In the early twentieth century, there was increasing interest on the part of local teachers in upgrading and standardizing their educations to meet the more stringent certification requirements that were being established by educational administrative bodies. In the autumn of 1909, Muhlenberg College opened the Saturday School for Teachers. Twenty students, both male and female, enrolled during the 1909-1910 academic year. The courses taught during that first program included physics, chemistry, biology, mathematics, ancient and modern languages, and English.
The program grew slowly but steadily: in 1915, the first Summer School was established. In addition to traditional academic subjects, courses in agriculture, calisthenics, and domestic science were offered. In 1917, Dr. Isaac Wright became the director of the Department of Philosophy and Pedagogy at Muhlenberg, or what became known as the Extension Division. The program grew rapidly; soon there were more students enrolled in the Extension School than in the regular College. Courses were offered throughout neighboring cities and counties.
In 1918, the Board of Trustees approved a motion by which, if a female teacher should gain enough credits such that she would qualify for a diploma, one would be granted. The first female graduate of Muhlenberg College, Mabel Knecht, graduated with the Class of 1920. According to Dean Robert Horn in his Muhlenberg College: History of One Hundred Years, 1848-1948, approximately 450 women received diplomas prior to the College’s becoming coeducational in 1957. Over 4,000 women had had the opportunity to enroll in college classes since the first Saturday School in 1909. Since 2002, the legacy of the Extension School has continued as the Wescoe School. 1
When creating this exhibit, we learned that the Extension School brought Muhlenberg’s first known Black student, Clara I. Lane of Bethlehem, to campus, twenty years before the first Black men joined the regular residential college in 1947. You can read more about Miss Lane on Trexler Library’s blog.
1 Schlecht, Ludwig. “Adult Education at Muhlenberg College,” in 100 Years of Adult Education at Muhlenberg College, 2010.