Tamiment Library, NYU > Collections

The Rand School, the predecessor of the Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives at New York University, was the first successful, and the largest and longest lasting workers’ school in the United States, enrolling over 10,000 full and part time students annually at times during the 1910s and 1920s.

The Rand School was named for its benefactor, Mrs. E.D. Rand, a wealthy widow who was sympathetic to the socialist cause and turned Party leaders’ dreams of opening a school into reality by bequeathing a trust fund for such a purpose to the Socialist Party.

The Rand School drew the bulk of its student body from New York’s largely immigrant working class, and in particular from the large Jewish community on the Lower East Side, where socialist ideas were widespread. By 1917, the Rand School had outgrown its original headquarters and took over a six story building at 7 East 15th Street. A “People’s House” modeled after a like center in Brussels, Belgium, with an auditorium, bookstore, cafeteria and space not needed for school operations rented to sympathetic organizations, was created.

The original concept of the Rand School was expanded to include adult school general studies classes, trade union shop stewards training, popular lectures, choral singing, dramatic and musical productions (including the first labor theater in the U.S.), and functions usually associated with a settlement house.

A communications line connected the People's House to the Socialist Party's radio station, WEVD (the acronym stood for Eugene Victor Debs) so that lectures and concerts could be broadcast live from the new Debs Auditorium.

The directors believed that labor education should make the workers articulate and train them to be directors of the class struggle. These activities included conducting courses, seminars, conferences, symposia and other forms of public discussion on a wide variety of topics, and an active publishing program. While the core of the school’s offerings concerned socialism, economics, social history, the labor movement, and the techniques of labor and political activism, there were also extensive offerings in literature, the arts and music, contemporary intellectual and cultural trends, sometimes in the form of lectures by such notables as John Dewey and Bertrand Russell, and the school also sponsored a workers theater.

From the very first the library was an important component of the school, with some twenty percent of the school’s first year’s budget allocated for the purchase of books and periodicals. A healthy heterodoxy was encouraged from the first, so holdings grew eclectically, mirroring the full panorama of contemporary radical tendencies. The library also grew through the donations of students, of individuals participating in Socialist Party functions at the Rand School, and later, through the donations of the personal papers and collections of leaders and other veterans of the labor and socialist movements. Thus, when the Rand School closed its doors in 1956, it bequeathed to future scholars and activists one of the premier collections on the history of U.S. labor and the left.

This online display was drawn from an exhibit in the Tamiment Library curated by Peter M. Filardo. It was adapted for Flickr by Michael Stasiak and Donna L. Davey.

We recommend viewing the exhibit as a slide show by clicking on the link on the top right of the images .

Please note that images are provided for reference purposes only. Permission to publish materials must be obtained in writing from the Director of the Tamiment Library / Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, Elmer Holmes Bobst Library, New York University, 70 Washington Square South, New York, N.Y. 10012.

Researchers may contact us by phone 212-998-2630 or e-mail tamiment.library@nyu.edu.