The 1940s Education: Headline Makers

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The 1940s Education: Headline Makers

Mortimer Adler
Sarah G. Blanding
Andrew David Holt
Robert M. Hutchins
Owen LattimoreFrederick Douglas Patterson

Mortimer Adler (1902–2001) Mortimer Adler was a promoter of the "Great Books" project of the 1940s. He believed that by studying the great works of literature, philosophy, and science, students could learn all they needed to know about Western culture. A compulsive man who liked to keep everything tidy and in order, Adler had a temperament that was perfect for the project. He spent many years perfecting his list of "Great Books." Though the Great Books project never really caught on in colleges, Adler became a household name through sales of his own books.

Sarah G. Blanding (1898–1985) In 1937, Sarah G. Blanding became an assistant professor of political science at the University of Kentucky, where she was also dean of women. After a career at Cornell University, she became president of Vassar College in 1946. She was an adviser to the federal government on women in higher education, and led army and navy committees on welfare and recreation for women. For her work she was given the War Department's Civilian Service Award in 1946.

Andrew David Holt (1904–1972) Andrew David Holt took control of the nation's biggest teachers union, the National Education Association (NEA), in 1949. He completed his Ph.D. at Columbia University in 1937 and spent several years campaigning for better pay, sick leave, and retirement pay for teachers. During wartime service in the U.S. Army, Holt traveled the country lecturing students and faculty on how to help the war effort. After his election in 1949, the NEA voted to purge communists from its membership in a resolution called the "Preservation of Democracy." Although it argued for freedom in the classroom, the resolution was actually an attack on free speech.

Robert M. Hutchins (1899–1977) By the age of thirty, Robert M. Hutchins had become president of the University of Chicago, a post he held from 1927 to 1945. He made dramatic changes in the way the university was run and the courses it offered. Many of his reforms have become standard practice in higher education. Hutchins allowed students many more freedoms than before. They could choose their own courses from a set of electives, and they were allowed to attend dances and go on dates. He is famous for promoting the idea that a good education involved reading the "Great Books" of Western culture. In the 1950s, Hutchins defended his faculty against anticommunist investigators, and he fought for free speech throughout his life.

Owen Lattimore (1900–1989) As one of the foremost experts on Asia, Owen Lattimore became a political adviser to Chiang Kai-Sheck of China in 1941. Throughout World War II (1939–45) he also advised the U.S. federal government on Asian affairs. After the war he returned to teaching in the United States, but in the 1950s Lattimore was accused of being a communist sympathizer and spy. The case was dropped. Yet despite writing three acclaimed books on Japan and Asia, and despite his contribution to American education, Lattimore's academic career was ruined. Few students would risk their own careers to work with him because of the communist charges.

Frederick Douglas Patterson (1901–1988) In 1943, Frederick Douglas Patterson created the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) to help African Americans attend and graduate from college. As president of Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute, Patterson was a key figure in the introduction of the federal school lunch program. He believed that good nutrition was essential to educational achievement. In 1947, he served on President Truman's Commission on Higher Education, recommending more grants and scholarships and an end to separate education for whites and blacks.

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The 1940s Education: Headline Makers