Main Line School Night, part 1 – Lower Merion High School, Upper Darby Adult School

On Lincoln’s birthday, February 12, the sixteenth semester of Main Line “School Night” starts in Lower Merion High School. The fact that it is Lincoln’s birthday is purely coincidental in this connection. The interest and importance of the event is that “School Night”, starting in a small way in Wayne in February, 1939, has grown to the point where at the Spring term of one year ago it had reached an enrollment of some 1620 in Lower Merion High School. The first joint session of Wayne and Lower Merion Township was held in the Fall of 1940. Except for a few of the war years “School Night”, either as a Wayne project or later as a Main Line one, sponsored jointly by Radnor and Lower Merion townships, has been in continuous existence as an adult education medium.

To those who were interested in this undertaking in the closing months of 1938 and the early ones of 1939 it is a heartwarming thing to walk towards Radnor High School now on a crisp October Monday evening, or a wintry one in November or early December. The building is ablaze with lights, every moment the wide front doors swing open upon some one intent on reaching his or her class on time. Automobiles are parked for blocks around – pedestrians are coming from every direction, all with one mecca–their adult education school, started 12 years ago by a small group of interested citizens, a school now strengthened and enlarged by union with Lower Merion. Wayne’s first enrollment reached the then rather startling total of over 400. The record enrollment since has been 1200.

To one man more than to any other, or even to any group of men and women, School Night owes its birth in this community–and its continued success as the years go by. Fired with enthusiasm by the success of a similar project in Maplewood (N. J.) and his belief that adult education would be supported in Wayne, Harry Creutzburg initiated “School Night” in his own community, and by enthusiasm and his hard work he has carried it on in Radnor and Lower Merion High Schools until the project has reached the pinnacle of success. From the beginning he has been not only chairman of the organization, but its most ardent backer and hardest working man of all!

In the December issue of “Reader’s Digest” there appeared an article on a highly successful back – to – school experiment that had been started in Maplewood (N. J.) four years before. It was just then joining forces with South Orange, N. J., in greatly enlarged quarters and with a more extensive program of studies. Mr. Creutzburg took the article to A. M. Ehart, editor of “The Suburban”, who was interested enough to republish the article in full in the December 31 issue of his weekly paper. By the January 7 issue of “The Suburban” plans had progressed to the point where definite announcement was made that “early in February . . . one of the most interesting and perhaps far-reaching experiments ever attempted in our community and township will be inaugurated.” Not only was the tentative date set, but a list of subjects for possible courses was presented. It was a long list–out of it some 12 or 14 were to be chosen. In the end this resolved itself into 11, ranging from “Great Personalities of History” to “Pottery”.

Soon every shop window in Wayne and the adjacent suburbs displayed posters advertising the fact that “The Registration Night Party” for “School Night” would be held on January 31 in Radnor High School. By this time “School Night” had been chosen as the official name for the new organization. It has always been the personal opinion of this columnist that Mr. Creutzburg’s simple reversal of the conventional term “Night School” had much to do with the charm and interest always associated with the Wayne experiment.

At the Registration School Night Party, Mr. Creutzburg presided at the meeting held in the High School auditorium. T. Bayard Beatty, then principal of that school, told in detail of his visit to the Maple Adult School and noted their interest in a similar experiment about to be carried out in Wayne. Mrs. T. Magill Patterson, then a member of the Radnor Township School Board, listed the various classes, describing the nature of each of the 11 and telling something of the teachers and lecturers. Dr. Theodore L. Reller, Professor of Adult Education at the University of Pennsylvania, was the principal speaker. A writer and lecturer of note, Dr. Reller told especially of the adult education currently carried on in England and Denmark. Paul Clark concluded the program with instruction on the process of the enrollment which was to follow the meeting.

Some 269 registrants was the sum total of that evening’s enrollment. Later additions brought this up to over 400. Courses included “Horticulture and Gardening”, taught by outstanding members of the National Gardeners Association, the State Department of Agriculture and the Morris Arboretum; “Nearby Colonial History”, taught by S. Paul Teamer, principal, Tredyffrin – Easttown High School; “The Play Way to Health” where the age limits were from “sophomore to senility”, with Miss Elvina Castle and Leo M. Curtin, then director of Physical Training at Radnor High School, as instructors; “Public Speaking” as taught by Henry V. Andrews, Director of Speech at Girard College. Other courses included “Contract Bridge Bidding” with Mrs. Edith Wood Atkinson as teacher; “Great Personalities of History” as taught by Harold C. B. Speight, Dean of Men at Swarthmore College; “Clothing and Personality” with Mrs. Edith T. Bechtel as lecturer; “The Changing Scene” with various lecturers form week to week; “The Land of Youth” as taught by Mrs. Dorothy Waldo Phillips, popular speaker at Parent-Teacher groups; “The Lure of Rod and Line” with various speakers and “Pottery”, a course of short talks, demonstrations and handwork as conducted by E. deForest Curtis.

By the time “School Night” went into its second session it had gained such widespread fame that “news photographers’ flash-bulbs were flaring in every class room” with pictures being taken for the Evening “Public Ledger” and the Sunday “Philadelphia Record”. The New York “Times” had been “making inquiries.” An article had even appeared in the Christian Science “Monitor”.

Enrollment had jumped to 430 and was still going upward. A delegation from Upper Darby, interested in setting up a similar plan in their school, had been conducted through “School Night’s” various classes. Many communities were represented among the registrants of the School. The committee was busy refuting rumors that the teaching expenses of “School Night” were being defrayed in whole or in part by W. P. A. funds. So popular did the public speaking courses become that there were soon three sections instead of one. As many as 42 guest tickets were issued on one night. Questionnaires were being issued to ascertain the students’ preferences among some 50 courses suggested for the Fall term.

The few citizens who had been sufficiently interested in adult education to initiate “School Night” were now assisted by a well-organized committee. Those serving on it were Mr. Creutzburg, chairman; Martin L. Gill, Jr., secretary; Jason I. Fenimore, Jr., treasurer; Mrs. T. Magill Patterson, Paul Clark, T. Bayard Beatty, Mrs. F. Ashby Wallace, John R. Shaw, Dr. Seneca Egbert, Dr. Henry G. Fischer, Warren Lentz, Miss Grace A. Burdick, Rev. John Scott Everton, Leo M. Curtin, Charles R. Mintzer, Mrs. Frederick A. McCord, E. deF. Curtis, Douglas C. Wendell and Rhodes R. Stabley. After 12 years, two of these 19 maintain their membership on the board, Mr. Creutzburg as its chairman and Mrs. Patterson, whose membership has never lapsed since the beginning. Death removed Dr. Egbert some years ago. Change of residence has taken others while different interests have diverted the remainder.

(To be continued)