This collection was de-accessioned from Milbank Memorial Library Special Collections and donated to the Bank Street College Archives by her children William and John Weber in 2009. The donation was facilitated by Beth Alberty. The collection was processed by Nicole Frisone and Lindsey Wyckoff in 2012. This project was made possible in part by a grant from the Documentary Heritage Program of the New York State Archives, a program of the State Education Department.
An additional donation (series L and series M) was made by Beth Alberty in 2013. This donation was processed and added to the collection by Lindsey Wyckoff in 2014.
Lillian Dropkin Weber (1917-1994) was born in New York. Weber received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Virginia in 1938, her master’s degree in education from Bank Street College in 1959, an associate of the institute from the University of London School of Education in 1966, and an honorary doctorate from Bank Street College in 1987.
Living in Riverdale in the Bronx beginning in 1944, Weber began her teaching career at the Spuyten Duyvil Infantry School. She started as a volunteer and ultimately served as Spuyten Duyvil’s director. Her first documentary film, First Steps, is based on her time there. In 1965, Weber received a scholarship to attend the University of London’s School of Education, where she began her work on English Infant Schools, such as the Gordonbrook Infant School; this research lead to Weber’s documentary film, Infant Schools (1966).
Influenced by her experiences in England, Weber’s work explored the possibilities for improving public education in New York City schools, environments’ influences on early childhood learning, and a movement away from the teacher-centered classroom. In 1967, as a professor of education at City College, Weber created the first “Open Corridor” with five classrooms of different grade levels and abilities grouped around a corridor that served as common space. By 1972, the program included the voluntary participation of 13 schools, 90 teachers, and around 3,000 children. The Advisory Service was established in 1970 with funding from City College and the Ford Foundation to train advisors who would help schools with the transition to open corridor programs through onsite assistance. Through this partnership and growing community, Weber and City College established the Workshop Center for Open Education to provide resources and a discussion forum to City College students, advisors, and teachers. The Workshop Center also sponsored a Summer Institute on Open Education, helping educators fundamentally rethink how they approached teaching and learning. In addition to the Workshop Center, Weber also helped develop and establish City College’s elementary education department to further study early childhood learning.
In addition to her work at City College, Weber served as a founding member of the nationally based North Dakota Study Group on Evaluation, the Prospect Archives, and the Center for Education and Research. In 1973 she became the first woman to deliver the annual John Dewey Society Lecture. Weber’s international work included a government mission to China and leading seminars in Australia, Israel, Norway, Germany, Kenya and Tanzania. Her dissatisfaction with the state of public education continued to drive her work until her death in February 1994.
Sources: Ruth Dropkin, “A Brief Biography of Lillian Weber,” in Looking Back and Thinking Forward: Reexaminations of Teaching and Schooling (New York: Teacher’s College Press, 1997); Workshop Center for Open Education (New York: City College, n.d.).
Scope and Content Note
The Lillian Weber Papers consist of files generated and assembled by Lillian Weber, including those related to her education and career. The bulk of these papers deal with Weber’s involvement in Open Education while a professor of Elementary Education at City College, including materials such as advisory reports from public schools and files relating to the Workshop Center for Open Education. Access to certain materials may be restricted. Original order was maintained whenever possible, exceptions are noted below.