History of Sarah Lawrence College
History of Sarah Lawrence College
Sarah Lawrence College was founded in 1926 by William Van Duzer Lawrence, in honor of his wife, Sarah Bates Lawrence. Lawrence believed that an education ought to develop in an individual both private and public responsibilities, and to promote the arts as a crucial element in the development of individuals and civilizations. From the very beginning, Sarah Lawrence College was a pioneer of innovative educational programs. Its pedagogy promoted a rigorous personalized approach to education modeled on the tutorial system of Oxford University, combining independent research projects, individually supervised by the faculty, with small seminars. Following the theories of educator and philosopher John Dewey, students were encouraged to learn by doing and to engage in the world as part of their educational process. These are all educational strategies that continue at Sarah Lawrence today.
Originally a college intended to instruct women in the arts and humanities, Sarah Lawrence would soon develop into a full-fledged program in the liberal arts and sciences and make its commitment to coeducation in 1968. Today, the College welcomes men and women of all races and backgrounds who display evidence of intellectual energy and curiosity, resilience and creativity, concern for others and for their communities, and the potential for personal growth.
Political activism played a crucial role in forming the spirit of Sarah Lawrence throughout its history. Dewey believed that education ought to impart a sense of citizenship, including both an awareness that one is part of society and an ability to criticize that society. As early as 1938, students were volunteering to help bring educational opportunities to poor and minority citizens; it was the site of powerful support for academic freedom during the McCarthy era and an active site for civil rights organizing and protests. Today the campus abounds with opportunities to engage actively in the world, in schools and prisons, in local government, in social justice and service organizations, and in campus groups, all in keeping with the College’s strong commitment to the student as citizen of the world.
Throughout its history, Sarah Lawrence College has promoted new and outstanding programs that grew from its strengths. In 1937, the College founded the Early Childhood Center, a school for neighborhood children ages two through six, where Sarah Lawrence students still serve as interns and engage in research projects. In 1949, the College introduced programs leading to the master of arts degree; since 1969, the College has also awarded the MFA degree, and today it can be earned in dance, theatre, and writing—fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. In 1962, Sarah Lawrence established the Center for Continuing Education, the first full-scale undergraduate program in the country specifically designed for returning adult students.
Sarah Lawrence has pioneered the founding of several graduate programs that have served as models nationwide: the master’s program in human genetics (1969), providing training for health professionals in human genetics and inheritable disorders; the master’s program in health advocacy (1980), educating advocates for a broad array of roles within the health care system; and the master’s program in women’s history (1972), linking teaching and research with the problems of women in a changing society. In 1971, the College established the master’s degree program in child development, which explores the life of the child as the interaction of intellectual, emotional, social, and imaginative streams. In 1985, Sarah Lawrence began Art of Teaching, a graduate program leading to the MSEd degree that prepares students for teacher certification (nursery through sixth grade). Activities and programs in child development were consolidated as the Child Development Institute in 1987. This institute is a reminder of the sharp progressive eye that Sarah Lawrence College applies to education and educational policy throughout the world. The Master of Science in Dance/Movement Therapy, introduced in 2012, teaches the psychotherapeutic use of movement to further the emotional, cognitive, physical and social integration of the individual.
In 2013, the College formed an alliance with the Hudson River Valley Environmental Education Institute, establishing the Sarah Lawrence College Center for the Urban River at Beczak.