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Rutgers University Libraries: Libraries: Manuscripts: Modern School Collection
Article published on 25 October 2003
last modification on 26 June 2004
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Rutgers University Libraries: Libraries: Manuscripts: Modern School Collection

Manuscript Collection 1055

Arranged and described by Dr. Fernanda Perrone as part of the " Utopian Communites Project, "July 1995-June 1996, funded by a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission

Overview

The Modern School Collection spans the period from ca. 1880 to 1974, with the bulk dating from 1912 to 1971. It is approximately 6.6 cubic feet in size, including 15 manuscript boxes(two are restricted), four photo boxes, one newspaper box and a phasebox.

The collection has essentially two parts: the official records of the Modern School of Stelton,New Jersey, and items donated to the collection by the students and teachers of the Modern School and residents of the Stelton Colony. At the reunion of the Friends of the Modern School, held every year since 1973, items are donated.

Official Records

The official records of the Modern School comprise minutes and reports of the Modern School Association of North America (1922-1950), the membership organization which supported the school; records of the Ferrer Modern School Association, which administered the property of theschool; reports of the Board of Management, which administered the School itself; and correspondence received and copies of correspondence sent by the principal of the school. Theseitems amount to one manuscript box of material.

Collected Materials : General

The donated materials include publications, photographs, newspaper clippings, correspondence,writings and miscellany. Most of the publications, comprising about half the collection, were produced at the Modern School printing press. They include journals, most notably The Modern School; Voice of the Children, the journal of poems and prints produced by the children; programs of the annual Modern School benefit dance; and various other publications.

As well as publications produced at the Modern School, the collection contains various other publications which refer to the Modern School, such as a special issue of Everyman (1914) and a partial set of Emma Goldman’s Mother Earth (1911-1917), which frequently included articles on the Modern School. The collection also contained a number of pamphlets which had no relation to the Modern School and part of Modern School founder Leonard Abbott’s book collection; these items were transferred to the repository’s Radical Literature Collection.

There are four boxes of black-and-white photographs (one 8 x 10 and three 5 x 7 boxes), spanning the period approximately 1880 to 1965, including portraits of the Ferms, and views of the Modern School children involved in various activities. Of special interest are three tintypes(ca. 1880-1890), showing Alexis Ferm as a boy and as a young man.

Other series are newspaper clippings documenting the history of the school which have been photocopied on to acid-free paper; and memoirs written by figures associated with the Modern School including The Modern School editor and art curator Carl Zigrosser and anarchist leaderHarry Kelly.

Collected Materials : Personal Papers

The Modern School Collection also includes papers of Alexis Ferm, which comprise just over one manuscript box of correspondence, writings, newspaper clippings and a sporadic diary kept by Ferm from 1893 to 1944. There is also a separately housed scrapbook (1929-1933) of clippings of articles on education by Ferm and others published in the anarchist journal The Road to Freedom. Because of the extremely brittle condition of the scrapbook, it was completely reformatted: its contents were copied onto acid-free paper and it was rebound. Ferm’s collected correspondence is comprised primarily of letters he wrote to his former colleagues and students after he retired to Fairhope, Alabama, in 1948. The students kept his letters and donated them after his death. These letters are arranged alphabetically by correspondent. This series also includes correspondence about the Alexis Ferm Fund, which helped support him in his old age,and clippings from local Alabama newspapers, where Ferm wrote frequently about education and civil rights.

The papers of Alexis Ferm’s wife Elizabeth Byrne Ferm fill parts of two manuscript boxes.These papers are entirely made up of her published and unpublished writings as well as a few book reviews and an obituary. Elizabeth Ferm published articles about progressive education in Mother Earth, The Modern School, and other journals. After her death, Alexis Ferm put together a number of her writings, both published and unpublished, and raised the money to publish them as a book, Freedom in Education, in 1948. This series contains a complete manuscript of the book as well as drafts of various chapters.

Of the many people who contributed material to the Modern School Collection, teacher and trustee Jo Ann Wheeler Burbank contributed enough diverse material to constitute a separate series. This series includes letters from Alexis Ferm, correspondence pertaining to the Alexis Ferm Fund, and a typescript memoir. Photographs and publications were transferred to the appropriate series based on format.

Documentation of other Schools and Communities

The collection also contains a small amount of material (5 folders) related to other Modern or progressive schools or anarchist communities, including publications from the Mohegan Modern School in Peekskill, New York, and photocopies of a hearing on the incorporation of the April Farms Colony in Quakertown, Pennsylvania (1925). A few photographs from other Modern Schools have been transferred to the photographs series.

Finally, the collection contains several items which were made at the Modern School by its students and teachers, including a toy, children’s watercolors, textiles and a wooden block,dating from the 1930s to 1960. Most of these items are stored in a newspaper box.

Restricted Items

Brittle items from the Modern School records and the Alexis Ferm and Elizabeth Byrne Ferm papers have been photocopied onto acid-free paper. The originals are stored separately, and are not meant to be used by researchers.

Research Based on the Collection

Several monographs exist which are based in part on materials in the Modern School Collection:

Avrich, Paul. The Modern School Movement (Princeton University Press, 1980).

Liptzin, Stanley S. " The Modern School of Stelton, New Jersey: A Libertarian Educational Experiment Examined " (Ed.D. Thesis, Rutgers University, 1976).

Mark, Arthur. " Two Libertarian Educators: Elizabeth Byrne Ferm and Alexis Constantine Ferm " (Ed.D. Thesis, Teachers College, Columbia University, 1973).

Tager, Florence. " A Radical Approach to Education: Anarchist Schooling : The Modern School of New York and Stelton " (Ph.D. Dissertation, Ohio State University, 1979).

Veysey, Laurence. " The Ferrer Colony and the Modern School, " in The Communal Experience: Anarchist and Mystical Communities in Twentieth-Century America (University of Chicago Press, 1978).

Related Materials

In its cataloged book collections, Special Collections and University Archives at Rutgers holds anumber of items published in Stelton, including some which are not present in the Modern School Collection. The latter consist of a more complete run of The Modern School (X-NJLD7501 .S7M6); and a history of the Modern School by Joseph J. Cohen and Alexis C. Ferm, with photographs by Oscar Steckbardt: The Modern School of Stelton: A Sketch published in 1925 (X-NJ LD7501 .S824MC).


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