Special Collections

Guide to the Lillian Dropkin Weber Papers

Lillian Weber
Photo by Stan Chu, n.d. Lillian Dropkin Weber Papers, Box #54

Creator: Weber, Lillian
Title: Lillian Dropkin Weber Papers
MSS#: MC 3
Dates: 1937[1968-1989]2005
Quantity: 55 boxes (23 cubic feet)

Abstract: The Lillian Dropkin Weber Papers were created over the course of Weber’s adult life, through much of the twentieth century. The materials span her schooling and professional endeavors, from her training at the Spuyten Duyvil Infantry School, to her documenting of England’s Infant Schools, her professorship in education and establishing the Workshop Center for Open Education at New York’s City College, and her urging of reforms in public education.  Her work was collected in notes, audiovisual materials, reports, speeches, correspondence, publications, and several other formats.

Language of Material: English
Location: Bank Street College Archives New York, NY
Preferred Citation: Lillian Dropkin Weber Papers, Box #, Bank Street College Archives, New York, NY

Administrative History

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.

Biographical Note

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.

The collection consists of the following series. Select one for further information:

  • SERIES A – Education

    Contains notes, papers, applications, diplomas, and writings from her undergraduate studies at the University of Virginia as well as her graduate studies at Bank Street College and the University of London School of Education. Arranged chronologically.

  • SERIES B – Spuyten Duyvil Infantry

    Contains logs, case studies, advisory board records, and other materials from the Spuyten Duyvil Infantry at which Weber served as a volunteer, teacher, and eventually director for many years. Case studies include observations of individual students, their daily routines, potty training progress, and classroom behavior; logs contain information about meetings amongst administrators regarding the daily running of Spuyten Duyvil and also contain materials regarding the conflict over the school’s official name.

  • SERIES C – Early Career

    Contains papers, photographs, and notes primarily relating to Weber’s time in England and her documentary film on infant schools.

  • SERIES D – Career

    Notes, records, minutes, and writings from Weber’s time as a professor of elementary education at City College, including her work with the Workshop Center for Open Education. Subseries 1 contains the publication Notes from Workshop Center for Open Education and Subseries 2 contains applications and reports tied to funding for the Workshop Center.

  • SERIES E – Late Career

    Contains journals, notes, and records from Weber’s work during the 1980s and early 1990s, still focusing on open education but not primarily linked to City College or the Workshop Center.

  • SERIES F – Publications, Writings, and Speeches

    Contains articles, essays, manuscripts, and speeches of Weber’s.  The papers explore the topics of open education and some of them are studies of Weber’s programs in New York City public schools.

  • SERIES G – Resources

    Includes articles, essays, manuscripts, and dissertations written by Weber’s colleagues, students, and others in her field. Topics covered include education and the Open Corridor.

  • SERIES H – Correspondence

    Contains Weber’s personal and professional correspondence, including her contact with individuals abroad in Europe, Australia, and Africa regarding Open Education, as well as her correspondence regarding publications, programs, City College administrative duties, and speaking engagements. Arranged alphabetically by correspondent and/or subject matter.

  • SERIES I – Audiocassettes

    Contains audio recordings of Weber’s speaking engagements, including lectures and class discussions.

  • SERIES J – Oversize Materials

    Contains mounted prints and illustrations for proposed publications as well as diplomas.

  • SERIES K – Films

    Contains 16mm reels of Weber’s work at Spuyten Duyvil and materials for her documentary on English infant schools.

  • SERIES L – Posthumous Publications

    Contains materials collected by Beth Alberty in the process of editing Looking Back and Thinking Forward: Reexaminations of Teaching and Schooling, a book of essays by Weber published after her death.

  • SERIES M – Personal

    Contains personal materials of Lillian’s, including datebooks, membership cards, and correspondence, as well as materials collected by Alberty relating to the memorial and estate of Lillian Weber.

Controlled Access Headings

  • Corporate Name(s)
    • The City University of New York. City College
    • The City University of New York. City College. Workshop Center for Open Education
    • Spuyten Duyvil Infantry. Cooperative Nursery School
  • Genre(s)
    • Notes
    • Audiovisual materials
    • Publications (documents)
    • Correspondence
    • Administrative records
    • School Records
    • Newsletters
    • Manuscripts (document genre)
  • Geographic Name(s)
    • England
    • New York (N.Y.)
    • Spuyten Duyvil (New York, N.Y.)
    • United States
  • Personal Name(s)
    • Alberty, Beth
    • Weber, Lillian
  • Subject(s)
    • Open-plan schools
    • Progressive education
    • Women educators