arts he would have changed. In 1921 he became president of Antioch College, then attenuated almost to the point of extinction, with the purpose of achieving for the institution to which Horace Mann had devoted his last years, 1853-59, a rebirth that should embody his own educational philosophy and ideals. Mr. Morgan claims originality only in the combination of the present distinctive features of the college: co-operative work, campus industries, self-directed study, the comprehensive examination. His most compelling interest in the program he expresses as follows:

“The public sees Antioch Students in office, store, and factory, and comes to think of these conspicuous features of their work as representing the outstanding characteristics of the college. They are, in fact, only the result of taking into account factors of education that commonly are overlooked, and are but part of the effort to achieve proportion. Antioch is a quest for symmetry.”

“This striving for symmetry, for right proportion, should be the dominant aim of all education—symmetry in the presentation of every element of the program, and symmetry in organizing all those parts into a whole to best prepare for the fulfillment of the whole life of the student. That is the Antioch aim.”

One takes from Antioch as from Rome what she carries to it. To this devoted disciple of John Dewey it afforded the lure of the Hoped-for-Land where the Master’s conception of education as “the acquiring of experience and the re-consideration of one’s life and ideas in the light of that experience” might become a reality. It was inevitable therefore that the plan for co-operative work should offer to me the greatest opportunity for exploration, and the second semester found me as a pay-roll member of the job-hunting, job-placing force called the personnel department. No longer was I an exile from the North Atlantic coast, but on an eight month year, a rapidly seasoning commuter between Cambridge and Yellow Springs; a saleswoman of a new type of education; a companion and student of Youth; at last, a fledgling adventurer.

One hundred and seventy-five of the six hundred and fifty students enrolled at Antioch are girls, a proportion which the housing accommodations determine. This group whose co-operative work has been under my supervision, represents three type of students: about 45% of that number have had no previous industrial contacts; another 45% have worked one or more years or have transferred from another college, a practice much more common in the middle-west than in eastern states; and the remainder are mature young women with several years of business or teaching experience to whom Antioch with its flexible entrance requirements, offers rare opportunity.

The inexperienced freshman and sophomore girl may choose for her cooperative job one of several types of simple routine work in office, store or factory, either in Yellow Springs or in Dayton, where working conditions are carefully watched and are in general without health hazard. In Dayton the girls live in a delightful club house that has been loaned to the College for three years. The arrangement for cooperative work is that two students fill a single position; one of them works while the other studies, and they change places every five weeks. If there are peculiar conditions which make a longer continuous period of work advisable the shift can take place at the end of ten weeks instead of five. This ten week period prevents a student from staying with the division, A or B, with which she entered, for she must study as well as work in blocks of ten weeks. In general the advantages seem to outweigh the drawbacks and nearly one fourth of the college is now operating on the ten week plan.

The question is often asked: What are the values of these routine work experiences? They are, first of all, both in their character and in their associations, adventures; they bring the discipline of daily regularity and responsibility; they give the reward of money earned; they develop a new kind of college loyalty—for the motive of “making good on the job” is the upholding of the college reputation; they test endurance; and at their successful close they give a sense of achievement that Youth holds dear.

The work of the third-year student or the more mature young woman just entering college should, if possible relate to some developing educational interest: teaching; household economics; library work; business affairs; social problems. As the quality of our young women becomes better known to us and our employers, the more responsible and significant opportunities steadily increase. For these we go far afield; to Toledo, Cleveland, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, New York, Boston, counting the experiences of being “on one’s own” in a new environment and the association with the men and women who direct the work, a developing one.

Although the personnel department connects the students with their jobs, all supervisors of students’ cooperative work,—shop foreman, librarians, school principals, department heads in retail stores, are indispensable and valued members of our teaching staff. We call them our “field faculty” and endeavor to develop their interest in Antioch as an educational enterprise and in the student as a growing youth. We are not allowed to forget, however, that industry exists for profit and one of our problems is to find opportunity for the student who is “unplaceable” from the employer’s view point and who yet needs the discipline of a real job.

The wages our girls receive vary this year from a minimum of ten dollars a week to the highest maximum we have yet reached, thirty-five dollars. In only the exceptional cases does a student pay her way through a college year and this only in later years of her course. All freshmen are required to take a course in personal finance and keep a careful account of their expenditures. In 1925-26 the financial assistance that the majority of freshmen needed in excess of their earning was from $350 to $450. As the girls can earn less than the men the latter figure is probably more representative of their financial need.

The Antioch course as first planned was for six years with co-operative work each year. In practice it is reduced by many to five years by arranging for one year of continuous academic work. Seven of our young women are achieving this shortening of their course as well as receiving specialized training by spending this year at other institutions: at the University of Pittsburgh, Simmons College, Chicago University, the Merrill-Palmer School, the Yale School of Nursing and Barnard College. At the end of the year their credits will be transferred to Antioch where they are candidates for a degree.

I am often asked about Antioch’s scholastic standing. In general our requirements are high and disillusionment is in store for the student who likes to work with people and things but cannot learn from books. Altho there are but twenty weeks of study in the academic year, two of our girls after years entered the junior class at Vassar and graduated with honor. Another student transferred to Radcliffe this fall. I have not yet inquired about her progress.

The new Antioch is still too young for a critical evaluation of its program. Doubts and difficulties as well as rewards and exhilarations we have in common with all explorers. In the early days of the experiment, initiative was often developed at the expense of standard; exposure to factory conditions has not always given a social viewpoint; our variety of choices and fresh experiences sometimes hopelessly bewilder the immature freshman; lovers of the humanities find our curriculum overly weighed with the sciences. Per contra, the “try outs” the co-operative work affords have saved many students years of vocational floundering, and to others have brought illuminating self-knowledge; women students have shown the discrimination that William James pronounced the test of the educated person—they have not only known a good man when they have seen him, but have appropriated him; our campus with its informal mingling of faculty and men and women students has more the atmosphere and appearance of normal, happy living than any other campus I have visited. Finally, it is a large part of the joy as well as the stress of carrying on at Antioch that its world is so largely in the making and that its visible crust is not yet penetrable.

The frequent and prolonged absences of Mr. Morgan on the drab task of securing funds for the current expenses of his unendowed college is our greatest handicap. Antioch needs the more constant inspiration of his rare qualities of mind and spirit—for the vision is his. The first large gift, $350,000 for a science building has heartened us all. My own Castle in Spain is familiar to every Smith alumna—a girls’ dormitory of simple beauty but equipped with conveniences needful for a life that is “off agin, on agin” every five to ten weeks. If any of you know the name of a potential fairy godmother, please whisper her name in my ear.