Henderson, George
Correspondence of George Henderson, General Secretary, The Society for the Extension of University Teaching, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, written to Mrs. S. L. Oberholtzer, of Norristown, Pennsylvania, 1890-1891

14 letters, 14 pp. (mostly typed), dated 14 October 1890 to 14 March 1891; of the 14 letters, 13 were written to Mrs. S.L. Oberholtzer, 1 letter is addressed simply “Dear Sir,” but likely the recipient was a Professor Thompson; some minor tears at folds of letters, one letter torn through at center fold.

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The Society for the Extension of University Teaching

The Society for the Extension of University Teaching was an outreach program that offered to communities an instructional program that helped bring participants up to date in a particular area of knowledge or skills. The instructional courses were designed especially for part-time adult students.

In 1872 the University of Cambridge (England) having received many requests from large towns throughout England, asking assistance in promoting higher education, appointed a syndicate to organize lectures in populous places. The scheme grew rapidly and the syndicate conducted lectures in more than 60 towns. In some places the lectures led to the foundation of permanent educational institutions. It was thought that in London also, although much valuable secondary instruction was already provided, there was still ample room and need for similar work. The experience of the Cambridge scheme had shown that outside the ranks of those who are able to take advantage of the routine of colleges, there are in all large centers of population numbers of persons engaged in the regular occupations of life, who are yet willing to avail themselves of opportunities for higher education.1

A London institution applied to the Cambridge syndicate asking for help, but on that being done there were a number of gentlemen interested in education, who met in London and who thought that similar arrangements could be made in London as those that Cambridge had made for the provincial towns. They placed themselves in communication with various other institutions, and the result was the foundation of the Society for the Extension of University Teaching in England in 1875.2 The idea behind University Extension, eventually migrated to America where it first took root in the city of Philadelphia.

Cambridge University professor Richard G. Moulton kicked off a statewide university extension campaign with a rousing speech In Philadelphia, in 1890. Extension lectures, Moulton advised, must contain less rote instruction and more stimulation, less logical exposition and more human drama. Popular audiences, he insisted, needed “something tangible and human” to pique their interests. At Moulton’s encouragement, Philadelphia academics founded the Society for the Extension of University Teaching (SEUT) and published a magazine and two papers. Between 1890 and 1900 their “People’s University” delivered 954 lectures at 236 extension centers. Throughout Pennsylvania, they found students prepared for educational fare by the hard work of Chautauqua volunteers like J. Max Hank, who helped created Chautauqua Extension Centers in Middletown and Lebanon.3

The SEUT was founded in Philadelphia on 1 June 1890. George Henderson, our correspondent, was the General Secretary of the local society for at least 1890 to 1891 when he wrote these letters to Mrs. S.L. Oberholtzer. Mrs. Oberholtzer had written to Henderson for help in organizing a branch in Norristown, Pennsylvania. Henderson, along with Prof. Moulton, Prof. Lawrence, and a Mr. Bensley, were also editors of the new monthly University Extension World, published by the University Press of Chicago.

Mrs. S.L. Oberholtzer, of Norristown, Pennsylvania, was a poet and author, and through her work with the W.C.T. U., she was superintendent of School Savings Bank, where she helped hundreds of public schools in the United States follow a program similar to the saving banks system, proving children thus trained would not spend money for cigarettes and drinks, which bread intemperance.4

Henderson responds, in these letters, to earlier letters from Oberholtzer. He writes welcoming her to the society. He also discusses his ideas and plans on how she can start up the program in Norristown. He offers her introductions to several professors, estimates of the costs involved, encouragement, he asks about her proposed location, thoughts on the traveling library, etc. These letters, written between October 1890 and March 1891, offer an early look at the spread of University Extension ideas in America.


1.City of London Livery Companies Commission, 'Evidences, 1882: London Society for the Extension of University Teaching', in City of London Livery Companies Commission. Report; Volume 1 (London, 1884), pp. 252-257. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/livery-companies-commission/vol1/pp252-257 [accessed 3 November 2017].

2. ibid

3.Rieser, Andrew C. The Chautauqua Moment: Protestants, Progressives, and the Culture of Liberalism. New York: Columbia University Press, 2003. Pp. 213.

4. Thumb Nail Sketches of White Ribbon Women. Edited by Clara C. Chapin. Chicago: Woman’s Temperance Publishing Association, 1895. p. 18.

       Sample Quotations:

“The Society for the Extension of University Teaching, Office of Secretary, 1600 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, 10/14 1890

Dear Mrs. Oberholtzer: -

We certainly welcome new members to the parent society, wherever they come from. The annual dues are $5 - ; may I enroll your name?

I sincerely hope that the work may be organized at Norristown. I beg of you not to let the lack of an existing demand deter you; even as sleepy a place as Frankford has taken hold of the plan.

Awaiting advice as to some definite move at Norristown, I am

Yours sincerely,

George Henderson”


“The Society for the Extension of University Teaching, Office of Secretary, 1600 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, 10/27 1890

Dear Mrs. Oberholtzer: -

Please send word by return mail of the location of the Hall where Teacher’s Institute meets? Prof. J. T. Skidmore goes up on Wednesday.

In the organization of your work it would be well to consult Dr. R. H. Chase of the State Asylum; he got together a list of 100, sometime ago, who wanted to take such a course. If necessary I will give you a letter to him.

Sincerely thanks’,

George Henderson”

“The Society for the Extension of University Teaching, Office of Secretary, 1600 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, Dec. 1st, 1890

Dear Mrs. Oberholtzer: -

Your note just been received; I think it would be a great misfortune if your committee should decide to attempt to organize two courses at the same time. To be sure the financial part of the question is the all important one, but I am certain they will find it difficult to make it pay.

I am glad to learn that you and Ellis will join the Central Society. Will you kindly send me Mrs. Beever and Miss Spooner’s address so that I may notify them of their election.

Tell Ellis not to say anything about the rebate, and that I would like to talk further with him in regard to that at any time he may be able to call.

Very truly yours,

George Henderson”

“The Society for the Extension of University Teaching, Office of Secretary, 1600 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, January 12th, 1891

Dear Mrs. Oberholtzer: -

Your valued favor of the 10th inst. To hand, and I am glad to learn that you have already 75 for Prof. Moulton’s course and I think I can pretty confidently say that you will have 200 before you are through. I take pleasure in sending herewith the additional literature which you request, and at any time you can use more copies I trust you will notify me. I am glad to learn that the news of our work is to be promulgated in Russia.

I am sorry that Prof. Thompson’s list we mislaid and suppose it will come to hand within a few days.

I am glad to learn that you will prepare newspaper notices for the press of the neighboring towns. This would certainly be most valuable and would be the entering wedge for our occupying all the small towns in this vicinity. I would suggest that you not only give them an outline of the movement, but tell them something of the practical methods of organization and to whom they may apply for further information; something also of the cost of the work, and something of the towns which are undertaking it. And I might say in this connection that the following have applied to form ‘Centres”: -

Williamsport, Wilkes-Barre, Rochester, N.Y., Wilmington and Newark, Del., and Havre-de-Grace, Md.

I think you could make a special plea, that it is a pity that the towns at a distance should be so quick to reap the benefits of this work, while those so nearby are not moving in the matter….”