An Annotated Chronology Of Landmarks In The History And Development Of Adult Education 
With Particular Reference To The U.S.A.
By Roger Hiemstra
Because of current emphasis on the education of children and youth and the institutionalization thereof, it would be easy to overlook the fact that some of the most influential persons of recorded history have been teachers of adults. Striking and confirming examples of course are Socrates and Jesus. Oral presentations and dialogue were the dominant methods, and adults were the participants. For anyone who wishes to pursue the theme that the education of adults is the oldest form of education, he will find the first sections of Grattan's In Quest of Knowledge revealing instructive and rich in perspective.
An Annotated Chronology
1727 The Junto established by Benjamin Franklin – First called the 'Leather Apron', this is a secularization of the Puritan divine Cotton Mather's idea (1710) of a discussion club. The original rules would still be regarded as good guidelines for discussion.
1826 The first lyceum at Millbury, Mass. Organized by Josiah Holbrook – The first step in a national lyceum movement involving the organization of local study groups. Generally credited with anticipating the development of later 'home study' programs, the introduction of the lecture-forum method, as well on the action side as being greatly influential in creating popular support for establishing the public school system.
1833 The first tax supported library at Peterborough N. H.
1862 Two events: the beginning of the U. S. Department of Agriculture and The Land Grant Act (The Morrill Act) – These are the strategic items of federal legislation that initiated the institutional structure for the later emergence of the Cooperative Extension System in 1914 (Smith Lever Act)
1874 The Chautauqua Institution, Chautauqua, New York – Founded originally as a training school for Sunday School teachers, and located on the shores of Lake Chautauqua, New York the response to its program was so favorable that its agenda expanded to include a broad range of favorable studies. William Rainey Harper, one of its earliest directors later became the charter president of the University of Chicago where he introduced correspondence study and other features which he encountered at Chautauqua. The institution has flourished continuously to the present time and is one of the few agencies that has from the beginning been designed primarily for adult education in its many manifestations.
1911 The State Board of Vocational and Adult Education established in Wisconsin
1912 The Smith-Lever Act setting up the Cooperative Extension Service in the U.S. Department of Agriculture – Another one of the few programs designed "especially for adults".
1917 The Smith-Hughes Act launching vocational education in public schools for adults and youth above age fourteen
1918 The first full time state supervisors of adult education appointed in New York and South Carolina
1924 The National Education Association created its Department of Adult Education – At first this was aimed primarily at education of the foreign born but later greatly widened the scope of its interests.
1926 American Association of Adult Education organized – The A.A.A.E. initially subsidized by the Carnegie Corporation (Dr. Frederick Keppel, president and father of Frank Keppel, recently U.S. Commissioner of Education) and directed by Morse A. Cartwright was the first organization to give structure and visibility to adult education as a national movement. It held annual national conferences, set up a program of publications, subsidized research. Many of its chief participants were leaders in American education and thought but not always noted for their direct involvement the practice of adult education.
1933 The Federal Emergency Relief Administration - FERA
1935 The Works Progress Administration - WPA – The FERA and later, the WPA made federal funds available for literacy education, general adult education, parent education, workers education, vocational education, art education, etc. It greatly broadened the scope of public school adult education and left a permanent deposit especially in the cultural field. 
1936 Federal forum project inaugurated by the U.S. Office of Education – This was the outcome of the leadership of Dr. John Studebaker, who as U.S. Commissioner of Education and with federal funds set up a nationwide experiment in public forums using forum committees under the supervision of state departments of education as the local operating and sponsoring agency.
1942 The U.S. Armed Forces Institute established – Located in Madison, Wisconsin USAFI provides a variety of educational services to military and civilian personnel in the armed forces, including correspondence study courses, group study guides, resident center programs, tests of general educational development (G.E.D. tests) educational and vocational advice, etc. Currently the trend for USAFI is to decentralize its operations by contracts for educational programs to colleges and universities.
1947 The first session of the National Training Laboratory in Bethel, Maine – NTL the basic headquarters for "Sensitivity Training" and the development of the application of group dynamics is essentially an adult education enterprise. Although it has an affiliation with the NEA it is a good example of how a program of adult education has influenced the methodology of instruction under both formal and informal auspices.
1951 Formation of the Fund for Adult Education (F.A.E.) – The F.A.E. was set up by the Ford Foundation in April 1951 and continued until its termination in 1961. It subsidized many projects of the new Adult Education Association of the U.S.A., supported a substantial program of research and publication, conducted a training awards program for the service training of adult education leaders, etc.
1951 Founding of the Adult Education Association of the U.S.A. – The A.E.A. - U.S.A. came into being in May, 1951 at Columbus, Ohio, a month after the F.A.E. It combined the former American Association for Adult Education and the former Adult Education Department of the N.E.A. It is the most representative ("umbrella") organization of adult education in the U.S.A.
1952 Organization of the National Association of Public School Adult Educators – N.A.P.S.E. was set up to promote the special interests of public school adult education in a way that the A.E.A. seemed not to be able to do. It is serviced by the National Education Association and is the official spokesman for the public school sector of the field.
1964 The Economic Opportunity Act Title II, Part B (Public Law 88-452) – This is the portion of the "poverty" act which provided funds for adult basic education. These funds have since been transferred from the Office of Economic Opportunity (O.E.O.) to the Office of Education.
1965 The Higher Education Act – Title I of this legislation provides funds for College and Universities to engage in community service. So far the program it has initiated is little more than holding its own. But at least it establishes a new domain and legitimizes community service primarily to urban communities by colleges and universities in a way somewhat comparable to that supported by the Land Grant System through the Cooperative Extension service for rural areas.
1966 The Adult Education Act of 1966 (and 1970) 
1969 The Galaxie Conference on Adult Education - Washington, D.C.
1972 - 1974 The National Adult Education Think Tank Project
1976 The Lifelong Learning Amendment
Some Implications of the Preceding Chronology
The preceding inventory of events seems to tell us that the development of adult education has been largely an "ad hoc" affair. It is a highly pluralistic movement in a pluralistic society without any evidence of the operation of a "grand strategy." Most of the impetus for the federal support of adult education has grown out of "emergency" and "quasi-emergency" situations. Some of these have been war related, e.g. the Morrill Act, the Smith Hughes and Smith Level Acts. Others have reflected severe economic conditions, e.g. FERA-WPA and more recently MDTA and Adult Basic Education. Even Title I of Higher Education could be interpreted as an effort to meet the urgent needs of our cities. For the most part, the pressure for adult education has originated and been sustained by forces outside the agencies which ultimately set up programs to serve adults. Cooperative Extension is, of course, an exception and from now on out, the Community College promises to be another. But generally the public schools, universities, libraries, churches, voluntary associations, and governmental agencies, have generally been pressured by the sheer weight of social need and adult demand into including the instruction of adults as part of their programs. A case in point is adult basic education-other examples could be cited. Harper of Chicago, Van Hise and Harrington of Wisconsin are almost alone among the university Presidents; John Studebaker of Des Moines (later U.S. Commissioner of Education) is almost alone as a Superintendent of Schools in being outstanding spokesman for the field.
Selected Bibliography

Grattan, C. H. (1955). In quest of knowledge. New York: Association Press.


Knowles, M. S. (1962). The adult education movement in the United States. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc.


Stubblefield, H. W. (1988). Towards a history of adult education in America. London: Croom-Helm.


Stubblefield, H. W., & Keane, P. (1994). Adult Education in the American Experience: From the Colonial Period to the Present. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Created for the Internet, June 1, 1995.