Main Line School Night, part 2 – Upper Darby Adult School, Wayne School Night

(Your columnist stated in last week’s issue of “The Suburban” that “School Night” had its first session in February, 1939. This date should have been February, 1938.)


In inaugurating School Night, Wayne had the distinction of being the first community in Pennsylvania to adopt the informal type of adult school, centered in the public school system. In so doing it followed in the footsteps of Maplewood, N. J., which had started its back-to-school experiment four years before, under the direction of Mr. Keith Torbert. However, it was but a short time after the beginning of School Night in Wayne that two other Philadelphia suburban communities took up the idea.

In Upper Darby the Father’s Association of the high school sponsored a short term school beginning two weeks before the spring term of Wayne School Night ended. Then by Fall, Swarthmore had opened its “Adult Night at School” with an enrollment of over 200 in its eleven courses.

At the November meeting of the Lower Merion School Board, its members considered establishment of classes similar to those in operation in Radnor and Upper Darby. Superintendent S. W. Downs was authorized to make an investigation and report back to the Board at a later meeting. However, it was not until October 1940 that such a plan was put into operation when Lower Merion, joining forces with Radnor, formed the Main Line School Night Association.

From its small beginning in the Spring of 1938, the Upper Darby Adult School became a flourishing institution by October of that year. At that time it was offering 22 courses, registering about 1200 by its opening night. May prospective students were turned away from those classes which had limited registration. Additional members in classes with unlimited registration soon brought the total number of students to well past the 1200 mark.

At the same time enrollment in Wayne School Night reached the 700 mark and more with the beginning of its second semester, with registrants coming from 51 other communities. These ranged from points as far away as Camden, Philadelphia, Whitford, Downingtown, Ambler, Chatham Village, Conshohocken, Uwchian and even Claymont, Delaware! Public interest and community support were rapidly growing. Other members were added to the original Board of Directors of 19, as listed in last week’s column. Among these were Mrs. Ruth W. Cady, Dr. A. J. Culver, R. T. Eichelberger, Hubert F. Ellson, Mrs. Charles B. Finley, Dr. Henry G. Fischer, Oliver H. Jackson, Stanton C. Kelton, Hermna Lengel, Mrs. Alex Makarov, John S. Renwick, T. Griffiths Roberts, Mrs. Edwin A. Schoen, Robert Trent and L. M. Wilson.

The Fall program was inagurated with a series of three forum lectures on successive Monday evenings before the formal beginning of the School Night program on Monday, October 10. The first was a talk on “The Crisis in American Civilizaiton”, by Dr. Will Durant, author of a number of thought-challenging books. The second told “What the G-Men are Doing,” a lecture by Major W. H. Drane Lester, an aide to J. Edgar Hoover in the F. B. I. On the third Monday evening Harrison Forman, traveler, explorer, writer and photographer, discussed “The Far East Aflame.”

A special feature article written by H. W. Fry in the evening “Bulletin”, under date of September 30, 1938, had the heading “Fathers and Mothers Go to School” and in further explanation “He Learns Fishing and She Studies Exercises.” The article combined comments on both Wayne’s School Night and Upper Darby’s Adult School, stating among other things that “the courses in both schools represent a blending of the old academic and practical recreational desires of the grown-ups.”

On its editorial page the Main Line “Times” of September 14, 1938 (it was then a daily) said that “School Night is a project worthy of enthusiastic support by all who are interested in the world about them and who seek worthwhile recreation. In addition to the lecture program, bringing some of the nation’s best minds to the Main Line in discussions of problems in the world of today, School Night offers a wide variety of courses in subjects, ranging from basket-weaving to history. It is one of the best examples we have seen of the current widespread movement in adult education.”

“The Suburban” generously supported the hometown project, both on its editorial page and in its news columns. In the former it predicted that “School Night” is here to stay and that in years to come it will seem as indispensable as the public library.” In an edition of later date it urges support for the forum idea instituted in the second semester of School Night. “An ambitious venture for a suburban community?” it asks, and then replies, “No, rather a sane and logical development. Living in the shadow of a great metropolis, we have been too prone to look to the city for cultural and educational entertainment. The Main Line can and should support a forum.”

Even “The Banker” had an article of interest on “School Night in the Schools”, written by Jason L. Fenimore, treasurer of the Wayne Title and Trust Company, and a director of School Night. He writes in particular of two classes of especial importance in banking circles, “Money and Banking”, taught by O. Howard Wolfe, of the Philadelphia National Bank and a resident of Radnor, and “The Anatomy of American Capitalism”, taught by Dr. Karl Anderson of the Economics Department at Bryn Mawr College.

In all some 700 to 800 people enjoyed this first Fall of School Night, which ended with an old-time song-fest to which all were welcome. There were exhibits of the work of various classes, a one-act play by the Dramatic Art group and singing by the choir of men’s and women’s voices, led by Dr. Henry Gordon Thunder. And then everyone joined in the singing of familiar Christmas carols, a happy ending to a good ten weeks of School Night.